You are reading Fiddleblack #2
I waited on the corner of 16th and Valencia for an hour, but Dima didn’t show. Dima and me had plans to see a play, and I stuck around outside long after it started. I was worried so I called her a bunch but she didn’t pick up.
That night I got home and my roommate, Jasper, was in the kitchen with his girlfriend. We played Yahtzee in his room and I drank wine until my eyelids drooped. Jasper’s girlfriend shot me vicious looks from the bed. I went to my room. The apartment shook. That’s what happened when Jasper and his girlfriend had sex. The plants waved back and forth and the blinds slapped against the windows in rhythm. When the apartment stopped shaking, I fell asleep.
Jasper and his girlfriend said they would come into my work to pay a visit. I was bartending at a place in the financial district—just a bunch of suits in there all the time. I was bored most of the night. Two bald guys in suits drank bourbon and asked me what I did during the day.
During the day? I asked.
Those kinds of guys in the bar are always asking weird questions about your life, and going outside to chomp on cigars and laughing. They thought everything was pretty funny. Must be nice to think everything’s a real crack-up all the time.
Jasper and his girlfriend never showed. When I got home they were drunk. I took a six-pack to my room and thought about nothing for a while. Or I tried. But really, I thought about how the apartment was shaking. When the next big one hit, our apartment was sure to go first.
I was out for coffee in the morning and Dima sent me a text asking to be reimbursed for my ticket for the play. She said she waited on the corner, and ended up heading in without me. It was strange that I missed her. I guessed it was a misunderstanding. I’d known Dima for several years and we got along pretty well together. When we first met, I really dug her. I mean I really had a thing for her. She’s beautiful, and really fun and casual about everything—the opposite of me. I’m kind of rigid sometimes. That’s what people tell me anyway. And they’re right, but at least I can admit it. Most people can’t even admit their faults. Anyway, Dima ended up with one of my friends. They were together for about three years, and I had to stop having a thing for her. To hear her tell it, they were crazy for each other—deep in love and all that. He didn’t share her enthusiasm.
About six months ago Dima came over to visit Jasper and me. She’d come from happy hour with her office friends and was red in the face and boisterous. Me and her smoked cigarettes in Jasper’s room while he got ready for his bartending gig. I went to get us some beers from the fridge, and when I came back the shower was running and the bathroom door was closed. I poked my head into my room, into the kitchen, out on the balcony. No Dima. I turned the TV on and flipped though the channels, watching nothing.
Jasper came into the living room, buttoning his shirt. Dima went to the balcony to smoke a cigarette, and I joined her. She talked about how hard it was to meet men in the city. You have it easy, she said. It’s so much easier for guys. Her hair was wet, and little drops plopped onto her collarbone when she dragged on her smoke, pooling there before running down her shirt.
But six months is a long time. Jasper got himself a girl, and Dima and me went on as usual—friends. The night after the play I went to the bar where Jasper worked. At Jasper’s bar, a guy with thick whiskey-breath bought me two shots and two beers and I drank to his health and good spirits. After the toast, he leaned forward on his toes looking at me with what seemed like a thoughtful stare, like he expected something else from me. A little while later he smacked into the glass door when he was going for a smoke and busted his nose. He dragged himself out into the street, hunching forward and spilling blood to the asphalt, his arms held out like the wings of an airplane.
When the night was almost over, a girl came in and ordered a gin and tonic. The whole bar was empty but she sat right next to me. Jasper had some jazz playing and she said she liked it. I asked her if she was a jazz fan normally, or just liked it tonight.
I like Blues and Roots, she said, this album. She pointed to the air to signal the music, like it was coming from the sky. It’s one of Mingus’ most lively, she continued, one of his most raw. I mean, most of his stuff’s good, but not like this. She pointed up again. But really, she said, I’m a Monk kinda girl. His early days, before he became influenced, before he got too out there.
I had no idea what she was talking about. I’d never really heard of those guys, so I told her, Maybe you should show me where to go see some jazz sometime, and maybe sometime we could go together. She answered her phone as I said it. She probably didn’t hear me.
Oh, you’re here! she said into the phone. A car had pulled up in front of the bar. She paid her bill and went out. She kissed the guy behind the wheel for a long time. Jasper and me just stared. You want another drink, he said.
Dima texted me on my day off, thanking me for giving her the money for the ticket. No prob, I texted back, saying it out aloud as I sent it.
That night I got drunk at work, and when I got home I took a six-pack into my room and started throwing them back. When the house started shaking I got up and opened my door, then slammed it shut. The shaking stopped, and I finished my beers quickly and went to sleep.
Sometime in the night the shaking started again. My fern fell from the windowsill. I got up out of bed, feeling a little unsteady, a little worse for wear, and scooped the dirt into my hand and collected it back into the pot. I went to the closet in the hallway for the vacuum. When I opened the closet door the shelves emptied to the floor. From the shaking. I brought the vacuum to my room and sucked up the soil from the carpet, then picked up the things from the hallway and stuffed them back onto the closet shelves, but no sooner did I replace them than they flew right off again. The house was shaking so bad now I could hear dishes shattering in the kitchen. I stood in the doorframe for a few minutes before trying to make my way to the kitchen to mediate the damage, but tripped on the way and broke a lamp with my knee, falling to all fours. Feeling panicked, I clasped my hands behind my head, wished the shaking would give it a rest. I crawled toward the door and made it down the stoop. In the corner store the bottles slid to the floor and a flood of liquor and glass rushed across the tile, over my bare feet and out to the sidewalk.
I yelled to the clerk over the noise, Is it the big one?
He just looked at me kind of stone-faced.
The big one, is this it, I said.
Everything shook. The trees that lined the center of the street arched and rocked. Lamps overhead shed their glass and sparked. Telephone poles snapped, beating their wires against the pavement like jump ropes. Buildings of pale stone lurched over in impossible angles overhead. A fissure opened in the sidewalk and the newspaper boxes disappeared into it forever.
Hands thrust forward, body crossed up, reeling this way and that with no center to find itself. Each step searched for ground, feet slapping at the concrete, like with each step the bottom might not be underfoot. Just a bottomless step. You’d just keep on dropping and you wouldn’t hear or see anything else, wanting that foot to land. Waiting for it to land but it doesn’t land. The longest step anyone ever took. The one where you end up with your face on the concrete, pinned underneath a car, unable to move, the rumbling not a chaos but a droning, low and heavy and deafening.
There was no other sound. I thought there’d be sirens. I expected commotion, some kind of commotion. I texted Dima, asking if she could feel it. Could she hear it, I asked, the droning.
There was no commotion. No sirens. In fact, nobody seemed to care. It was like everything was fine. Like no prob. But there was a prob. A big prob.
Stuck under the car with no way to turn my head or change direction, the asphalt on my cheek, I lay there, fixed to that single view: a wall darkened by a stain leading down to the sidewalk, blemished with a constellation of gum. And somebody laughed in the distance. Somebody thought something was a real crack-up.
Ezra Carlsen is a writer based in San Francisco. His journalism has been published in California magazine and San Francisco Public Press. His fiction has been published by Fiddleblack, and is forthcoming in the journal REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters and in The Southern Humanities Review.