On February 22 of this year people who live in Christchurch had their lives turned upside down. The rest of the country had a lot of preconceived notions fairly shaken up too. We had all become terribly complacent about earthquakes. We had had a big on in September and survived. In February people died. The shock, grief and heartache for the people of Christchurch was just off the scale compared to what had happened in September.
I had thought I would write a blog post about it as I had after September. I found myself however doing something different. I wrote fiction. I was not personally involved in any horrific happenings on February 22nd but those happenings affected me deeply. I wanted to write about those people and what happened that day and the only way I felt I could do it justice was to write fiction.
I have used the characters from the novel I’m writing. They’re contemporary characters living in a fictitious version of a New Zealand city. In my mind it’s always been Christchurch. These are real people in my head. It made sense that the earthquake happened to them too. In writing these characters living through the February earthquake I can pay tribute to the many ordinary people who became heroes that day.
This feels like a very brave move to me. I have never before put my fiction out in public, well not under my own name anyway. I am very proud of how this work has come out and hope that people will enjoy the story. I have essentially been writing fan fiction for my own characters and I must admit it has been fun to extrapolate where they are beyond the events at the end of the novel. If you like it I hope you’ll let me know.
As background you need to know very little. Harry, Jack and Emily live a in a ménage relationship sharing a home, families, and each other. There are three people in their bed. Other than that they lead a normal suburban life with a large blended family. How they came to be in this stable and happy situation (and they are very happy) is a whole novel and you’re just going to have to wait until I’ve finished writing it to read all about it. The children mentioned are: Kathleen (15) and Jenny (12) – they’re Jack’s daughters, Jayden (14) – Emily’s son, Wilson (14) – Emily’s foster son and Sarah (14 months) – Emily and Harry’s (and Jack’s by love and proximity) daughter. Due to all the hurt and comfort type loving at the end of the novel Emily became pregnant again. On February 22 she is ready to pop.
I will post this in the instalments I originally used when I posted on the Compuserve Writer’s Forum to preserve the original cliff hangers. The entire story is around 12,100 words. This first section about Harry and Emily is 7500, the rest is Jack’s story of the day which can be read as a separate piece and will be posted (blogpost willing) in one section.
Read on (and comment).
To read the whole story obviously you need to move UP through the more recent posts.
To read the whole story obviously you need to move UP through the more recent posts.
Emily, Harry, Jack and an Earthquake.
Short story (12,100 wds)
Not for publication elsewhere without permission
Copyright Jill McCaw March 2011
Christchurch New Zealand. February 22 2011
Emily found there was a small smile on her lips as she felt the tightening around her abdomen. The baby was coming, but didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Emily had had a show this morning, discovering bloody mucous when she’d wiped herself. She hadn’t said anything, everyone was so busy, the kids with school starting, the men with all the effort in getting the third gym up and running. She’d let them have as much of an ordinary day as she could.
It was lunch time and she’d managed to swallow half a sandwich. She knew she needed fuel for what was coming but wasn’t really interested in food. A cup of tea would be good though. And she needed to think about what to get out for tea because someone else could well be doing the cooking. A crash from the other side of the dining table pulled her out of her introspection. She looked up to see Sarah grinning at her, happy to have gotten her attention. The toddler was in her high chair, and obviously bored with mashing sausage into the tray had launched her plate at the floor.
‘What was I thinking,’ Emily muttered to herself patting her belly and glaring at her 14 month old. ‘Oh that’s right. You weren’t thinking. None of us were thinking. Unplanned.’ She raised her voice. ‘Sarah. No!’ And then under her breath, ‘Not unwanted though.’ She felt the rumble of an aftershock and as usual ignored it. Since the big quake in September they had tapered off. They didn’t happen very often these days but they weren’t unusual either. She started around the kitchen divider heading for Sarah as the shock got stronger. And then suddenly the whole world heaved and the rumble became a roar. She screamed as cupboards and drawers behind her suddenly shot open, the floor dropped away and she fell. On the other side of the table the high chair bounced and toppled over and she could hear Sarah’s shrieks over the crashing and thunder of the earth tearing itself apart.
Emily tried to get to her baby but couldn’t move with the violent shaking. Crockery and all the contents of the kitchen cupboards threw themselves into the air and shattered on the floor. Water suddenly erupted out of the patio, a great grey torrent pushing up nearly a metre into the air before spreading out across the garden and in through the open sliding door. With a feeling of disbelief she watched the clock crash off the wall and the framed pictures leave the walls. One crashed down where Sarah must be.
Then quite suddenly it was over. Fighting panic Emily managed to get to her knees and scuttled through the stinking slush to get to her baby. It was only the briefest of moments before she saw her, but in that time she was convinced she was dead.
She wasn’t. Stunned momentarily into silence Sarah took one look at her mother and began to scream. For the first time in her life Emily was pleased to hear her daughter’s fire engine shrieks. She struggled to undo the belts holding her into the fallen high chair, thanking her lucky stars that the back of the sturdy home built chair had protected her from the heavy picture frame that had fallen across her. She crushed the child to her chest and rained teary kisses into her hair.
Shakily Emily managed to get them both over into the lounge where other than the contents of the bookshelves being on the floor there was little damage. ‘Oh my god.’ Emily was trying not to cry. That had been absolutely terrifying. She clutched the baby. ‘That was a big one wasn’t it?’ Sarah squirmed in her arms and reluctantly she let her go. ‘I think that was bigger than the first one.’
Sarah sat on her plump little bottom and stared back at the kitchen, her eyes round with shock. ‘Owie,’ Sarah said.
‘Owie,’ Emily agreed with a giggle before a sharp pain in her abdomen doubled her over. ‘Ow. Ow. Shit.’ She clutched at her belly as an unmistakable vice like feeling tightened around her belly. ‘Oh no,’ she moaned, ‘Not now.’
As the contraction eased and she caught her breath she scrabbled for the phone. For the life of her she couldn’t remember which of the three gyms they now owned the guys would be at so she tried their cell phones. She tried Harry as the one least likely to panic, only to get a burp, burp noise of a phone that wouldn’t connect. Swearing she tried Jack’s number with the same result. ‘Oh god, what do I do now?’
Sarah had crawled over to the TV which perhaps because it was on a stand on wheels was still standing, although it had moved across the floor. Sarah stabbed at the on button and surprisingly it came on. She patted the screen in excitement when she saw “Dora the Explorer”, her fright forgotten.
‘Sorry Bubble,’ Emily used the remote to change to a local channel just as another contraction grabbed her. She doubled over trying not to swear and to remember how to pant through the pain. An aftershock rattled and shook the house and Sarah screamed again.
‘Fuck.’ Emily levered herself onto the sofa as Sarah flung herself back into her arms. Glancing up at the TV she couldn’t believe her eyes. The TV was beaming live coverage, obviously broken into schedule programme and what it showed was just simply not possible. The city was recognisably Christchurch but it was a Christchurch that looked like it was in a third world country full of hundreds of battered, dirty, shell shocked people, fallen rubble and dust. ‘Oh fuck.’ She grabbed for the phone and tried again. Now when the guy’s phones wouldn’t connect she felt a frisson of fear.
It was reflex that caused her to dial the land line of the gym, the first one, the one that was just up the road. And it rang and someone answered. ‘Hello?’ queried a female voice she didn’t recognise. The woman, presumably the current receptionist sounded rattled.
‘Is Jack there?’ she asked with no preamble, ‘Harry?’ Her eyes were still on the TV. Dear god. The Cathedral had fallen down. This couldn’t be real. ‘Hello,’ Harry’s voice said and she nearly cried.
‘Oh god Em, it’s dreadful.’ He sounded near to tears. ‘The place is wrecked. It’s all gone. It’s ruined.’
‘What?’ she said stupidly, trying to settle Sarah more comfortably next to her rather than on top of her. ‘It’s okay sweetheart. Don’t sit on Mummy. Come on, get off.’
‘The building’s fallen apart,’ Harry said and she could hear the fright in his voice. ‘The whole brick façade over the doors, it’s fallen down. Christ we were lucky no one was killed. And the back wall of the bakery next door, it’s just blown out and fallen through our windows. If the lunch time crowd had still been here…’
‘Oh god,’ Emily moaned. She never considered anything like this might have happened to them.
‘The weights machines,’ Harry continued, ‘the weights machines moved. You know how heavy they are. We’ve got people hurt. Some guys had stuff fall on them. I can’t believe it. I have to go.’
‘Harry.’ She had to get his attention. ‘You have to come home.’
He picked up on her voice. ‘Oh god. What? Why? Are you all right? Sarah? The baby? Is it Sarah?’
‘Jesus.’ They both swore as an aftershock rumbled the buildings they were in. ‘I’m in labour,’ Emily gasped.
‘The baby. It’s coming.’
‘I’m coming home now,’ Harry said.
‘Get Jack,’ Emily told him.
‘Jack’s in town.’
‘No.’ She felt faint. ‘He can’t be.’ Emily looked at the TV. ‘Noooo. Please.’
‘Town’s gone. Town’s destroyed.’
‘Aren’t you watching a TV?’
‘We’ve got no power. What do you mean?’ Her own terror was mirrored in Harry’s voice.
‘Town’s just fallen down. The Cathedral’s collapsed. They’re showing pictures of all these people… running… There are buildings totally collapsed.’
‘No,’ he breathed.
She tried to get her wits about her. ‘Where was he going? Why was Jack going to town?’ Her voice sounded shrill in her ears. Sarah wiggled off the couch.
‘The photos,’ Harry was panting, ‘the big prints for the foyer in the new gym. The camera shop rang and said they were ready. Jack went to pick them up.’
‘Shit.’ The camera shop was right in the middle of the city centre.
‘I’ll ring him,’ Harry said.
‘I tried. Cell phones don’t seem to be working.’
‘Yeah.’ Emily could feel a contraction building. ‘Harry you need to come home.’ She gasped as the pain increased. ‘Ow. Get the kids. Ah. Hang on.’ She knew she made some inarticulate noises but god it hurt. She’d forgotten how much it hurt.
‘Em.’ Harry was shouting.
‘It’s okay. I’m okay.’ She caught her breath. ‘The baby’s coming, that’s all.’
‘That’s all?’ he said in disbelief.
‘Go get the kids,’ she said as calmly as she could.
‘The kids. Oh God Em. What if something’s happened to the schools?’
Emily’s heart panged at the thought but she pushed it down. ‘They’ll be all right.’ They had to be. ‘The schools are built to all sorts of safety codes.’ She had to believe that. ‘Harry keep calm. Go by the schools and pick everyone up. I want everyone home safe. Jack will be coming home.’
‘Okay.’ He paused but didn’t say anything about Jack. ‘Have you rung the midwife?’
Emily could have kicked herself. It had never occurred to her. ‘I’ll do that right now,’ she told him.
‘How far apart are your contractions?’
‘I haven’t timed them. I don’t know.’
‘Okay. We’ve probably got time. I’ll get the kids and come home and take you to the hospital and Jack will be home by then. If things get bad before I get there then ring an ambulance. Okay?’
‘They won’t come.’ Her mouth was dry. ‘They’re going to be so busy. There won’t be any ambulances.’ She glanced up as she heard Sarah suddenly cry. ‘God.’ She heaved herself off the couch and followed the noise. Sarah was sitting in the kitchen, surrounded by broken glass and mud. ‘Sarah.’ The baby didn’t seem to be bleeding. ‘Sarah, don’t move. I’m coming.’ She was bare foot but she had to get to her child.
‘What?’ Harry yelled from the phone.
‘There’s glass everywhere,’ Emily told him. ‘I have to go.’
‘Wait.’ Harry shouted. ‘Is the house safe?’
‘The kitchen isn’t. Sarah don’t move.’
Dropping the phone she held out her hand, motioning for the little girl to stay put. Cautiously she slid her feet through the sludge, barking her toes on unseen obstacles as she rounded the end of the divider bench. She got close enough to reach down and lift the child, her back screaming with the effort and plonked her on the bench top. There was a tiny cut on her little palm. Emily’s heart was racing. She slid the child, on her squelchy bottom back along the bench as Sarah wrapped her arms around her neck, her own feet sliding cautiously back through the muck. She had to stop and wait out another contraction, holding desperately onto the bench top with Sarah clinging to her before she was able to get them both safely back out of the mess.
The phone was still at the end of the bench. Harry was no longer on the other end of it. With her heart in her mouth she tried Jack’s cell phone again. There was nothing. ‘Oh god please Jack. Please come home.’