This Is Where We Live - By Janelle Brown


SHE KNEW IT WAS COMING BEFORE SHE ACTUALLY FELT IT. SHE could sense it, this electric menace rumbling her way, the air suddenly heavy and full of static. Before she could even fix the word in her mind—earthquake—it had begun: a vibration that started in the soles of her feet, as if the linoleum tiles of the kitchen floor were quivering beneath her. Her world going suddenly liquid.

Claudia stood frozen at the sink, looking out the window at the sun, which remained inexplicably fixed in the sky just above the swaying eucalyptus trees. Her stomach leaped north—lodging somewhere in the general vicinity of her esophagus—as the mug on the counter began to shiver and then rattled its way toward the basin. The floor rippled before her. Outside, the ancient bougainvillea showered violet petals across the splintered deck.

“Earthquake!” she shouted, turning in toward the house.

It grew stronger. She could hear it—she’d never imagined that an earthquake would be this loud but it was, the earth creaking and grumbling, answered by the agitated chattering of their dishes and artwork and knickknacks. Below her, she felt their home wrenching against its foundation. Claudia couldn’t recall whether she was supposed to run for the door or climb under a table or locate the triangle of life, whatever that was; anyway, these options all struck her as pathetically impotent responses to this monstrous twisting. Instead, she widened her stance and gripped the counter, reminded of a surfing lesson she’d taken a few years back. It’s just like a wave, she thought. You have to ride it out.

Jeremy appeared in the dining room in his boxer shorts, holding a can of shaving cream. Half naked, the room breaking loose around him—pictures falling, chairs turning in nervous circles—he looked soft and thin and painfully vulnerable despite his height, but his voice, when he spoke, was firm. “Get in the doorway!”

She couldn’t quite process his command, distracted by the exhilaration of this upside-down sensation, as if she’d climbed onto a roller-coaster ride without a safety belt. And then Jeremy was yanking her arm and drawing her into the doorway. He blocked her in with his body, pressing her up against the wooden frame. She felt his rapid heartbeat through the silk of her cocktail dress, the trembling house against her back. Together, they watched as their wineglasses marched, one by one, off a shelf to certain death on the floor.

The house jerked violently, making one last break for freedom. An enormous crash came from the living room and Claudia shrieked—less from fear than wonder and anticipation, a sense that in this next moment something might change forever. She visualized the concrete support beams that cantilevered their house over the canyon buckling and collapsing, leaving them buried under a pile of rubble. We could die, she understood, for the first time.

And then, just as suddenly, the earthquake was over, a dying echo as the ground once again grew solid beneath them.

Still, they stood there in the doorway for a long moment, suspended in time, wary. In the canyon, Claudia could hear dogs barking, the plaintive wail of a fire alarm, yet everything was strangely still, as if all of Los Angeles were holding its breath. For the first time she could remember, she felt connected to the entire invisible city, ten million people united in terror for fifteen glorious seconds. I love it here, she thought, absurdly.

Then the city exhaled, and the spell broke. A car drove by outside and a helicopter passed overhead and the squeals of children rose from the park at the bottom of the hill. Claudia looked up at Jeremy, feeling his pulse slowing against her chest. The panic had subsided, replaced by an effervescent sensation—perhaps the adrenaline of knowing that she’d just cheated death, perhaps just the return of the giddy mood that had buoyed her since she’d woken up that morning. A crystalline sort of joy washed over her, pure and blinding and sharp: for her husband, her home, her city, her life.

“Hi,” she said to Jeremy’s earlobe.

He shifted and gazed down at her, resting his forehead against hers. “You OK?” he asked, and ran his hands up and down her bare arms, checking for breaks or abrasions.

“I’m fine,” she said. “In fact, I’m kind of turned on. Is that weird?”

Jeremy kissed her nose and then her upper lip and let his torso rest against hers. “Earthquakes are a known aphrodisiac,” he said, his hand sliding toward the hem of her dress.

She kicked a