And then the earth shifted. A table began to dance across the floor in jerks—its irregular movements reminding her of Mr. Malley’s drunken lurching at the last barn dance before the town elders escorted him out. The pewter dishware, normally so orderly, began to irregularly dive off the open shelves of the kitchen cupboard. The metal pings being swallowed by the increasing groaning of the land. The one fancy china plate was the last to jump ship, belly-flopping to the ground and exploding into sharp shards on the worn wood.
The house shifted again and Agnes, not expecting her land to do anything other than what it had always done for every day of her life, was thrown off balance, stumbling toward the stove with open palms. Hoping to avoid the inevitable burns, Agnes swung to the side at the last moment and rammed her shins into the wood box instead. She went sprawling over the top, ripping her every-day dress, slamming her shoulder and face into the rough-hewn wall.
The house increasingly shuddered. Tremors released years of dirt trapped between floorboards down from the upper story. The few window panes, unable to flex, cracked in half. The staircase began to twist and pop with the earth’s movements.
Agnes pushed herself away from the wall and rushed through the doorway onto the porch where she stumbled into her husband Ben who had been about his chores outside. Agnes and Ben clutched each for support both physical and emotional. The two were bound by a desire to be anywhere but where they were when the shaking began.
“It’s an earthquake!” Ben shouted in her ear, finally yanking her by the arm into the front yard. As they clutched each other and made their way away from the house, Agnes realized the earthquake had at last peaked. The groaning and shaking faded away as though the earth has spent all its fury. The low moan of the earth was now replaced by the terrified lowing of protesting animals. How many of their livestock were injured?
Agnes wondered if Hell itself, deep underground had decided to revolt.
The couple turned in circles, Agnes trying to survey the damage and assess if she were really wide awake or had dreamt the last two minutes. The outhouse—never a very solid structure—lay flat; the barn stood, but she couldn’t see how bad things were inside; cross pieces of the corral fence were lying feet from where they should be. The two recently acquired colts, skittish even on a good day, were long gone. Fortunately, Mabel and Barney, the family’s two reliable horses remained with their flanks pressed close together running up and down the length of the corral. As Agnes watched, their frenzied movements began to calm. Agnes hoped their demeanor meant the earthquake was gone for good. From the safety of the front yard, Agnes finally turned back toward the house. Even though the earthquake had stopped, the house must have kept rocking. She watched as the top of the chimney silently teetered to the side and collapsed. She and Ben cocked their heads and followed the bricks as they crashed through the lean-to by the kitchen door and onto the dirt. She had helped her father drive those bricks in from town. Loaded up the baskets that the men heaved up to the roof. Observed the painstaking efforts with mortar and trowel. So much work.
Agnes dropped to her knees and then gingerly lay on her stomach, stretching out, palms down on the ground, wondering if it were the earth or just her body that felt like it was still slightly swaying.
Check back tomorrow to see how Agnes and Ben deal with the aftermath of an earthquake in the 1800s.