Remembering the Earthquake

I thought the ground was shaking when I woke up this morning, and the still, quiet, hot weather reminded me of a day long ago in Caspar.

We used to say of the Tin Palace that it was held up by rings of dancing termites, because the house was so precarious. Even the smallest of earthquakes would cause the house to shudder, and yet, somehow, the house never actually fell. Major contractors may want to consider this state of the art earthquake proofing technology.

At any rate, I was perched on the porch railing reading, in the shade of the nasturtiums which covered the side of the house. And I do mean covered. The porch was a trembling green shady paradise, with orange flowers drooping by my head and giant nasturtium leaves quivering in the faintest of breezes. I had a thermos of cold coffee and a good book and I was set for the day, or at least until my father proposed some sort of expedition, hopefully to somewhere cooler. Mr. Bell was skulking in the shade below me, or maybe he was actually under the porch. My memory is a bit hazy on this point.

At any rate, one minute I was sitting on the railing, minding my own business, and the next I was lying in a pool of cold coffee with my book several feet away. The nasturtiums were so high around the house that when I fell into them, the neighboring stems flopped back on top of me, so I would have been practically invisible to the casual observer. I heard strange crackling and groaning, and felt a bit dizzy, to be strictly honest.

My father had been upstairs, probably up to something nefarious, and I heard him charge through the house and pause on the porch. I imagine that seeing the dribbles of coffee on the porch might have been a bit alarming, but I had sort of lost my breath, so I couldn’t say anything. I settled for writhing in the nasturtiums, instead.

He called my name, and I writhed some more before regaining my breath.

“What was that,” I said.

“Er…I think it was an earthquake. Are you alright?”

“I think so. I must have fallen off the porch. How odd.”

“You’d better not have lost my thermos,” he warned.

“Meow,” Mr. Bell said.

I cast about in the nasturtiums for the thermos and presently straggled out of them. My book appeared to have vanished entirely.

“Well,” he said.


“I think I need some tea.”

We made a big pot of tea in his blue enameled tea pot, and sat on the steps of the porch sipping it from ice filled glasses. The weather was still calm and still, but something about the earth seemed to have settled, and the air of expectancy was gone. People came out of their houses one by one, gathering in an excited cluster in the street to talk the events over before drifting into our yard for tea and cookies. The earthquake seemed to have sparked a spontaneous neighborhood block party, and soon bottles of wine and snack foods emerged, and I ran into the house to put on a record, and people brought chairs over so that we could sit in the grass and ponder our mortality into the late evening, finally cooking a large pot of pasta to feed all of the guests.

Certain days remind me of that one, when the weather is heavy with waiting, and I wonder when the earthquake is coming.

The book actually emerged a few months later, when the nasturtiums began to wither and die in the summer heat. Alas, by then it was too soggy and mildew covered for anything practical, and a lone blade of grass struggled valiantly through its cover. As I recall, it was thrown away, along with an assortment of other things found in the nasturtiums including a small wooden dinosaur, three forks, a broken teacup which neither of us recognized, a string of mardi gras beads, a toaster, a sodden packet of tobacco, Mr. Bell’s third collar, two half full wine bottles, and a cracked orange plate.