Triage

The earthquake, as far as natural disasters went, was a disappointment. Her husband had managed to sleep right through it. She herself wouldn’t have felt anything if she hadn’t been lying quietly in bed, struggling with the exhausted alertness of the jet-lagged. Sunlight was already seeping into the bamboo hut, but her body was in open mutiny against the idea of morning. The trip over had been bad enough—the traffic snarls on 128 on their way to Logan Airport, the delayed flight and missed connection in Singapore, where they’d gone through a whole Kama Sutra of discomfort while trying to doze on the molded benches, all exhausting enough—but now she was faced with sunrise instead of sunset, summer instead of winter, the rustle of palm fronds instead of the rattle of storm windows. Nothing was familiar; nothing inspired any trust; nothing could be counted on, not the brightening sky, not even the solid ground.

An odd and unsettling feeling, the earth shifting underneath her. It was like stepping blindfolded into a canoe: a certain looseness and motion where you didn’t expect it. She sat up in bed. It took a moment for the word earthquake to pop into her mind, and the act of naming lessened her panic. The whole thing lasted no more than a few seconds. The plastic bottle on the nightstand tipped over and fell to the floor with a hollow clatter, coming to rest under the bed. The mynah birds outside went quiet for a moment before starting up their racket again.

She rolled over in bed to face him. He appeared to be saying something in his dream, a string of syllables that sounded to her like “long-term parking,” and then he turned his head to the side as if he’d been hit. His mouth was set in an earnest but disappointed line, an expression that seemed familiar and dear.

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