by Susan Pomeroy
[This is a piece of pure fiction begun
in August, long before the fires that recently ravaged Southern
California. Although Daykeeper hasn't featured fiction before,
given our global and environmental concerns, it seems appropriate
to run this piece now. The story is written in installments,
which we'll publish regularly. If you missed Part 1, you can
find it here.]
In the California of my childhood, October was a golden
month. The grassy hills, mellowed into a
deep tan, were burnished with a flaxen glow. Days were
shorter than in summer, and more poignant. I remember cool
mornings sluiced with pale gray fog. Bright golden days. Evenings,
when the fog, now amethyst and peach in the glow of the setting
sun, flowed back again over the western ridges from the sea.
October was different. It was the year I realized that the California
of my childhood would never return. The days were shorter, but
not cooler. The golden hills hadn't been washed with an artist's
careful brush—instead, some had burned black, and others were
a dark, tattered brown, with spikes of dry grasses a worn and
patchy stubble over gray-brown dust.
Our town didn't look much better. No lawns or ornamental
plants survived; that was nothing new. We'd been on summer water
rationing for years. What was new was the grayish film of dust
and ash that covered everything, the lack of traffic on the roads
and highways, and the barely veiled panic in people's eyes.
The 15th was a Wednesday. The power was on that morning.
The kids were in school; Josh was at the firehouse, on shift.
My friend Judy and I sat in our den, watching CNN.
"Northern California evacuation ordered..." It wasn't a
voice, just a crawling announcement at the bottom of the screen
that neither one of us had seen completely. We looked at each
other, looked back at the screen. But nothing more appeared.
No more words. No one saying anything about it.
At the same moment my phone rang, and Judy's cell buzzed.
I picked up the phone, and heard the distant blare of a loudspeaker
outside as I raised the handset to my ear.The voice in my ear
was Joshua's, urgent and low.
"Get to the school and pick up the kids. Pick up the kids,
Sarah, right now. If they
stop you, tell them you're going to pick up your mother across
town. Make something up. Sarah, right now, get in the car and
go get the kids. Don't say anything to anyone, not even Raymie.
I'll call you back. I have to go."
How can I describe my feelings in a moment like that? One
minute, Judy and I were sipping tea and sitting on the couch
watching TV. We were worried, stressed—but all the outlines of
our normal lives were still in place. Blurred, perhaps, but still
there. We had our homes, husbands, kids. Our jobs, our cars.
Stores had food on their shelves and we had cash to pay for it.
Sure, we were hot all the time, and our floors and bodies and
furniture were dusty with grit and ash. We were worried about
water, and about winter, if there even was going to be one, and
about people dying in the heat. Our power was like as not to
be off, not on—"like a Third World country," Judy had said, and
we'd both laughed, seeing challenge, not tragedy.
Now, with Joshua's terse instructions still ringing
in my ears, I could see out the front window a cavalcade of cop
cars with flashers blaring red and blue on the highway across
the valley. My body felt suddenly frozen. Shaking, and frozen.
"I've got to go," said Judy. "That was Mike. He says they're
making everyone evacuate, right now, today."
To be continued...