by Ellen Rhudy Read author interview December 17, 2018
Mrs. Hawkins told us how it would go. You and you, you’ll be taken up. She pointed to Jay Sweeter and Matthew Adams, made them stand and walk to the front of the room. You, she waved at the rest of us, you stay right where you are. It’ll get hotter and hotter and eviler and eviler until one day the sun just sucks us in. These two, she pointed to Jay and Matt, will be alright.
That summer the earth began to vent from the street. One of the openings, we heard, was right in Mrs. Hawkins’ basement. Her whole house smelled like rotten eggs. I burned my feet and every night for a week had to sit up to my ankles in an ice bath. My sister had two-a-days for marching band all August, until one day she came home early because the practice field had swallowed half the drumline. We went back in the dark to stand in the parking lot, dozens of us, watching the earth belch itself into the sky in flickers and sparks.
Mrs. Hawkins moved to the high school with us; she said we were her best English class and she didn’t want to let us go so close to the end. Everyone said her husband had left her, but if you tried to call her anything other than “Missus Hawkins” she would stand you with your nose to the blackboard. Some people, she said, would never get taken up no matter how hard they tried. While I ran cross-country on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, she walked in circles around the empty tennis courts, staring at the cracked asphalt.
The roads out of town buckled and swallowed themselves, all five of them, in October. Every morning when Sarah and I left for school our parents would be sitting in front of the fitzing TV, and every night when we got home they’d still be right there, a Tombstone pizza or worse in the oven. Half the teachers were gone and the other half couldn’t get out. They’ll try to wipe us off the map, Mrs. Hawkins said, but you can’t wipe away judgment that easy. Her eyes watered behind smeared glasses. My Shakespeare partner said she sipped from a flask when she thought no one was watching.
A vein opened right under our neighbors, the Sweeters. Their house sounded like it was pulling itself apart but it all fell in, even the garage. They were such good people, our mother said. We tried to see the house but it was gone so deep we couldn’t make out any part of it, like the earth had no end. Jay and I were supposed to study together and I couldn’t say why I’d left him alone. Maybe they fell straight to China, I told Sarah. I liked to think that somewhere on the other side of the world there was a town where people kept arriving without explanation, them and their crumpled houses. If I thought about it hard enough, Jay Sweeter was waiting there for me, his skin crackled and pink and whole.
The Raccoon Lake, out by the edge of town, turned into a mess of burbling, spitting water filmed over by a layer of grease, its last fish bumping across its skin. I sat with Sarah at the library while she typed her applications to Rutgers and Stockton. You can’t go if you can’t even leave town, I told her, but she used our parents’ credit card to pay the application fee anyway. When she got her acceptances that spring she began to walk more carefully between the earth’s sweating veins. All winter the snow had vanished as soon as it touched the ground, no one had to heat their homes. It’s geothermal energy, my father said, we’re living the future.
The only safe sport that spring was baseball, until a sinkhole opened on the pitcher’s mound and took Matthew Adams and the glove he had carried to all his classes, oiled and banded shut. Mrs. Hawkins was moving up to the tenth grade with us–she said we deserved it. She gave us a two-page reading list because we didn’t have anything else to do over the summer, but we didn’t have a library anymore either; so instead of reading I lay in the backyard while the sun baked my front and the earth baked my back. Sarah tried to leave in August without any of us knowing, but I knew. I walked behind her out of town, while she leaned under her duffel bag and tried to step around the widening tears in the earth. You can’t get out, I told her; but she crossed the line into Glassboro like it meant nothing. I watched her go and then I watched the earth around my feet, feeling like Mrs. Hawkins. I kept expecting it to hiccup and yawn open around me but it stayed steady, like I was one of the people it wanted to leave behind.
About the Author:
Ellen Rhudy lives in Philadelphia, where she works as an instructional designer. Her fiction has recently appeared in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet and is forthcoming in cream city review, Nimrod, and Jellyfish Review. Her non-fiction has been published at Electric Literature. You can find her on twitter @ilifi.
About the Artist:
Find more of Hasan Almasi's photography at Unsplash.