| Family Tempo |

Fault Lines      

What was causing the ominous rumbling in her marriage?

Suddenly, Etti thought of earthquakes.

Which made no sense whatsoever — she had her feet firmly planted on the ground of her succah. She glanced around the table to make sure no one was looking at her, closed her eyes, and drew some air in through her nose. The smell of pine and bamboo, the whisper of wind on paper chains. She opened her eyes. The atmosphere was right.

Her childhood phobia. The mortal fear caused by some story her little ears had overheard, the years of never walking past a building without wondering if its foundations were safe.

Which made it very funny that Shua’s actual line of work was earthquakes. She looked across the table at her husband. Her sons, Meir, Bentzi, and Nachi were clustered around him, laughing at her brother-in-law Chaim, who was clearly at the end of a joke Etti had missed.

The company was right, too. Her sister Shaina was off somewhere, probably feeding the baby. Her nephew Kivi sat on Chaim’s lap. And Ma sat to her left, pretending not to doze.

There wasn’t much left of the tablescape by now, but she’d used the napkin rings that now sat in a pile next to the pretty flower arrangement Ma had ordered.

Etti looked down at her untouched orange chocolate mousse. Even her traditional first-night-of-Succos dessert was right.

She put her hands under the table and clenched them over her knees. Something felt off, a niggling tension.

She forced her attention back to the table, pushed back her chair, and started stacking parfait cups into neat stacks, collecting the mini spoons in her other hand.

Etti watched as Shua leaned too far back in his chair and stuck his thumbs into his belt.

“What does a Yekkeh say when he gets into his brand-new A8?”

He paused. “Ashirah laHashem bechayai-yai-yai-i...”

An old Pirchei London song. So old, no one was going to get it.

“Azamrah l’Elokai be-Audi-i-i-…”

So many things depend on perfect timing.

Etti often counted the seconds from the end of a punchline till the laughter. Two to three seconds was the sweet spot — one second meant everyone had seen the punchline coming. By four she knew it was way over everyone’s heads and they preferred to laugh rather than sound stupid.

Two… everyone besides Ma cracked up.

Shua beamed, Etti wiped a chocolate orange mousse smudge on a napkin.

Then Kivi screamed.

“A bee! A bee! A bee stinged me!”

Ma jerked to wakefulness, the parfait cups scattered, Shua dropped forward with a crunch. A stray plastic cup, no doubt.

Kivi, hysterical, jumped out of Chaim’s hands right onto the table.

“A beeeeee! Mommy!”

Etti thrust her arms out to catch him. “Not on the table, sweetie, let’s get Mom—”

And the tabletop, held together by more screws and bolts than actual wood, decided to part company with its rickety legs, and collapsed — taking Kivi, plates, cutlery, bottles, and vases with it.

An hour later, in the calm after the mayhem, Etti found her eyes prickling. Meir and Bentzi had gone digging in the basement for a folding table she thought they might have lent to the Flohrs a couple of years back.

Shua had offered to walk Ma home after Shaina and Chaim decided to get Kivi checked out by the frum doctor three blocks down. Of course Etti had offered to watch the baby until they got back; what else were sisters for?

Nachi was asleep, worn out from a week of tagging along with his older brothers as they bought Succos paraphernalia and arba minim.

Somehow, the way Etti was on her hands and knees now, palms carefully patting the ground in her search for glass shards, brought to mind the earthquake drills she’d spent her formative years torturing herself with. Years of taking cover under tables.

She grimaced. Today the table had collapsed instead. Etti willed the moisture away. It’s zeman simchaseinu, nothing happened. We were finished eating anyway.

Etti dumped the contents of the dustpan into the garbage can just as Meir and Bentzi came through the basement door.

“No table, Ma. What should we do now?”

Etti looked at her two sons, knew they were itching to go to that shiur they’d mentioned earlier.

“I’ll figure it out, you can go.”

Shua ambled in next while peering at his watch.

“Uh, Etti, everything under control here?”

“Yeah, you can go to that shiur, the boys just left.”

He didn’t look at the mess, at the counter with its patina of gravy drips and challah crumbs, at the overflow of dishes, just smiled at her and left.

Etti plopped onto a chair and squeezed her eyes shut.

I want to go, too.

Everything felt wrong. The joy, the joy was gone.

Go to bed, Etti. You’re just so bone tired.

They say animals can sense danger before it strikes. Etti wondered if some people had premonitions, too: was there something out of the ordinary developing, some danger she was unaware of? If they’d owned a pet, would it be gibbering in the corner of its cage?

The first days of Yom Tov had passed uneventfully, even with a folding table, but still she felt restless, metaphorical ears pricked. To hear what, she had no idea.

The freeway was empty of traffic — being a family of early risers had its perks. And Shua could drive to the Science Center blindfolded. Etti had lost count of how many times Meir had mumbled about finding somewhere different to go for their annual Chol Hamoed trip, but his half-hearted protests always petered out around Erev Succos. Asteroids, ecosystems, and ancient civilizations under one roof? The Samsons were there.

“Mommy, we need a game.” Bentzi twisted in his seat to look over his shoulder at her.

“A game. Hmm.”

“Okay, that was a joke, we’re gonna play word association.”

Sure. Like on every trip ever.

“But how about we up the ante?”

Etti looked at Shua. Maybe he also felt like things were getting boring. “I say we use the most interesting, far-out words. Get the person after you totally stumped.”

Nachi thumped the back of the car seat with his foot. “It’s not fair! I’m gonna lose!”

It really wasn’t fair; he had a six-year disadvantage on any of them.

“Mommy is allowed to help Nachi. Ready?”




It was Nachi’s turn. Etti leaned forward.

“It’s a place in Indonesia, Nach.”


Thumbs up all round.




Meir threw up his hands. “I give up, Daddy, I’m guessing it’s a place there, but of what significance?”

Shua grinned. “Something to do with my line of work.”

There were groans all around.

“Earthquake or volcano?”

“Earthquake. Aaaand here we are! Today we’ll park near the lake, so that we can come back later for a hike.”

The boys bounded ahead toward the science center.

“Finally, a quiet few minutes! It’s been so hectic, we’ve barely managed to say hi.” Shua checked his wallet to make sure he had everything they needed and slung the backpack over his shoulder.

Etti nodded and pulled at the door handle to make sure the car was locked. Shua tapped on his phone for a moment and then handed it over.

“I got this email a few days ago, been waiting for the right time to share it with you.”

Etti cupped her hand over the screen.

Grant: Seismicity Magallanes-Fagnano Fault Line

Dear Dr. Samson,

I am delighted to inform you that the USGS has awarded us with funds to provide for your research in the Tierra del Fuego region as we discussed earlier this year.

Please contact me at your earliest convenience so that we can arrange a meeting to discuss logistics.

Etti hastily navigated back a screen to make the letter disappear. She couldn’t read any more.

“Amazing, no?” Shua was actually bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Remember when I was writing the proposal, I was so sure that it was too long a shot?”

Etti pulled her hands inside the sleeves of her sweater. Her face felt frozen.

Shua spoke quickly. He had it all figured out. A workable plan, a bonus to put him on track for tenure.

Etti’s jaw locked. Traveling back and forth to South America for a huge chunk of the winter? And then more work hours even when he was home, putting together results and data and material for publication? She couldn’t see it.

Shua trailed off and looked at her, waiting.

“Is that it?” she said.

He raised his eyebrows. “What else did you want me to say?”

She was going to stay calm at all costs, she wanted to stay calm at all costs, but that nameless disquiet she’d been carrying around all week suddenly clawed at her insides.

“You’re seriously contemplating this.”

They walked for a minute or two in silence, Etti pacing her breathing.

“Was there something else I needed to tell you?” Shua asked. “Or should ask you? Because I thought you’d be really excited about this.”

Calm at all—

“You thought I’d be really excited at you going away for months?”

She refused to look at him, felt her pace quicken as they crossed the parking lot.

“You thought it would be fun for me to manage everything myself while you go off to the ends of the earth to wait for the world to go to pieces?”

“I didn’t—”

Etti swung back to look at her husband standing with his hands stuffed in his pockets, lips slightly parted. She felt a flash of misery, of guilt, and then, searing anger.

“Just. No.”

She swiveled back toward the entrance to find the boys.

Etti removed the cosmetic tools from their Barbicide bath and dried them carefully. She wondered why she had booked clients on the last day of bein hazmanim when she could have gone out with Meir and Bentzi instead.

She skimmed down the list of appointments — Makeup application class. Eyebrow dye. Lymphatic drainage. Not exactly emergencies, and her 12:15 appointment was late. Irritation prickled her skin, a stray thought buzzing in her mind. Imagine if she hadn’t dropped out of med school before Meir was born. She’d be writing a paper on actinic prurigo, preparing to deliver it to the American Academy of Dermatology. She tamped down the buzzing thought and picked up the phone just as the screen lit up with an incoming call.

Her friend Laykie should not be calling so soon; Nachi was supposed to stay till dinnertime.

“Hey, Lay, is everything okay?”

“Hi, Etti, yeah, yeah, he’s fine! I was just laughing so hard before, I wanted to share before it gets so busy that my memory cells shrivel up and die.”

Etti released her shoulders and took out a mug.

“Tell me. What have Nachi and Yehudah come up with this time?”

“It’s Nachi, he sent Yehudah in for a drink because he was suffering from something or other, Yehudah had no idea what condition it was. You know me, Etti, I live for your cutie’s chochmahs. So I went to check up on him. Involuntary spasms of the diaphragm, he said. No less.” Laykie started laughing, that deep-throated laugh that made Etti laugh along with her every time.

“What a fancy name for hiccups! By the time we finished laughing, we were all suffering from Nachi’s illness.”

Etti sipped her coffee, wrinkled her nose, and added stevia.

“As long as you all recovered, Laykie, that’s the main thing…”

Etti wasn’t laughing once she rinsed her mug. She jotted a note for whoever came home first — please stick lasagna in oven! — and went back into her little studio to prepare for her next client. The 12:15 was obviously a no-show. She adjusted the temperature of the wax warmer and opened a new package of cotton balls.

It used to be funny. It used to cause her such pride. If knowledge was power, the Samson family could rule the entire continent.

She remembered Ma asking her what she fed her kids after Meir wowed her with some obscure tidbit from the news. And Bentzi, not more than five, repeating verbatim a joke she’d made that morning.

“A page of the dictionary, a page of encyclopedia, a page of National Geographic. Dumped in the blender and mixed with milk.”

That went around the family for weeks.

Etti changed the sheet on the facial bed and ran an antibacterial wipe over the overhead lamp. She just wasn’t herself, lately. Not since that ugly conversation with Shua.

She looked at herself in the magnified mirror, dabbed on some lip gloss. She was happy. How could she not be? Nachi was catching up to his big brothers, and Etti was more than grateful for the gifts they all had.

There was that feeling again, though. Knowledge was power, but what happened if it just sat underground, dormant, with nowhere to go? How many bon mots and trivia games could she enjoy before something gave way?

She buzzed Marcia in and put on a smile.

Maybe she just needed a break.

If Shua was home, he could pick up Nachi. Etti let herself in through the back door and walked toward the sound. Where else would everyone be on the last day of bein hazmanim if not sprawled around the den?

“Hi, Mommy!” She smiled at the chorus.

“Hey, guys, when did you all get in?”

Meir waved a pen at her. “Half hour ago. Maybe you can help me with this clue. Four letters for “I accuse” author, second letter maybe o?”

Etti held up her hand. “Just a sec. Shua? Can you pick up Nachi from the Millers? In ten minutes or so.”

She kicked off her shoes, ready to sink into the inviting embrace of the sofa, and froze. She sniffed.

“Did anyone put dinner in the oven?”

Three blank faces looked back at her.

“I do not believe this.”

Etti rushed to the kitchen and flung open the fridge. The lasagna, wrapped and ready since the morning, sat in cold glory on the third shelf.

She clenched her teeth, shoved it in the oven, and stalked back to the den.

“Are you guys serious? All of you are home, lazing around, and not one of you thought to look if dinner was heating up? I left a note!”

“I’m so sorry, Etti, I should have looked—”

“Sorry doesn’t help. It could have been ready by now!”

Shua blew out his cheeks. “I didn’t see the note. Why didn’t you text me? I would have done it with pleasure.”

Etti’s anger shimmered, molten lava crawling upward.

“Why didn’t I text you? Because I was busy with clients. For hours. While you all came home and got busy doing important things like crosswords.” Meir folded the newspaper and laid down the pen gently, as if his slow motions could quiet his mother’s eruption.

“…and sudoku.” Bentzi’s eyes were fixed on her, lip caught in his teeth.

“…and a thesis proposal, no doubt, on geodynamics in the Southern hemisphere.”

Shua shifted uncomfortably. “Uh, should I get Nachi now?”

“Nachi can wait five minutes.” Etti glared at her sons, pushing down a tiny voice of reason telling her to stop the destruction.

“Why am I the only person around here who cares about what you eat, what you wear, where you go. and what you do? You’re old enough to know that food gets served for dinner and maybe it needs warming up?” She gestured at the table, strewn with books and papers. “You’re old enough to clean up after yourselves instead of waiting for me to deal with your messes.”

Meir smoothed his peyos back. “Mommy, we’re really sorry.”

“I don’t want to hear anyone’s sorry! I want to see things changing over here. I’m not your cook. Or your maid.”

Shua jiggled his keys, looked grimly at her, and inclined his head toward the hallway. Etti stalked after him even though she didn’t want to hear what he had to say.

“Etti. What on earth is going on with you?”

She pulled at the hem of her top and folded her arms.

“You think it’s okay, this behavior?” she asked, her voice dangerously low.

Shua pressed his hand against his forehead. “I don’t think—” He gave a small shake of the head. “Etti? If this is somehow about the grant, I cancelled it.”

Etti stared at him.

“I am not going into that right now,” she continued. “Is this going to help you have time for taking the kids to the dentist? And clothes shopping? And carpool? Still not, right? It’s all on me.”

The anger suddenly left her, powdery gray ash settling thickly over her heart.

“Go get Nachi.”

She poked her head through the doorway of the den. “Boys, I want this room cleared by the time I come down. And the table set.”

On the second step, Etti stopped and turned around.

“Meir? It’s Zola.”

He looked at her, a sheaf of papers in his hands, forehead wrinkled.

“Your crossword clue. J’accuse. Émile Zola. See? Helping around the house doesn’t cause brain atrophy.”

Etti was glad for the constancy of her work. After 15 years as an aesthetician, all her movements were efficient and practiced. She could do it all in her sleep.

“Hi, Mrs. Turoff! So great to see you!” Her smile felt plastic as she took Mrs T.’s jacket and handbag, placed them on the hook, and settled her onto the bed.

She was doing everything in her sleep this week. All her household duties, the small talk. She was putting on a good show as she smiled and waved goodbye to her kids, welcomed them home with nourishing meals, starched shirts just so.

But internally Etti still felt those small but ominous rumblings of incipient disaster. What was the matter with her?

“Are you okay, Etti?” Obviously, her good show wasn’t good enough for a long-standing client like Mrs. Turoff. “You’re very quiet today.”

Etti leaned forward to adjust the eye mask. “I’m fine, Mrs. T. Just tired, you know?”

Mrs. Turoff waved a hand. “Do I know, ha! Post-Yom Tov extra weight from eating for a whole month, post-Yom Tov nausea from standing in the kitchen too long to make all that food, post Yom Tov fatigue from being around too many people waiting to be fed. Tired, ha!”

Etti smiled as she carefully applied a second layer of PCA peel.

“Did you do a lot of hosting over Yom Tov, Mrs. T.?”

Mrs. T. snorted. “Why do you think I’m here so soon, my dear? I told my kids that if they want me to keep loving their families, the new grandkids-in-law and all, kein ayin hara, they should stay away for a month or two. I’m going to Europe for two weeks, and then maybe I’ll come back a mensch.”

They discussed the pros and cons of Paris versus Rome as Etti finished up.

“You listen to me, Etti, dear.” Mrs. T. folded the bills into Etti’s hand and then closed her other hand over them and held on. “I’ve been around the world a little longer than you have. And if there’s one lesson I have to give you, it’s that you must look after yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.”

Etti looked into Mrs. T.’s slightly reddened eyes and nodded.

“Thanks so much, I’ll keep it in mind. Remember to stay out of the sun this week. Enjoy your trip!”

And then it was back-to-back bookings, such a packed schedule that it was afternoon before Etti came up for air. She needed a coffee desperately.

A missed call in the middle of the day from Shua, that was unusual.

And a text, please call asap

Etti left her mug on the counter and tapped on the screen.

“Shua? What happened? You’re where? With Nachi? What happened?” She scrabbled in her pocketbook, looking for money, for her keys, for her phone, her phone. Oh. She was on her phone. “When did this happen? Recess? Why did no one call… I can’t hear you… wait for me, I’m coming!”

It took Etti too long to order a taxi. Shua usually commuted and left her with the car.

She fell into the back seat and told the driver to hurry.

“Are you still in the ER? How bad is it? Tetanus, did they ask about tetanus? Why can’t I hear you? Reception?”

She told the driver to keep the change and rushed into the ER. A gash on Nachi’s head, a ripped ear?

She finally found them in a cubicle, Shua standing outside the partially drawn curtain, watching for her.

Etti yanked the curtain open to see Nachi lying on the bed, swollen eyelids fluttering.

“Hi, Mommy,” he slurred. “It’s soon better.”

“They gave him a strong painkiller and he’s exhausted from crying so much. It’s better that he sleeps until they discharge him,” Shua whispered behind her.

Etti whirled around.

“I don’t understand, what do you mean discharge him? How long have you been here for? Doesn’t he need surgery? How bad is it?”

She sank into the ugly orange chair and stared at the bandages. This accident had happened hours ago.

“I got the call from the school nurse at around 10:30. I was just leaving shul after Shacharis and shiur so I drove straight to pick him up and bring him here. You didn’t answer your phone…”

Etti kneaded her forehead. “I don’t believe this.”

“The nurse said it shouldn’t leave much of a scar if we—”

She leaped up and stabbed a finger in the direction of Nachi head.

“I don’t mean this this,” she hissed. “I mean how could you not call me, how could you think of not waiting till I got here?”

“I did call you. And texted for you to call ASAP.”

“That’s not enough, you should have tried me again! You mean they stitched him up already and I wasn’t here?”

“Yes, they stitched him up. What would calling more have helped if your phone was on silent? Would you have preferred our son to bleed till evening?”

Etti clenched her hands around the rail of the bed to try to ground the anger that was making her shake.

“I didn’t say that. I said to find some way to get hold of me. I know about scarring, I know about stitches. Nachi needed top care! He needed me here to find the best plastic surgeon, to discuss the best way of suturing the gashes closed! He didn’t need his daddy the seismologist, he needed me! His mommy. And a skin expert, to boot!”

Shua opened his mouth and then closed it. Any other time, Etti would have taken note of the vein throbbing over his eye, would have known to back down. But the anger was in free flow now, burning like molten rock.

“All it needed was a little thought.” She tapped her finger against her temple. “Just to stop. And think for a minute. Use some of that awesome brain power for something useful. Who knows which rookie intern glued Nachi’s head back together?”

Shua spoke slowly, dropping every word into the fire carefully.

“All it needed was some thought? Some thought was that my wife was working. Some thought was that my wife has been yelling a lot lately about shared responsibilities. About taking the kids to the dentist, to buy clothes. Some thought was that you’d actually be grateful I took care of this without needing to call you, in the way I thought was best for our son, with all the useful brainpower G-d granted me as a human being and as a father.”

Etti held her breath for a second and let it hiss out slowly. It didn’t help.

“That was not what I meant. How can you compare a dentist and clothes to this? All we need is for someone new at this to let the needle go in too deep, too far… so many things could go wrong. If I  had gone back to school I could have done it myself.”

Someone cleared his throat behind her. “Excuse me. Mr. Samson, Mrs. Samson, I assume?”

Shua nodded tightly.

The eyes above the mask seemed amused. “I’m the rookie who patched up the little guy here.”

Etti felt the heat in her face. How long had he been standing behind her for?

“And you’ll be glad to hear, Mrs. Samson, that I’m not an intern. Your husband was very insistent that the ER team wait until I was freed up from the OR to have a look at the injury and advise on the best way for repair.”

Etti looked down at her hands and tried to swallow against a dry throat.

“You’re fortunate that I was around to do the delicate suturing on his head and ear. Scarring should be minimal if proper care is taken, Mrs. Samson.”

Etti’s couldn’t bring herself to look up. She twisted her fingers on the strap of her pocketbook and murmured her thanks as the discharge papers were given to Shua.

They shepherded a woozy Nachi out to the parking lot and made him comfortable across the back seat.

Shua drove in silence while Etti tried to pick through the debris of their exchange. At a sidelong glance she could see his mandibular bone twitch and knew he was angrier than she could ever remember him being.

“I didn’t know you asked for a plastic surgeon,” she offered, after five minutes of suffocating silence.

Shua shook his head. “Go back to school? Is this what’s been going on all this time?”

“What’s been going on?” Etti repeated, just to buy time.

Shua’s jaw tightened and relaxed and tightened again.

“Did you say you wanted to go back to school? I thought you were happy working as an aesthetician, it was a decision we both made, a decision you promised was the best one you ever made. You said you were happy for me to be on track for tenure. Was it all a lie? Do you want to go back to school?”

“No! I mean, yes… I don’t know.”

“How eloquent.”

Etti felt the sting in her chest. Shua resorting to sarcasm meant they had hit rock bottom.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Well, that’s a change from the last few weeks.”

Etti couldn’t process her thoughts any- more. She let her brain take over, making a list of the scar-reducing preparations she might need. Vitamin E. Cold-pressed rosehip oil. Silicone gel?

“I need to stop off at the pharmacy.”

“We’ll get Nachi settled in at home and then you can take the car wherever you want.”

Etti pursed her lips. If that was how he wanted to play it.

Do you want to go back to school?

Etti spent over an hour in the skincare aisle, pulling tubes and bottles off the shelf, turning them over in her hand to skim ingredients.

She knew what she needed to buy, but something in her felt balanced here among the niacinamides and bakuchiols and the chemical preparations that she knew so well, as the ground beneath her seemed to move precariously.

Did she want to go back to school?

I don’t know what I want anymore.

She’d been taking out her unhappiness on everyone. Was it unhappiness, though?

Etti paid and walked into the paper goods store next door. And then to housewares, and then the dollar store. She drove around till dark, procrastinating the inevitable.

The house was silent when she staggered in.

She leaned against the doorpost to Nachi’s room. The rocket-shaped lamp was on, and still he slept.

“Is it normal for him to be sleeping still now?” she asked Shua, who hauled himself out of the beanbag and rubbed his eyes.

“He woke up and ate some ice cream. And then he wanted to go back to sleep. The doctor said that’s fine, as long as he’s aware of what’s going on.”

Etti bit her lip, steeling herself to say something, apologize, but Shua had disappeared.

She sat on Nachi’s bed and watched his chest rise and fall, her baby who wasn’t a baby anymore, who would need her less as he grew older and away from her.

Nachi shifted and moaned, a long, tired sound that tapered off into a little snore. Etti bent to kiss him, and noticed a paper sticking out from under his pillow.

With a ghost of a smile, she pulled it out. So Nachi was starting, too — papers and books stuffed in every nook and cranny for easy access once lights were out.

She straightened the papers and glanced idly at them.

She was holding their old National Geographic wall map of the world. Tattered and taped and retaped, Etti couldn’t believe it still existed. She sat down on the top stair and flipped it over, then spread it out. Earth at Night. Clusters of white lights for electricity webbing their way across populated areas, bursts of red for gas burnoffs, yellow splashes for wildfires.

How many hours had they sat over this, she and Shua? How many plans and dreams were made over this old map, their fingers tracing the Argentine coast, the turquoise dots of fishermen doing their nightly squid hunting in the Sea of Japan. How interested she had been then in Shua’s elucidation of tectonic plates, how their occasional movement unleashed terrifying earthquakes and tsunamis onto the world.

And when Bentzi was old enough, how they used to prop him up and show him the Map of the World on the other side. Countries and borders and language families.

Etti tried to think of the last time she’d allowed herself to dream. Not Shua’s dreams of measuring seismic activity and predicting the next upheaval in the Land of Fire. Her own dreams, her own feelings, her heartquakes (Nachi’s term) as the plates beneath her pushed and pulled in constant motion.

But we’re human, Etti thought, gently closing the map along the tattered folds. We should feel things shifting and move instead of sitting on fault lines and waiting for a miracle or a disaster.

She poured a coffee and a tea with a slice of lemon, propped the map under her arm, and peeked through the crack in the study door. Her husband was hunched over a copy of Geodesy and Geodynamics, pen tapping his teeth.

“Knock, knock,” Etti said.

The pen stilled.

So many things depend on perfect timing. And a bon mot.

Etti put down the drinks.

“So, Dr. Samson. There’s this volcano that keeps erupting.”

Shua straightened the papers on his desk and put his glasses on, waiting.

Etti sat down opposite him.

“First of all, I’m sorry.”

The silence stretched.

“I’ve been a nightmare to be around, and what happened today…”

He squinted, took the tea and sipped.

Etti cupped her palms around the mug and stared into her coffee. She needed to get this right.

“But also… today I realized what’s wrong.”

She looked up.

Trying to block the mouth of a volcano never prevents its eruption. Drilling holes along the sides might relieve the pressure of the magma somewhat, but either way, pressure buildup always produces an explosion.

“I don’t know about school, Shua. But I’m bored.” The words came out with a whoosh, a rush of relief so powerful it stung her eyes. “Bored, bored out of my wits bored. I’ve been coasting along, doing all my stuff and my brain cells are melting. Nachi’s a big boy already, and—” she stopped for a moment, tried to pace herself. “And yes, my appointment book is full, but… I don’t want to do it anymore. Or maybe I want to do it part-time. Something has to change.”

Shua sat forward. “So it’s not me. Not my work.”

“No, no! Not you. Your work? I don’t know. I think having your grant approved suddenly made me feel like—” Etti groped for the thoughts hidden under the surface of her consciousness.

She unfolded the wall map.

“Remember this?”

Shua smiled and walked around the desk.

“Where did you find it?”

“Nachi. Who knows where he dug it out from.”

For a silent moment, Shua lightly ran his finger along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge down to Malvinas Basin.

His voice was quiet.

“I think I owe you an apology of my own, Etti.”

Her eyes filled as he brought his finger back up to the United States and rested it on Los Angeles.

“I’ve taken things for granted. We’ve fallen into a pattern that hasn’t been fair on you.”

She dashed her hand across her eyes. “It was my fault just as much as yours. The pattern.”

“So you were okay back then? When you left med school?”

“I was fine then. Just. It was so long ago…”

He nodded, tapping the map. “We didn’t reevaluate.”

Etti looked down at The World, and thought of incessant activity happening in its depths. And how people like her husband tried to make sense of that activity, to warn people of impending danger. So that she wouldn’t have to be caught unaware in an earthquake, even of her own making.

She spread the map across the corkboard and pushed pins into the corners, something light and happy moving upward.

“So. Where should we start?”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 813)

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