Wait like Teeth, Short Fiction

By Felix Graham|March 11, 2018Student Writing|

Wait Like Teeth

If you can imagine, in a way it’s sort of laughable to think that the worst part of an earthquake could have been its aftershock. How often is it the case, that something terrible enough is followed, in quick enough succession, by something relentless, and terrifying enough to shake the human soul to the core? Although I suppose there aren’t too many still around to laugh at it, I encourage you to laugh nonetheless.

If you like numbers, it’s even sillier to think that scientists used to estimate that here on Earth, over the course of a year, we could’ve hoped to experience somewhere in the area of 900,000 earthquakes a year, with a 2.5 magnitude or less.

None of them would have been felt at this level, of course. Perhaps only a cat here, or a dog there would have noticed. Otherwise these events may as well have been like if God had decided to wave at us with one of His pinky fingers, although I’m no seismologist.

In very much the same way, it’s funny too then, to imagine someone being asked to decide: “Would you rather a million minor earthquakes? or just one, as strong as a million?”

And, well, unfortunately, or otherwise, it ended up being both this time.

Others weren’t sure exactly what to call it, one way or the other. The men and women who’d been asked to keep an eye on the thing had all observed right from the get go that this wasn’t your typical seismic event. Even before the telephone poles, and power cables had all fallen over, word had gotten around that it seemed to be “ramping up,” in the sense that it wasn’t just happening all at once; it was getting worse, and worse, all the time.

Speculations had made their way across the globe, that upon last observing the charts, it had exceeded the richter scale, and was moving onto bigger, more terrifying means of classification. And by then, also, miraculous things had started to take place:

It commenced around 6:14 in the morning, 27-and-a-half days ago, and if you’d made it ‘till around the 12-minute mark, there would have already been enough fires to darken the skies completely for the next two days. Ironically, coastal cities had observed the ocean retreating gradually into the murky horizon, only a minute after the fires had reached peak severity.

Needless to say, the streets and the sidewalks split down their centers respectively. Buildings had buckled and fallen to their knees before the sun had even a chance to pierce them. Septic tanks resurfaced. The rivers spilled over, onto the esplanade. Concussions rang out, and shook still, deeper than the shaking ground, and all in the span of 15 minutes, no less; it was immaculate.

It was. It was gorgeous, and horrifying, and for those who were able to make it out of their homes in time, it was the last truly beautiful sight they ever saw.

And why shouldn’t the last of anything always be at least a little beautiful?

If you didn’t make it, I would hate to be wrong about saying “that’s too bad,” because I think in the end, you were probably better off not sticking around. At first, after what looked like the worst of it had come to pass, there were only a few moments of respite. The ground would start shaking at odd times during the days that followed.

While families picked through the rubble in silence, suddenly new tremors would unearth their buried livelihoods. It only ever lasted a minute or so, and every time it came around, you could almost make out the collective moan, made out by neighbors, down the block. However, eventually the rubble began to vibrate ceaselessly, humming softly all the while. And now the ground rumbles quietly no matter what time it is.

It shakes your teeth horribly if you’re standing upright. Some have even taken to stuffing cotton in their mouths when they venture out for food, or water. Others –  hopeless, or else just uninspired – have let their teeth rattle for long enough that they’ve all but become powder in their mouths; they’ve become content to sit and wait around –  to dissolve like their teeth.

They have become content to quit chewing, and so sit thusly cross-legged, and jostling slightly, up and down, with their mouths – their toothless smiles – open and flapping until they collapse, and float across whatever solid ground they’ve found for the night.  

There has always been a certain beauty in watching the things that life can break, as they put themselves back together again. And so too will there always be something infinitely moving about watching the things that shatter, and stay that way, forever.


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