Balancing on a Shock Wave

birdThere is no warning rattle at the door.  No bells ring, no telephone call.  And the television airs its usual afternoon fare – talk shows, reruns of Law and Order.  Still, we hear sonic booms overhead. I turn off the TV.  I remember that sound from my 1960s childhood.  A jet cuts through the sky like a razor blade and leaves a low, earth-shifting rumble behind.  Back then, we would whisper and nod knowingly as we said in unison, “Sonic boom.”  I haven’t heard one since then, but today I have heard five.  I look outside the bay window; neighbors step outdoors, looking up, pointing.  The maple trees block my view of the sky.

“Gina, watch your brother,” I say to my daughter, who stands with one hand on her hip in the hallway.  She sighs but obeys and walks to the kitchen where Benjamin is playing on the floor.  I walk outside, anxious to see the sky.  I see jet trails and another passes by, faster than sound, leaving in its wake a carpet boom from one end of the street to the other, and beyond.  Far beyond, maybe to Dayton or Indianapolis or even Chicago, heading northwest.

I know this means something.  I know something terrible has happened.  Susan Meyers clings to her husband in the driveway, kitty-corner from my house, covering her gaping mouth with her right hand.  Behind the jet trails, the sky is cloudless, brilliant blue, so much like the morning of September 11th that it frightens me.

We lost the Internet two weeks ago.  On the evening news, federal officials explained that a daisy chain of servers crashed, cutting the Internet in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.  Television, phone, and cable service went down.  Banks closed.

Our electric grid came from New York so we never lost power.  We were still able to function at a basic 1980s level.  The local television stations still transmitted their signals.  Everyone rigged up antennas made out of wire hangers and foil.  The wavy, broken images arose from the static, but any connection was welcome.

We missed our Facebook and email and blog friends, who we now referred to as “e-friends” in our shorthanded nostalgia for the disconnected world.  No one panicked.  Aside from Jack Cranford, two houses down, no one engaged in tinfoil hatting.  Cranford left town two days ago, packed up his Hummer with food and paper products and a mobile disaster supply kit.  I sighed in relief and said good riddance under my breath.

Now as the thin spiraling line of another jet drags across the sky, I spy a tufted titmouse sitting on a branch; I wonder how it balances in the shock waves, why it isn’t terrified.  It whistles, “Peter, peter, peter.”  As if nothing in the world was out of place.

But maybe there isn’t anything out of place.  Maybe everything is ok.

I walk back inside and pick Benjamin up from his pile of alphabet letters on the floor.  Words.  I’m trying to find words. Reassuring, confident words.

Gina says, “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know.”  I turn on the television, hoping for news.  Now there is nothing, not even a signal.  “Where’s the radio?”

Gina grabs it from the counter and turns it on, tuning slowly for a clear voice, a song, anything.  It squeals and scratches.  I keep repeating in my head, “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. If this had been an actual emergency…”  What is an actual emergency?  The sky is blue.  We are alive.  The titmouse is still singing, “Peter, peter, peter.”


“We’re ok,” I say calmly.  I pat Gina on the head and realize that she is nearly my height now.  Why am I just now realizing this?

Gina points to the door.  “No, Mom.  Look.  Dad’s here.”

He stands in the hallway, in a crumpled gray suit sans tie, collar open, mopping his brow with a handkerchief.  “I drove from Cleveland.”

“I figured that.  Why are you here?”

“You haven’t heard?”

I shake my head no and step back, rocking Benjamin in my arms.  He is getting heavier but I am getting stronger too.

“Chicago.  Gone.” He swings his arms, signaling the flattening of an entire city, in one sweeping gesture.  “I have to stay with you.  We have to stay together.”

“OK,” I say.  I won’t send him away.  I am still searching for words.



39 Comments Balancing on a Shock Wave

  1. innatejames June 3, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    Did it have to be MY city? 🙁

    1. thewizardsword June 3, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      I remember looking at each other and saying “sonic boom!”
      Loved your story. Great take on the prompts!

      1. Meg June 3, 2014 at 9:25 pm

        I can barely remember what they sound like but I distinctly remember sitting in the backyard as a jet went zooming by and my brothers and sister and I saying, “Sonic boom!” Funny, the things you remember. Thanks for reading and commenting!

        1. thewizardsword June 4, 2014 at 6:35 am

          Same here! Backyard, summertime in Arlington Heights, IL I really want to hear a sonic boom just one more time.
          Thanks for taking me back there. Those were happy times.

    2. Meg June 3, 2014 at 9:22 pm

      Yeah, sorry about that, Nate. It was the right size and distance. 😉

      1. innatejames June 11, 2014 at 5:27 pm

        I’m amazed at your ability to work the double prompts of the speakeasy so seamlessly. I have yet to craft an entry that remains true to my voice. You are excellent at this, Meg. Regardless of your geographical picks. Sorry to make that about me right outta the gate.

  2. bobmcgough June 3, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    It would be nice to live like they did for a bit I think, sans the looming threat of disaster.

    1. Meg June 3, 2014 at 9:25 pm

      Me too, Bob. Thanks for reading.

  3. Splendid Empress June 3, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    This is very good – you do a fabulous bit of world-building here with your descriptions. And I remember that world…….sonic boom!

    1. Meg June 4, 2014 at 9:36 am

      Thanks so much! Glad it resonated.

  4. Michael June 3, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    “We lost the Internet two weeks ago.” Now there’s a scary thought. That line gave me chills. And also the part about cloudless mornings; I remember exactly 9/11 being like that. I’ve never quite liked perfect sunny days since. To quote a character from Rilla of Ingleside, it always seems like nature is compensating for something terrible happening.

    1. Meg June 4, 2014 at 9:37 am

      It is scary. And I’ve never really trusted cloudless clear blue days either since 9/11. Nice quote. Thanks for reading and commenting, Michael.

  5. tnkerr June 3, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    Nice story – quite plausible. Well told – but then again, everything I have read of yours is well told, and weller written. (Damn, I did it again, didn’t I?…)

    1. Meg June 4, 2014 at 9:43 am

      You are very kind, Thom. Had to do a little research to make sure it was plausible — it is unlikely but plausible. 😉

      1. tnkerr June 4, 2014 at 11:25 pm

        Unlikely is a good thing though! Leastwise in this case it is.

    1. Meg June 4, 2014 at 9:44 am

      Thank you, Carol. Appreciate your reading and posting!

  6. Jennifer G. Knoblock June 4, 2014 at 9:02 am

    So many beautiful little bits…well crafted, and a heck of a Story.

    1. Meg June 4, 2014 at 9:45 am

      Thanks for your kind words, Jennifer! I’m always happy to see your comment! <3

  7. cshowers June 4, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Wow – this was powerful, and the stark simplicity of your words made it even more powerful. As I read your story, I couldn’t help thinking this could really happen. Many people would never have believed 9/11 would ever happen here, in our country, but it did… You definitely have a gift of weaving a story that is completely believable and realistic.

    God bless you,

    1. Meg June 5, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      Thank you, Cheryl. In my head, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go down this path — it’s so dark. But something compelled me. Really appreciate your comments.

  8. S. J. Paige June 4, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    I love the subtle way you let the reader know the relationship between the mother and father. Also, I’m a sucker for apocalyptic stories, so, naturally, I want to red more. 🙂

    1. Meg June 5, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      I’m a sucker for apocalyptic stories too! What’s up with that? 🙂 Thanks for reading and posting!

  9. Kathy Combs (@Kathy29156) June 5, 2014 at 6:54 am

    This was awesome. I too liked the subtle reference to the parents relationship. I love the buildup and the confirmation at the end. Kind of would have liked the story to continue to see what comes next. Great story!

    1. Meg June 5, 2014 at 10:31 pm

      Thank you, Kathy! I hope to work on it some more down the road.

  10. vishalbheeroo June 5, 2014 at 7:29 am

    Absolutely heart pounding narration that makes it seems so real and shit scary!

    1. Meg June 5, 2014 at 10:31 pm

      LOL — “shit scary!” That’s good, right? 😉 Thanks for reading!

  11. fatgirlinboxinggloves June 5, 2014 at 11:28 am

    “Aside from Jack Cranford, two houses down, no one engaged in tinfoil hatting.” I am in love with that line – so good.

    1. Meg June 5, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      Hah! Thanks for highlighting that — I wasn’t sure if it worked.

  12. Suzanne June 5, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Wow, Meg. This gave me chills. Beautifully written and such a creative take on the prompts! 🙂

    1. Meg June 5, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      Thank you, Suzanne! Always appreciate your thoughtful comments.

  13. Pingback: winners of the speakeasy at yeah write #164 | the speakeasy at yeah write

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  15. MamaMickTerry June 8, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    First of all, congratulations Meg!! I’ve been away from the Speakeasy for a couple of weeks and was thrilled to come back and read the news 🙂
    Secondly, this post rocked!! There are so many layers to everything you wrote about. You told a lifetime of stories in just a few paragraphs. Bravo!
    (PS: You had me at sonic boom! I SO remember that noise!)

    1. Meg June 9, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      Thanks so much, Michelle! It’s great to hear from you. Just stopped by your blog and love what you’re doing with it. Really appreciate your kind words. One of the joys of writing this was learning how many people remember sonic booms! Be well, bloggy friend.

  16. Stephen Thom June 9, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Excellent, I want to read more of this. Do you have longer pieces on the blog? Would you think of putting a collection together? Anyway there are some really effective moments that paint a mental picture here, the jet trails passing by, and for sure it is the mark of a skilful writer to weave history and character/story exposition into snippets of dialogue. It’s good to learn from reading examples like this 🙂

    1. Meg June 9, 2014 at 8:26 pm

      Ah, Stephen, you do my heart good. Thanks for the wonderful comment. I don’t think I have any longer fiction pieces on the blog. I naively started a novel about 15 years ago but it was incredibly self-indulgent and crappy. I took a couple of writing workshops at the Kenyon Review and wrote some incomplete short stories. So…now I’m trying to get back into writing fiction with the goal of actually completing something that *feels* complete. I hope to do that this summer. I want to read more of your work too. Did I answer your questions? I think the answer is …I’m getting there? 😉

  17. Kreative Kürze|Creative Brevity June 28, 2014 at 1:11 am

    I really wanted to know more, know what happened. I really wanted to know how Chicago got flattened (nuclear bomb? missile? earthquake? something else entirely?) Really engaging story, really drew me in right from the beginning. You’re a good writer to be able to draw people in like that.

    1. Meg June 28, 2014 at 8:35 am

      Thanks, CB! I think it was a nuclear bomb. Appreciate your reading and commenting!


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