The End of the World in Slow Motion
A Storyby Ann Pancake
He'd only planned to spend two nights. But not only is it worse than he’d thought; he also senses his mother about to give in. For ten years Avery has been trying to get her to move back with him to Cleveland, and for ten years she has refused, but now he senses her about to break. It is mostly the stories that make him think this. Of course, for three or four years after Buffalo Creek she told the stories because she had to tell them. He understands that now, how her stories put shape and control and a kind of finality on a thing that was obscenely shapeless and uncontrollable and forever unfinished. She found new audiences wherever they moved—she had lived through the 1972 disaster at Buffalo Creek, and it gave her, gave the whole family, both a luster and a taint, so there were always plenty of people to listen. And she told the stories as repetitive as ritual—the car horns, Patty’s prayers, people half naked climbing out of mud, Shirl Benson’s soup—so when his father always left the room and Avery always followed, Avery told himself it was out of boredom. Eventually, though, his mother either spent herself or cured herself, and she quieted. She did tell the stories on special occasions, like February 26, the anniversary, and she liked to tell them on the anniversary of his father’s death too, but in general, for a long, long time she quieted. Then a couple of years ago, when they began what she calls “some new kind of crazy strip-mining,” the Buffalo Creek stories started seeping back out of her. She needed to tell them at least once whenever he came down, and now that he was grown up he stayed, he listened. But after the floods this year she began telling the stories even over the phone, and long-distance in his mother’s world was only for reporting who’d died and who’d got born. When she began telling the stories long-distance, where she had to pay to tell the stories, Avery knew he better come on down, and once he got here he realized she was talking about almost nothing else. And although that scared him some, he sensed he might be about to win. That’s the main reason he decided to stay a little longer. The second reason was to see if he could figure out what was going on himself.