Fucking Earthquakes by Faith Gardner

First night, pasta-pregnant, Zinfandel-tipsy, I pulled his denim belt loops and he followed me inside my studio. It didn’t take much force to plunk him on the couch. Our lips, mooshed together, were a new meal, meat-sweet and stinging with red wine. I straddled him. Undid buttons and parted zippers. Cast clothes in the air. Skin-thirsty. There was sweat and the best kind of desperation. It wasn’t until after, surrounded by deflated clothes, breath tired on each other’s shoulders, that the room tipped, the door creaked itself ajar and the books rocketed from the shelves. “Earthquake,” he whispered in my ear, as if I hadn’t lived in California my whole life. He held me tighter and then he let me go.

It was a 4.1 magnitude, and though it was miles deep, my apartment was two blocks from the epicenter. We looked it up online on a Real Time Earthquake map. I popped a beer and we waited for the aftershock in our underwear, a little mute weather- man gesturing on the TV. Aftershock never showed. He seemed disappointed as he fastened his belt and slipped on his shoes.

“I like those little ones,” he said. “The ones that tip. Like, suddenly a houseboat.”

“They scare me,” I said. “Tsunamis.”

“I’d prefer tsunami over getting crushed by my upstairs neighbors,” he said. “What floor do you live on?”

“Third.”

“Out of?”

“Six. Thanks,” I said, slitting my eyes. “Now I’ll lay in bed all night worrying about getting smashed to death.”

“Hey, that wouldn’t even be the worst.” He zipped his jacket, ran a hand across his bedhead. “At least that’s instant. Lying there, trapped under rubble as you dehydrate—” He shuddered.

“Okay, you’re planting the seeds for nightmares,” I said.

“Or having to chew your own limb off—”

“Stop, seriously, my mind is dangerously vivid and my insomnia is very real.”

“Hey,” he said, his mouth a hard line. “I kid. You have to live to see me again, right?”

He didn’t bow when he said goodbye the way he does at the restaurant. He gave me a kiss and a wink. Usually I hate winkers—old drunkards and smarmy politicians wink—but I liked it when he did it, a dear blue flicker, cute twitch.

 

The next time we did it, at his place, with my skirt hiked up and his pants around his ankles, his apartment jolted as we lay on his bed gasping for air again; the lights flickered and a framed picture of a jellyfish he took in Monterey shattered on the linoleum in the kitchen, the sound of it an inanimate little scream.

“Jesus,” he said, sitting up. “Fucking earthquakes.”

“Fucking earthquakes,” I agreed.

After he cleaned up the snowy glass in the kitchen, he came back to bed. We unpaused the show we’d been watching—some tough guy who eats bugs and feces for our amusement—and, an hour later, the laptop was on the floor and we were back at it again, fiercer the second time around, urgent and sweat-shiny, bed- frame all asqueak. As we lay on our backs, panting and swallowing, the house shook so hard a waterglass spilled on the carpet, a lamp took a dive. I watched my high heels jolting on the floor like the dance of a rhythmless ghost.

“Aftershock?” he asked.

We sat up and vacuumed the mess. Car alarms made dissonant harmonies. We joked that we were making it happen, but our smiles were strained with seriousness.

 

Third time we were at work in the back office. Boss was home with the flu. The waiter had me propped up on the desk, my dress and apron bunched up near my chin, my bare ass on the payroll sheets. As soon as my hands relaxed around his neck and he pulled away, the room seized and sneezed papers, binders came down on us from the storage shelves like avalanches. After a few seconds, it all went still; bulletin boards hung crooked; file cabinet drawers were open. It looked like a poltergeist had wreaked havoc on the place. I started laughing until I saw the blood on his fore­head, the gash that zigzagged and oozed in the florescent light. A can of artichoke hearts had collided with his head. I used Jesus’s timesheet to stop the blood.

The kitchen was a silver hurricane of pots and pans, splat­tered sauces and broken jars lined the floor. Cooks had huddled be­neath dumbwaiters; out in the restaurant, customers quivered un­der their tables, some (tourists) were fleeing madly out the door or screaming “Earthquake!” I held his hand all the way to the hospital, my black apron touching his black apron, us in our dress shirts and matching ties. The cab driver said he hadn’t even felt it on the road.

At the hospital, we said nothing while we waited. Jesus’s timesheet was glued to his forehead with blood now, no hand re­quired to keep it there. He said he felt dizzy but okay. “Fucking earthquakes,” he said. The doctor gave him a dozen stitches and a crooked river of Frankensteiny tape. We took another cab to his house and he told me not to come inside. He held my wrist, hard, and his forehead was starting to bruise purple around the wound.

“I really like you,” he said.

The cab driver, a woman chewing three toothpicks, watched us in the rearview with mascara-crusty eyes.

“I like you too,” I said, my voice turning up at the end like a question.

“You should probably stay away from me,” he said.

I nodded and felt like a story toppling. When the door slammed shut, the cabbie turned around and said, “Oh honey. Oh honey.”

I hushed, watched the streetlamps grow and blur, rolled down the window, and felt the mean wind.

 

My calls were met by the wall of instant voicemail. I went to work Monday and saw his note tacked up to the board.

“Decided to move home,” he said. “Thanks, everyone, for the memories.” My name wasn’t mentioned, which carved a little ache.

Move home? I thought. Who knew he had another.

I lay in bed at night in my quiet studio and challenged the ceiling to rain down. I kept my ringer on its loudest, most annoy­ing song—“Egyptian Samba”—at all times. The more nights I lay awake recounting the four times with him, the more I thought four wasn’t enough of any kind of sample to arrange a pattern. There was no way to determine causation. Coincidences were rampant. Coincidences were perhaps the only things to count on in this rest­less world.

I consulted Google, got to know the USGS. I emailed a seismologist or five. But there is nowhere in the world that two people can avoid the earth moving every now and then. Quakes plague deserts, icy islands, the bottom of the sea. Underneath our restaurants and movie theaters, the asphalt where the cabs skate to and from hospitals, volcanoes and molten lava hiss and stir. And even on the moon there are moonquakes. Can you imagine that? Utter stillness, black never-ending curtain of space, chalky blue dirt beneath your feet, spitting with movement. The lack of gravity that warps the feel of your own body into something unfathomably light, a little two-footed balloon dancing in the breezeless air, the stars so close you could pluck them out and eat them. The faraway earth a still yo-yo, a milky eye. Can you imagine how fearless and freeing such a quake would be—out there, in the forever night of the moon, with no buildings to topple and no books to plummet from shelves, just you out there, with nothing and no one to lose, naked and alone.

 

“Fucking Earthquakes” first appeared in apt‘s third print annual, now available for purchase.

 

 

 

Faith Gardner is a world-renowned beekeeper. A doodle she drew on a napkin once was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She is also a pathological liar. Maybe she has a website and maybe it is faithgardner.com.



3 Responses to “Fucking Earthquakes by Faith Gardner”

  1. phagen says:

    Freaking awesome!!!!

  2. Morgan says:

    dazzling!

  3. Just stumbled across this, what an awesome story!

Leave a Reply