Celadonia Jones knew a little about earthquakes and a little about trees, but hadn’t expected to become intimate with both coming home from the ballet that Thursday night. She thought the car might have been running rough as she pulled into the driveway, but even after she removed the key, her house continued to sway, a nauseating back-and-forth. And when that movement stopped, the douglas fir in the back yard picked up the momentum and began to fall towards her, until she couldn’t watch any more.
When she opened her eyes, the tree had neatly bisected the house, the crown coming to rest on her now-shattered windshield. She patted herself down and swatted the small tree limbs from her face. Her grey suit was covered in pine needles, glass, and flecks of blood. The power lines appeared to be sandwiched in between the tree and the house, smoking and popping. A few strong kicks to the car door forced it open and she tugged the long strap of her purse behind her.
Spinning in a circle, Cel could see that everything had changed. It had been a big one. Where there once was a street, buckles of asphalt and concrete shifted every few minutes with aftershocks. More trees fell and small fires grew into large fires. She stood in the cul de sac with the neighbors, houses burning as night fell dark around them. Some lamented larger losses, crying for help that couldn’t reach them, unable to do anything useful with their empty hands.
Cel drifted away from the edge of the crowd. She shouldn’t have survived the tree. She couldn’t feel anything besides exhaustion, frustrated by the arbitrary chaos of her life. In the last year, she’d lost her parents to cancer and her lover to sommelier school in France. The latter was supposed to return and they were to celebrate with a clandestine trip to his old employer, Restaurant l’Arbre, to drink a bottle of expensive champagne. When he’d called to say he wasn’t coming back, Cel hung the key to the cellar on a chain around her neck, a reminder of what she hadn’t managed to accomplish.
She doubted there would be anything left of the restaurant, but the cellar might still be intact enough for one last hurrah — provided no one beat her to it. There was a 1985 Clos du Mesnil Krug in that cellar. She was going to drink it. And then she was going drink whatever else she could find until her liver failed. The end.
At daybreak, Cel pulled her sunglasses from her purse and started walking. She wished she’d worn more sensible shoes. A few people stopped her, offering protection and food for almost hilarious sums of money. She wasn’t going far, she assured them, and had no desire to refurbish or rebuild or rejuvenate. She was alone and everything was gone and there was nothing else to do.
Restaurant l’Arbre, lit only by the sunset streaming through the windows, was deserted and in remarkably good condition. The front door was ajar and, though the piano was littered with plaster and glass, the walls looked stable enough. She followed the scent of deteriorating food to the dining room. Rack of lamb and tuna cigars lay gently fuzzed on gold-rimmed plates, some on tables and some on the floor. Half the chairs were overturned. Wine had begun to evaporate, leaving red-ringed timestamps on the few finger-printed decanters still upright.
Cel waded through the dishes, stopping at the last door on the right. She turned the key and descended the stairs until the natural light ran out. At the bottom, she pulled a miniature flashlight from her purse. When she hit the button, a cry caught in someone else’s throat.
“Who’s there?” Cel spun in self defense. With no bearings, she crashed into a rack of bottles.
“Do you have any food?” slurred the voice.
“You didn’t drink the Krug, did you?” Cel demanded. A reflexive question. She righted herself, indignant.
“What?” A yellow-haired teenager dressed in busboy black blinked dumbly into the light. “What’s a Kroog?”
“Are you high?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “Do you have anything to eat?”
“Plenty of lamb upstairs,” she said. He didn’t laugh. “How long have you been down here?”
“Since it happened.”
“Have you gone outside?”
“It’s not safe.”
“It’s as safe as in here.”
“Are you going to shoot me?”
“Why would I shoot you?”
“So you can have the wine.”
“Are you going to stop me?”
“Then why in the hell would I shoot you?”
“I don’t know. ‘Cause people do, you know?”
“So you planned to stay down here and drink wine for… ever?” she asked. This guy. This was her philosophical equal.
“Yeah. I mean, I can’t go out there. And there’s nothing else to do. But now I’m so hungry.”
“Shouldn’t you check in with your family? They must be worried about you, right?” As she stuffed her sunglasses back into her purse, her fingers brushed up against half of a large, stale cookie. She held it out to him, wrapped in an embossed ballet napkin smeared with lipstick. “Here.”
He took it and stared at it. She shouldered past him with a huff, leaving him alone in the dark with the cookie.
It took her a good ten minutes to locate the Krug. Gripping the flashlight between her teeth, she popped the cork, listened to the fizz, and let it tickle her cheek. She drank, breathing in the yeast. She tucked a few other bottles underneath her arm, took a deep breath, and returned to the stairs.
The busboy hadn’t moved. He was still studying the cookie, but now his dirty cheeks were tear-streaked. He broke the cookie and handed half back to her. Crumbs fell from his palsied fingers. Their eyes locked.
“God damn you,” she said, heading up the stairs. “Come on.”
Camille Griep lives and writes in Seattle, Washington. Her work has appeared in Bound Off, The First Line, and Punchnel’s. She is at work on her first novel.