“The place looks good,” says George. “I like the color.”
“It’s called Autumn Rain.”
“What color is Autumn Rain, exactly?” I ask, picturing rust, not this
color Patty’s slapped on her walls.
“Well, I’d say it’s blue.” Patty pointedly directs this to George, not me.
“Okay, fine, it’s fucking blue.”
Patty gets up to fetch bubbly water from the kitchen. George turns to
me and whispers, “Try to be nice to Patty.”
“I am nice.”
“You know what I mean. We owe her a lot of money.”
Patty’s dishwasher hums and clanks, spoon to plate. Across the room
hangs one of our mother’s paintings, the muddy country landscape of a
house atop a hill before a maze of gathered white sheep. In the window
of the farmhouse, a dark figure looks over her land. When I was little, I
found this figure ominous, as if she were trapped in an attic room. Our
mother wasn’t much of a painter, but Patty and I both have her paintings
displayed in our homes. Mine must be waterlogged and wrinkled on the
swollen walls of my recording studio.
Patty sets the glasses on the coffee table. “Funny how Mill Valley has
barely been touched. Don’t you think, Iris?”
“Oh, yes,” I say. “Vallejo, the city where misfortune strikes without
George pinches my thigh.
“I did warn you,” says Patty. “That house was cheap for a reason.”
“It’s not Vallejo’s fault. It’s just unlucky.”
“Let’s hope there aren’t any aftershocks,” says George.
“I’m not worried. It wasn’t the Big One,” says Patty. “More like a
Small-to-Medium One.” The Big One is expected to tear the state apart,
north from south. Any One could be the Big One, and we’ve spent our
lives preparing for it. When I was a kid, we practiced timed drills at
school. We rolled under our desks and hooked fingers behind our necks,
as if our fastened knuckles might keep our skulls from cracking like
eggs. When the days are hot and dry, in the late summer and early fall,
we say it’s earthquake weather.
“We’re on bedrock here, nothing to fear.”
George keeps yawning, so Patty leads us to the guest bedroom. As she
walks down the hall, her body sways. My eyes track her strange rhythm.
My internal temperature rises. I recognize this like a premonition or a