Jacob M. Appel is a doctoral candidate in history at Columbia University. His fiction has appeared in Weber Studies, The South Dakota Review, The Nebraska Review, The Cimarron Review, and elsewhere.
Some people never move the earth.
Some people never shatter glass with their music. Some people never crumble masonry with their bark. Some people never know the rocking rhythms of sweating bodies as they fuse into each other like molten stone. For every creature who fissures the human landscape with courage and passion, who singes another's heart with kisses or grinds a boot heel into the collective soul and consciousness of humankind, there are others whose emotions never rise like a tsunami, whose travels never embrace Mediterranean ruins, whose spirits never erupt with the lava of love.
They are often women—unmarried, childless—hovering beyond the precipice of middle-age. They can be seen on the neighborhood streets of faceless cities pushing grocery filled shopping carts like perambulators. They can be seen following clothed dogs around empty parks in the belly of the afternoon. They can be seen at the windows of their once cozy houses through unkempt shrubbery and grime-tinged curtains. Their aging is glacial. Days pass like eons. Time sands their lives smooth like polished limestone as they pass into isolation, into resignation, into senility. Then even their marble slabs, their eternal markers, fade under the elements until no record remains of what they've never done.
Occasionally, a young man will come along to remember them. He will arrive one muggy morning at the wheel of a vintage blue-grey Cadillac: A vehicle so arthritic that he must slide across the seat and exit through the passenger door. His cheeks will be flushed from cruising the tree-lined streets, his dark eyes smart and old like a stuffed owl in a museum, his lips parted slightly in a blend of welcome and warning. The women he greets—heartily hesitant with his hands tucked nonchalantly into the pockets of his slacks—will eye him suspiciously. They will raise their eyebrows, shift their weight on swollen legs. Asking, what troubles do you bring? Asking, why me? And it is this first look, this hint of doubt and trespass, that will fossilize in his thoughts. Long after these women have folded into the earth, the man will carry their memory with him like a tremor. It will shake him but it will not crack him. For he is a hard man—one of many such men calloused on the insides of their skin; he has learned to tempt fate because the earth has yet to swallow him.
This man is Abel Flint. When he comes upon Carol Silver, she is sorting her mail at the curbside—assessing each letter and then bracing it with her elbow against her ample bosom. Her dyed-black hair glistens purple in the sunlight; her floral print skirt flaps about her ankles. From her fuchsia lipstick to the hand-drawn lines emphasizing her eyebrows, she exudes the false hues of an early color photograph. Flint removes his glasses and squints at her through the morning light. He examines her carefully, almost tenderly—recognizes the homely, broad forehead and flat cheeks that remind him of his mother. He notes the rusted impression of her name lettered on the side of the mailbox. Then she smiles at him tentatively, her lips pursed on the verge of a question, and he knows that this is the woman he's been looking for.
"Good morning, Mrs. Silver," he says, adopting the Mrs. as a form of flattery. He plants himself on the sidewalk several paces in front of her—not so close as to seem threatening, not so far as to seem distant—and he gives the side of his briefcase a businesslike slap.
Flint has culled his routine from years of experience. He understands that women like Miss Silver require patience and understanding; that they pride themselves on their independence and self-sufficiency. It is only natural that they will doubt his credentials at first. Or will question the invasion of their privacy. The hardest part of his mission is to placate them. To win their trust. It may be days, even weeks, before they come to value the importance of his work. Yet they must, if he is to succeed. The sooner they believe in him, the faster he can work. And isn't his goal to visit as many homes as possible?
"Good morning," Silver replies. He can see the hint of apprehension in her eyes as she clutches her letters protectively against her chest. "Do I know you?"
"Abel Flint. U. S. Geological Survey. You spoke to Jack Threasher on the phone."
He steps forward and extends his hand, but remains far enough away so that she would have to step forward herself to shake it. Instead, she pulls her jaw down with the index finger of her free hand and lets it rest on her lower teeth. It is not him she is doubting, but herself—her own memory. He meets her puzzlement with an ingratiating smile.
"You are Mrs. Esther Silver? Of 221 Pine Brook Boulevard?"
She smiles with apparent relief. "You must have the wrong address, Mr..."
"…Mr. Flint. This is 221 Pine Brook Boulevard, but there's no one here by that name. Where did you say you were from?"
"U. S. Geological Survey, ma'am." Flint furrows his brow, runs his fingers like a tractor through his receding hair. "Are you sure, ma'am? I could have—no one here ever spoke to a Jack Threasher with the U. S. Geological Survey. About seismic testing? An old guy with a raspy voice?"
She releases her grip on the mail and smiles at him apologetically. "I'm sorry, Mr. Flint, but you've made some sort of mistake. I'm Carol Silver—Miss Carol Silver—and I assure you that I'm the only one who lives here. I've been at this address for twenty years." The cheer melts from his face so she adds, "I really am sorry. Is it important?"
"I could have sworn—," he stammers. "Ma'am, could I trouble you to use your telephone? I'm terribly sorry about this, but…." He lets the sentence trail off. The grooves in her forehead have softened and he can tell she is feeling guilty. That she will do him this favor. Even though, as they both know, she has done nothing wrong.
He follows her up the front path, elaborates on his frustrations while she gathers up her skirt to climb the front steps. She rests her other hand on the bannister. Her breathing is forced and heavy.
"It's just that this is government business and it's somewhat important, Miss Silver," Flint says anxiously. "It's just like Jack to make this sort of mistake." He nods his head in approval as they cross her threshold, comfortably breathes the musty air of her foyer. The purple velvet curtains, drawn across the bay windows, please him. The house is dark. The air hangs heavy like the interior of a Gothic church. He can smell lilac perfume and dried hyacinths and old woman. When they pass a parade of photographs on a cherrywood bureau in her dining room, he asks, "Are those your children, Miss Silver?"
"My niece and nephew, Mr. Flint," she says—and he can hear the wistfulness behind her matter-of-fact tone. "Of course, they're much older now. The phone's over there on the far wall."
A rotary phone. Olive green. Suspended in the chasm between the outmoded and the collectible. "Don't worry," he says deferentially. "It's a local call." Then he dials, speaks briefly, hangs up and dials again. All the while she is standing at her kitchen table, eyeing him and pretending to read the local paper. "Wrong number," Flint explains. Then into the receiver, "Jack. Flint here. I'm at 221 Pine Brook Boulevard. You messed this one up. No Esther Silver here…. No…. No…. Her name's Silver, all right. But Carol Silver. And she's never heard of you. Do you want to speak to her…?"
Flint notes that the woman has abandoned the pretense of the paper. She is assessing him suspiciously, tapping her fingers gently across the table top.
"…Do you want me to come back?… Well, I can ask her…. Thanks, Jack. And Jack, try to be more careful next time."
He hangs up the phone.
"I am really sorry," Silver says again. Her voice is laden with curiosity.
Flint pauses his most awkward pause. "Miss Silver," he says, "May I sit down?" Without waiting for a reply, he slides into a chair at the far end of the table and rests the briefcase atop the Formica.
"Is everything all right?" Her tone is more doubtful now. Somewhat nervous as well. Clearly, she is not used to strangers sitting in her kitchen. The crucial moment has arrived.
"Not exactly, Miss Silver," Flint says. He speaks fast, but not too fast. Just quickly enough to get it all out without interruption. "Are you familiar with the New Madrid Fault, Miss Silver?"
She shakes her head.
"Well let me be blunt, Miss Silver. I'm a seismologist. I study earthquakes. And as you may or may not know, you live at the juncture of two major plates. One moving north at an average rate five inches every hundred years and the other moving south at about three inches every hundred years. In layperson's terminology, Miss Silver, you live in an earthquake belt."
She frowns. He is certain that nobody has ever suggested this to her before. She probably thinks he's deranged, this stranger clucking away like Chicken Little in her kitchen. They often do at first.
"That's all well and good," she says disdainfully, "But if you've made your call—"
"Please hear me out, Miss Silver. The New Madrid Fault's been dormant for nearly two hundred years. Seismic tension building by the day. That's why you don't feel any action—there hasn't been any. But there will be eventually, Miss Silver. You have my scientific guarantee. The last quake on the New Madrid was almost a full magnitude greater than the San Francisco Quake of 1906. It was centered near St. Louis, ma'am, and it peeled the church bells in Boston. Yes, it peeled the church bells in Boston. If you don't believe me, take a look at this." And before she can protest, he opens his briefcase and slides a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica across the table. A paper clip marks the appropriate page. "I bring that with me on each job, just in case."
She glances down at the article entitled "New Madrid Fault" but she does not read it. Her brow softens again. "My, my," she says, pressing her fingers nervously into her lips.
"You're wondering what this has to do with you, Miss Silver. I can see that. Well let's just say that the U. S. Geological Survey—that's the branch of the government that deals with earthquakes—keeps track of tensions on the fault line. Amplitudes. P-waves. S-waves. The basics." He waves his hand symbolically. She nods. He feels certain that she has no idea what he is talking about. "Twenty-five years ago we did a series of measurements at five hundred sites in the area. More out of sheer curiosity than anything else. Long before my time. But now," and he lowers his voice at this point and leans across the table, "we've picked up some activity along the New Madrid. Small tremors. Seismic lapping. That sort of stuff. So the Survey's taking measurements at as many of those sites as possible for comparative purposes. Just in case."
"And I live at one of those sites?" she asks. He can sense the sudden confidence in her voice. The pride in her own grasp of the situation, the enthusiasm at being part of something.
"Precisely, Miss Silver." He unrolls a map and lays it across the table. "Only Jack spoke to an Esther Silver by mistake. Hopefully he can track her down. Keep her quiet. Because you see, ma'am, we can't test all the sites. They've built family homes on some of them. A school on another. And whatever happens, we don't want to start a panic. Can't have people fleeing to the coasts over a one in ten chance."
"One in ten?" Silver has fallen into her seat. He watches as she frantically tries to make heads or tails of the map.
"This is hush-hush. We want as few people to know as possible. Families are out, and homes with frequent visitors. So you'll have to pardon me, Miss Silver, when I tell you that we've tried to select older people, retirees—discrete people who lead quiet lives. Besides which, I'll need to stay at each site for several weeks to conduct the tests. Maybe even a month."
Flint allows his last words to sink in. He smiles through perfect teeth. His routine is complete; he must now wait for her response. Terror has swept across the woman's face like an ice storm and through several moments of silence he does not know which she fears more—his presence or the earthquake. Then she reaches out and clutches his jacket at the wrist. "Is it truly that dangerous?" she asks.
Flint smiles reassuringly, as he always does, waiting several seconds to provide his answer. He knows the fear in her eyes; he has seen this fear on his own mother's face. And when he speaks, his words are solemn. They come from the depths of his soul. "No need to panic," he says. "But it is only fair to warn you. In seismology, there is always the prospect of danger."
Danger. Layered like war paint on his mother's face that day when the Earthquake Man finally came for them. The day Flint first discovered the hazards of seismology.
The Earthquake Man's real name was Jack Threasher. He arrived one morning at the wheel of a battered `42 Packard. A touring sedan with a canvas roof and running boards in the heart of the chrome and tail-fin era. Flint can still picture him vividly, can still conjure up Jack Threasher at the peak of his power: A tall, thin, sober man of thirty cutting the figure of a Puritan minister. There was his leather valise, disfigured with depot stamps and checking tags, a bag that could have carried either Bibles or encyclopedias. There was his black cloth coat, heavy like a bear's hide, folded neatly over an outstretched elbow. And there was his intense, determined face—the cleft chin, the strong nose, the high cheekbones—that suggested an ancient god in a moment of crisis. That was Jack Threasher in his prime. That was the Earthquake Man who'd come to save them.
Flint's mother was a widow. A high church Presbyterian scraping by on life insurance, on worker's comp, on erratic sympathy envelopes from her husband's brother. A reserved, melancholy woman of fifty left to raise an eight year old child in genteel poverty. Flint did not remember his natural father—the captain of a river boat that catered to the tourist trade. The man had fried to death on the job during a lightning storm. The only father that Flint remembered was Jack Threasher, the Earthquake Man, the man who guided his mother's hands across the isobars of a tattered map and peppered them both with haunting questions.
Day after day, his tests completed and his polished equipment stowed in the garage, the Earthquake Man sawed through the silence of the parlor with his inquiries. Did they know that the quake of 1755 had leveled the city of Lisbon, Portugal—killed eighty thousand churchgoers on a Sunday afternoon? Were they familiar with the quake of 1556 which had slaughtered almost one million Chinamen in their sleep? Did they understand that the New Madrid itself, when it moved again, would raze every man-made structure from Chicago to New Orleans? Flint even remembered him emphasizing the New in New Orleans, as if to distinguish it from Old Orleans. The sign of a man who had traveled widely. Whom the government trusted with its most cherished secrets. And there he was in the Flints' parlor—ensconced on the sofa between his father's rusted fishing tackle and several old buckets of congealed varnish. How different the house was now. How quickly had the Earthquake man shattered the petrifying silence that preceded him.
Flint loved the Earthquake Man. Not just his earthquake stories, but also his worldliness, his enormous zest for life's small pleasures. The way he could light a match on his tongue or take his thumbs off. Flint loved tossing around a baseball on those muggy summer afternoons; he loved the aroma of tobacco that drove the odor of dried hyacinths from the parlor. During that month of tests—and what a long month it now seems—he discovered childhood for the first time. So different from the premature middle-age unwittingly thrust upon him by his mother. Yes, Abel Flint loved the Earthquake Man. He still loves the Earthquake Man—admires him, worships him. Only memory would teach him that his mother had loved him too.
Does Carol Silver love the Earthquake Man? Sitting on her back veranda sharing a cup of tea after a long day's work, Flint entertains the possibility. Ruminates on it, digests it. She is sixty-seven; he is thirty-three. Four weeks have passed since she started to call him the Earthquake Man, five since his arrival, and he has suggested this name because it is far more ambiguous than Mr. Flint, than young man, even than Abel. It is both intimate and professional—a name that keeps their relationship indefinitely suspended between the romantic and the maternal. This speeds his work. Though, if the truth be told, he finds that he genuinely enjoys her company.
Carol is a professional indexer, retired on her small savings. Her nephew and niece live in Phoenix; both of her sisters died young. But she has not retreated into isolation and despair. Not yet. Her outlook remains narrowly optimistic; her actions retain a solitary vigor. When she shows him the water color paintings that line her basement, suspended by clothespins from a copper wire, he feels himself on the verge of tears. The paintings are copies of picture postcards, impressionistic streaks of vibrant color. The atmosphere is of a kindergarten classroom. Flint cannot help thinking of his own lost childhood and reaching for her hand.
"You like them?" she asks. "I've never shown them to anybody before."
He examines them one by one like a general inspecting his troops. And he does like them. The French cathedrals with their gables and cornices captured in the evening light. The intricate carvings of the Arno bridges. It is a world she knows only through postcards, through faded snapshots sent by long-forgotten friends. He notices the cards she has used as models stacked on a stained coffee-table. They are filled out on the back, postmarked, dated from decades past. 1936. 1951. He does not have the heart to tell her that the Arno bridges have been destroyed by the Nazis.
"They're wonderful," he says.
"I'm so glad you like them. I always say that someday I'm going to see these places. Throw stones off one of those bridges. And, between you and me, I've saved up enough money for the trip. I just don't have anyone to go with anymore."
"I'm sorry," he answers. "I understand." Of course he recognizes that this is an invitation, even if he doesn't know the precise terms. That is always the case. He has been invited to Rome, to Athens, to Jerusalem. And sometimes, such as now, he feels himself teetering toward the brink of acceptance. But he never accepts. For he knows the earth will move for him and he is determined to be there when it does.
He is amazed, though, how close she has grown to him in recent days. How she gives him free roam of the house, abandons him while she walks downtown to the post office and the beauty parlor. He uses the time wisely: clearing grass and roots from the lawn, driving seismic rods into the soil, scribbling notes on his clipboard. He has transformed Silver's small patch of property into a lunar landscape. And each afternoon they reconvene for their four o'clock tea—chatting aimlessly over the love songs of cicadas, watching the first fire flies paint collages on the shrubbery in anticipation of the twilight.
"Lightning bugs," she says.
"You keep saying fire flies. You mean lightning bugs, don't you?"
"I've heard one and the other," he explains. "People have different ways of saying the same thing. It's funny, don't you think? How nature is nature no matter what you call it."
She sips her tea thoughtfully. There is soft longing in her eyes—that newly kindled search for a peaceful place. She may say she loves him. Like the son she never had. Like the husband she never had. It is a fine line with women like Carol Silver. Instead, she asks, "You're going to leave soon, aren't you? When the tests are done?"
"Do I have a choice?" He says the words soothingly. Intentionally conveying the impression that much has been left unspoken.
"Wherever the Survey sends me."
"And you have no say?"
"Not if I want to be the next Jack Threasher. A living legend. The Earthquake Man among earthquake men. And as he once told me, you're always on duty if you want to see the earth move under your feet."
"And what if it comes?"
"The earthquake?" she asks—but now as though she's looking forward to it. As if she needs it in order to keep him. "What if the earthquake comes?"
"I don't think it will," he explains with confidence. Her face goes haggard and ashen like a refugee's. Once these transformations astounded him—the passage from terror to anticipation. Now he has grown accustomed to them. The need, the longing. All because he makes polite conversation and admires a few watercolors. He knows Carol Silver better than she knows herself. Knows exactly how she will feel, what she will do. A deep part of him is genuinely saddened that he will have to leave. But it is his destiny, he understands, to disappoint her.
"Let me show you," he says and he leads her out onto the lawn. The earth sinks soft and moist beneath his feet. It is fertile land. "Do you see that marker," he continues, pointing at a small dial that could pass for a blood pressure device. "It registers motion. I pump this gizmo here—an amplitude configurator, but you don't need to know that—and that dial keeps moving until it reaches the highest magnitude of tremor along the fault. And for better or for worse, it hasn't moved above .02 since I've been here. Would you like to try it?"
She grasps the rubber knob in both of her hands and presses with all of her might. He can see the tension in her face as she squeezes, the overwhelming desire to force the earth into motion. And he sees the terror on her face fade to relief as the dial responds to her pressure. .06. .08. 1.0. It stops at 2.5. The magnitude of a small tremor. Not a major quake. But enough motion on a dormant fault to suggest further motion, imminent motion. She's still savoring her victory as he makes a quick survey of the more sophisticated equipment.
Then he turns to her with a look of shock and wonder. "Good Lord," he gasps, "It's coming. One in ten just turned into one in one. Do you understand me, Carol?"—this is the first time he's called her Carol—"The New Madrid's moving. Fast. We need to get out of here!"
"Together?" she asks, buoyed by this prospect of elopement. He is too busy prying his equipment from the ground to reply.
She recovers momentarily as the initial relief wears off. "When?" she asks, nudging his arm. Tugging his perspiration-soaked shirtsleeve. "When?"
He must choose momentarily between her and the equipment. "Take my car, Carol. Please. Buy groceries. Buy bottled water. Anything else you think you might need. And take your paintings, your photographs. Anything irreplaceable, okay?" He presses his keys into her liver-spotted hand and returns to his equipment. He must retrieve it. It is his lifeblood. She tugs at his sleeve one last time, her breath heavy against the back of his neck. He answers "Please, dear, please hurry." Nothing more. Then he staggers back under the weight of his uprooted implement.
Speed had been the key to Jack Threasher's success.
Standing on the curbside, his tools lined up beside the mailbox, Abel Flint waits for Carol Silver to return. He looks at his watch: 4:45. They may not beat rush hour. Then he thinks back on the Earthquake Man's speed and timing and he curses himself. Flint can picture the panic in his mother's eyes, Threasher's half-hearted but reassuring looks. He can remember being bundled into his best suit as though on the way to Easter services. Only they were not headed for church that day. They were headed for the mountains.
The safest place to be in an earthquake, said Jack Threasher. Out of reach of landslides. High above the floodplain. So Flint tagged along with his mother on that harried morning—to the post office, to the bank. To say farewell to a handful of acquaintances. They could not be warned—Old Mrs. Fenwick who greeted them from the neighboring porch with her poodle and her shotgun on her lap, bespectacled Dr. Nesbitt who had brought him into this world and failed to save his father. His mother and the Earthquake Man had argued briefly over these visits. She would start a panic, he admonished her. She would impede their escape. And in hindsight, it was testimony to his mother's isolation that she had told these people only that she was going away to the mountains for the weekend. For as Flint later realized, she loved Jack Threasher. She loved him because these others meant nothing to her. He was saving her. He was saving her son. That was what mattered.
Flint's mother and the Earthquake Man shared the front seat of the Packard. Flint was relegated to the back with the suitcases and the valuables: The silver candlesticks that had belonged to his grandmother, the albums of photographs and sepia prints. He sat at attention as though sitting in a church pew, his back pressed firmly against the hot vinyl. The vehicle had no air-conditioning. Later, as they coasted into the mountains, he discovered that there was also no heat. Absolutely no ability to combat the forces of nature.
When the road ended, it was almost dusk. Bright oranges and crimsons streaked the sky. The air itself was thin and cold. Flint held his mother's hand, felt her trembling as they followed Jack Threasher up the mountainside. Away from cliffs, away from gorges. A flat, treeless plateau would prove the safest place to be when the earth moved. Behind him he could see the valley spread out against the horizon like a patchwork quilt, the lakes shining in the sunlight, the checkerboard of city and field extending to the edges of the earth. He tugged on his mother's arm and she too turned to gaze. In awe, in expectation.
For a brief interval, clutching his mother's soft hand under the worldly protection of his surrogate father, Abel Flint knew happiness. The boy stood momentarily at the top of the world. It was a natural feeling looking down on all of the helpless people in the valley, the hapless souls who would be powerless when the earth started to move. Then he looked down at his own dust-caked shoes. So strong was his power that he dared not move his feet. He felt that with even the smallest step, the slightest motion on his part, the entire earth might begin to tremble.
"Shouldn't we warn people?" Carol asks as they pull onto the avenue. "Give them a fair chance to escape?" She's donned her best hat, a lime green creature with a brim, and she adjusts her lipstick in the side-view mirror while she speaks. She's squeezed her handbag between her legs, slid the manilla envelope with her "important papers" into the glove compartment. His equipment and her valises are pressed together like coldcuts in the back seat.
"We'd start a panic, dear," he explains. "I have experience in situations like this, you know. This isn't the first time I've fled an earthquake."
"I imagine you've seen many earthquakes in your day." She places her withered hand on his. "You're just like the…."
Her voice trails off. He can hear her thinking son, feeling husband. More confused by her own emotions than the impending disaster. He senses the tears pooling in his own eyes and he wrenches his hand free.
"We need to get moving," he says authoritatively. "Fast. Before traffic picks up."
So they drive in silence. Past crowded strip malls where weather-beaten Buicks and Dodge Darts struggle to enter the avenue. Then onto the interstate, past dilapidated shacks and silos coated with peeling paint.
The air grows chilly. He rolls up the windows and turns on the heat. He has learnt many lessons from Jack Threasher.
They pull off onto the mountain road, rise through the dark evening into the body of the conifer jungle. The headlights cut a thin beam across the darkness. They say nothing. There are no words to say. It is seemingly the silence of a honeymooning couple who believe they have reached an understanding. Only when the road ends at a pair of white wooden crossbeams does he dare to speak.
"I've been here before," he says tenderly as they exit the vehicle. He tests a flashlight, illuminates the dead leaves at the base of a trail. Then he hands her the light and tests his own. "Follow me. Before we head up the path, I want you to see something."
They walk ten paces back down the road. Navigate the debris of other visitors. The rusted remains of an aluminum lawnchair. Beer cans. The gnawed remnants of a woman's hat.
"Look at that," he says when they stop. He points out across the valley. The last sunlight is vanishing over the horizon. They can see the glowing clusters of artificial light where the cities blister the countryside. Almost the top of the world.
"The cities," she says. "Just like lightning bugs." Then her voice wavers. "But when the earthquake comes…but when the earthquake comes…."
The beam of the flashlight reveals the realization on her face. The inevitable destruction of all those people. Their destruction. Her own safety. The nature of mankind. The true loneliness of it all. It is fear she feels, that they all feel; so different from the power that surged through him on his first view—that surges through him now. He lets this realization sink in as he retreats toward the Cadillac.
"I love you, Earthquake Man," she says. Urgency in her voice. "Please come close to me. I love you."
The young man hears her through the open car window. He quickly checks the envelope in the glove compartment, doesn't waste time to count the money. It is enough to know that it is there; to know that he has succeeded. He gazes out the window one last time and sees her with her back toward him. Trembling in the chilly night air, anticipating his touch. It is another moment forever imprinted on his memory. Another moment that will shake but never crack him. The sight of this woman comforted by a man who is no longer there. An illusion. Like the phone call. Like the earthquake. He looks at Carol Silver and he sees his mother, standing alone in the twilight. Her eyes focused on the horizon. She is an old woman shivering in the cold. A woman desperately hoping—and fearing—that the earth will shiver back.