There 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.