The day the rain came had started like any other. The kettle was put on the stove, the gas lit with a long match as the starter had died years ago. Water boiled like water boils, slowly, watched and then whistling loudly. Two Janat teabags put into a single large mug without a handle and thick white glaze dripped over the sides, and the piping hot water poured over the top. There was enough milk in the fridge, chalky and ultra pasteurized. What did they do to milk here to make it taste so bad. She set the table for breakfast, putting out two plastic bowls with a knock-off pooh bear smiling about honey staring from their depths, filled them with cornflakes and the rest of the milk, and sat her two small children down to eat. The Girl was swinging on her chair again; grasping the back of it, and pushing it down so all four legs sat on the wooden floor she reminded her of cat’s tails, mother’s feet and her own neck. The Boy sat eating quietly while the girl set about separating the flakes from the dried berries into two neat piles.
The woman went to the hallway and brought in a gallon of mineral water, hauled it up onto the breakfast bar, and poured three glasses out, two into plastic, one into cheap glass. Hurrying along the girl who was busy playing with her food, pulling on clothes, and fixing her hair, she made to start another normal grey day.
The cat looked anxious. That cat always looked anxious. It had the feline equivalent of ocd. It would not eat if she didn’t hand feed it, would not sit on her lap, nor leave her be. It’s preferred way to spend it’s days appeared to be biting her toes and talking to her in yowls and feline complaints. It walked to the front door area, and though it was not allowed outside, it proceeded to scratch at the door pitifully. She closed the hall door and ignored it.
Pulling the kitchen table to the tatami room she set the chairs out, pulled school books from the shelf, set the girl at the large desk in the corner and started their school day. Lunch came and went, a bag of bread sticks for the children and a glass of fermented milk drink. She had nothing as usual, there wasn’t anything anyway for her. At 2pm she brought out the art supplies, spreading clothes over the table, and showed them a painting by Frieda Kahlo of herself as a wounded deer. Draw yourself as animals, she said. By 2.30 the Boy had a rudimentary painting of himself catching a ball, he added ears and a tail. The Girl sat there crying. Piles of paper crumpled around her. The woman patted her on the back, and started to clear away.
The cat started to wail at 2.45pm. Moments after the water bottle started to show movement, waves formed within it’s confines, sloshing up the walls of the plastic. The earth turned to liquid and moved first up and down and then in a deep rolling wave like motion. At 2.46pm, she dragged the children under the table, as the rolling and shaking and groaning and splitting and roaring of the earth turned liquid. The bottle of water hurled itself off the breakfast bar.
Grasping the children’s hands, on all fours, like animals, she pulled them to the center of the room, as the earth roared it’s complaints. The world was moving and refused to stop. The screaming started. Pulling the two children to her chest she began to sing softly and pray to a G-d she felt had deserted her, for the forgiveness of her sins and the protection of her children. When it came to what seemed to be the end she found what she wanted was forgiveness and to be together, that was everything she needed. She commanded her children not to look and not to let go of her. They buried their heads in her chest as she turned her back to the window. She did not think they would live. She thought about trying to make it to the front door, to open it in case the lintel fell and they were jammed inside, but there was no way she was leaving the children behind alone, and they would never make it that far across the apartment. The table slid menacingly towards them. All they could do was hold onto each other and try to survive.
The movement died down, and she turned on the tv as the aftershock hit.
On the TV screen a young woman in a white shirt stood on a low rooftop waving. The camera flickered away. The water raged and pushed against everything it met. Vast oceans of slurry, houses unanchored and floating, buses of children dying. She hit the off button, and then decided it was better they knew what what happening than not, and turned it on again. She considered turning on the sound but no picture, or the picture but no sound. She turned the TV around and then back again. The book of paintings by Frieda Kahlo sat draped over a pot of spilt red paint.
There was water all over the floor. Books had shaken loose, high shelves had tumbled and furniture skidded. The Earth moved and moved again making them all feel nauseous and sea sick on land. The Earth itself had betrayed her.
The Girl’s finger nails dug thick red cuts into her hand, and she ignored it as the small Boy tried to pry his sister’s fingers loose from his mother’s flesh.
She heard herself tell the children they had to stay where they were it was the safest place to be inside the apartment, though the urge to run outside and away from danger like an anxious animal continued to gnaw at her brain. The possibility of fire, of gas leaks seemed real. She ran and turned her gas off at the main. She realized she didn’t know how to turn off the water. There would be no more tea. The electricity stayed on for her, one small mercy of living in the center of everything. If the electricity went off on the Kaido, everything surely was lost.
The television called out to her. She was far from the water here, but the weight of the souls taken by the great wave made her cry out for mercy. Surely this was enough suffering for one day. The voice on the television told her that there was a nuclear accident caused by the shaking and the great wave. There would be a hard rain. Don’t drink the water. Do drink the water. Don’t go out in the rain. It is fine to go out in the rain. She decided to not trust the rain, and dug out a bottle of iodine she used for cuts and scrapes. The children held out their arms as she painted a small square on them both. You can absorb iodine through skin, she seemed to remember. Maybe they should gargle with it. In her mind’s eye them both developing huge cancerous goiter from thyroid tumors made her twitch in fear. She painted her own arm too and cried.
Her husband was not home. He returned late that night covered in dust and in shock. He had to go right out again – a family member had passed away. He was going to a funeral. She shrugged as he left to drive towards the meltdown. She would stay alone with the children while the earth betrayed them.
Putting on their shoes, and covering their faces with masks and their eyes with sunglasses, she told them she had to go out and get water. They could not drink from the faucet. The shops were heaving with bodies all desperate for water and food. She picked two cases of 64 bottles off the shelf, and carried them home with her own two arms, occasionally jamming them against walls to try and relieve the strain. Crying and struggling and stumbling she carried on up the stairs, washing hands, and painting with iodine and telling them lies that she thought it would all be ok, forgetting about school, forgetting about everything, and waiting for the Disney show to be interrupted with news of another quake.