Phoebe Wyoming | Illustration by Guy Junker
At 7:07 ante meridiem, (“who dat Auntie?” I can hear my local friends say), I was jostled awake by what I at first thought was a herd of Upcountry cattle rampaging through my living quarters. The bed shook, with no exertion on my part, and as I bolted upright I noticed the walls were swaying as well.
My brain raced. It’s a dream, I thought, or a new strain of mescal-induced hangover. Or worse yet, demonic possession, which is hell on the complexion. As I clutched my bed sheets, Giles appeared in the doorway—stark naked, I’m sorry to report—with his peepers fairly popping from his puss and his body jerking in a demented hula.
“It’s a quake! It’s an EARTHQUAKE!” my terrified butler shrieked. The fact that Giles had remembered to position himself in a doorframe was impressive, but I was rather put out that he was filling up my passageway. I heard something smash in the distance.
Despite the everlasting rage and rumble, I remained oddly calm. I was comfortable, I reasoned, and if the house toppled, I thought I might prefer eternal peace to battling those dreadful insurance companies and making obscene mortgage payments on a pile of rubble, like those poor folks in Louisiana.
Just as suddenly as it began, the quake subsided. I arched an eyebrow at Giles’s nudity.
“Franks and beans for breakfast, then?” I asked dryly, but before Giles could respond, another temblor hit, not as intense as the first, but significant nonetheless. Giles, abashed, clung to the wall with one hand, while the other did its best to conceal his southern hemisphere.
The powerful aftershock petered away, and Giles scampered off to dress, thank goodness. The power was out, naturally, and in the spooky stillness, I could hear doors creaking open in the neighborhood. I rose to slip into my robe and assess the situation, and a man’s voice bellowed from the street. “Let’s get STONED!”
I must admit, it sounded like a fabulous way to unwind from a natural disaster. It was the rare morning when I did not require so much as an aspirin, however, and I decided to exercise some responsibility. One never knows if cool heads will prevail, and someone has to know how to mix a drink, for heaven’s sake. I wafted out the front door and into the yard.
The neighborhood was abuzz with activity. Folks milled about in the street, as if attending a cocktail party but in various state of undress and dishevelment. Everyone chatted excitedly, and cell phones detonated everywhere. Children whooped and raced their bicycles through the throng while dogs yapped incessantly—what else is new? A posse of dazed chickens lurched about underfoot.
And although one could discern the barest whiff of chaos in the air, I could also sense a brave, brassy tinge to the atmosphere, a sense of purpose and goodwill and selflessness. It was as natural a state of being as the warlike workaday world we live in, and I was saddened that it took an event of literally seismic proportions to bind everyone together, if only for a short time.
Of course, I snapped out of it immediately, remembering my block-party etiquette.
“Coffee, anyone?” I offered to the 40 or so folks in my vicinity, and excused myself to instruct Giles to fire up the grill and boil some water. Nor was I the only personage to offer breakfast fare that morning. Within an hour, the populace was enjoying tidbits from several homes, all miraculously produced without a volt of electricity. Giles’s own pièce de résistance was a Jell-O mold in the shape of the Big Island, which everyone agreed was a top-notch aftershock monitor.
As the party disbanded, and folks trailed off to test the limits of the telephone system, I met a neighbor on whom I’d somehow never clapped eyes before. A handsome young local gentleman approached me and asked my name. His physical beauty stirred me, and my tummy went fluttery as I offered my moniker.
“It’s good to know you, Phoebe.” He drew me into a warm, steady embrace, and although I could have been dreaming it, I felt the ground beneath me shift ever so slightly.