Shaken


A small antique white water pitcher falls off of my bookshelf and lands on the carpeted floor next to my bed. My eyes open (I’ve always been a light sleeper) and see immediately what has fallen. I reach down to the floor to pick it up, and the shelf starts ejecting books, and trinkets, gently at first. There’s a Cinderella figurine, a cruet, a book of children’s verse by Robert Louis Stevenson. I get up, walk to my bedroom door, and open it. I look out. There is no sound, but also no nightlight in the hall. I step into the bathroom and feel for the light switch. Nothing. I walk down the long hall and stop at the brothers’ room, putting my ear against the door. Nothing. I turn and walk past the baby’s room and turn right, toward my parent’s bedroom. There’s a sound now, like a grunting, gurgling sound, coming from the bathroom next to my mother’s sewing room. It’s August, but I have goose bumps and I want to see what is in the bathroom and what is making that noise. I step close to the door and hear it again, but then suddenly there is a loud crack and a falling sound. The windows, the windows in the kitchen and the living room have sprayed glass in all directions and my feet are cut as I run through the kitchen and toward the front door. I open the door easily, but the screen door is hanging by one hinge; the fig tree just outside the door has fallen and taken half the cinder block fence with it.

At the other end of the house, I hear roaring, roaring rage and the drunken bull is awake but confused, looking around for his pants, his cigarettes, his whore of a wife who is making the house shake, who is making everything on earth go wrong, filthy bitch shaking the walls, destroying everything. Suddenly, the lines from the septic tank to the house back up, back up like his wife wishes she could do, and that effluvium pushes its way from the tank into the pipes into the toilets and out, crawling, swimming and stinking down the hall toward the baby’s room, toward the brother’s room, toward me. The roaring is getting louder and I leave; there is an unbroken window and a screen that is easily loosened and as I leave I see that the street is buckling, water is running down the street and neighbors are beginning to come out, some trying to drive somewhere – where can you drive when you are already at home and the whole world is breaking into hard, foul, sharp violent edges?  The neighbors in their bathrobes, pink mules for the ladies and suede slip-ons for the men, huddling in small groups uncertainly in the street to see how everyone is, come to see if the raging bull has made the streets break, the lights go out, has come to make sure that the earthquake has not shaken him and us into utter collapse. But it has not. He has fallen asleep on his quaking bed, and the rest of us have gathered together to stand outside, to watch the street settle back down, asphalt and gravel grinding uncomfortably together,  and the sudden lights, coming back on, do not say that the earthquake is done, yet, only that we are still here, still here, here still.

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3 Responses to “Shaken”


  1. 1 quachngoc March 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    Confusing. who is he in this story, and this his wife make the house shake, and the street split. Or it is simply an earthquake, and everyone in that town is going to die.

  2. 2 quachngoc March 29, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Oh. A drunken bull, and his wife is the culprit. But why baby room, brother room… Whatever… Are they a family? Anyway, could a normal person own a tank in his/her house…?

    • 3 Teresa March 30, 2010 at 1:45 am

      Hello, Quachngoc — This story is about an earthquake, and also about violence in a family. The earthquake takes place at home, in the middle of the night. The wife has no blame in either the earthquake or the rage of the drunken bull – she is just unfortunate in being there when the rage and the earthquake occur. The septic tank is a plumbing system used in homes where no municipal sewage system is place. The tank is outside the home and buried in the ground, and would ordinarily work without incident. In this case, the earthquake has damaged the pipes, and this is a big problem in the family home.
      I see that you are reading this from Vietnam – did you read it in translation or in English? I can see that it would be a difficult story, it is very metaphorical. Thank you for reading, and for taking the time to ask your questions.


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