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The Earth Will Swallow You by Daniel Wessler Riordan 

Daniel Wessler Riordan lives, works and writes in Cleveland, OH. His fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and various other journals and Cleveland area bathroom walls. He is a graduate of the NEOMFA.

Bernie had hair, mostly. He had a waist- line. He had golf shirts and tennis shirts and linen shirts and button-down shirts worn with cufflinks made out of small things that used to mean something to him, but had become, ever more, only cufflinks. He had quite the collection of ties. He had a wife and she was pretty and she was thin and she insisted to others that she loved Bernie. Bernie's wife's name was Sara. Sara had a job and it was better than Bernie's in the sense that she liked it and she made more money than he did and the people that worked with her respected her and said nice things about her and she was going places. Sara was accomplished. She'd even allowed three of Bernie's progeny to spring from her womb. (Sara almost never had spare time, but when she did, Bernie was almost sure she used said time to fuck someone other than Bernie.) Together, Sara and Bernie lived in a neighborhood and they had neighbors and they had a house, and on that day—the day of the neighborhood cookout, the day the earth split and fissured and the hole opened in their back yard—the house was yellow and the shutters were brown and the yard was green and the sky was blue and the clouds were white and the road that led from one end of all of it to the other was as black and long as you can imagine.

The trees were tall and old. Birds fought over worms. Neighbors gathered in Sara and Bernie's back yard and rocked on their heels and scratched the backs of their heads and stuck their hands in their pockets and chomped on bunned, slathered meats and told atonal, banal stories. Bernie sat in a plastic lawn chair next to the grill, a pair of tongs hanging from his belt loop, at the ready. Bernie watched as Sara walked out the back door and down the steps with a pitcher of lemonade. The sun struck his eyes just so and for a moment he could barely see her. And that's when it happened: just as Sara's foot landed in the grass the earth cracked and a hole opened, so small that no one noticed it. If anyone had been listening close, they might have heard a faint sucking sound. Sadly, among them, a close listener could not be found.

A bee buzzed by Bernie's sightline, but Bernie didn't think to move. A dog barked at nothing and a Frisbee alighted upon the roof. Kids shouted things and other kids shouted back and to Bernie all of it was in some secret language, because it was all just noise, a record playing backward. Bernie reached into the cooler and grabbed another cold one. He seized a hotdog from the grill and ate it quickly. He was drunk on beer and sunshine and animal fat.

"Honey," Sara called to Bernie, stirring him as she made her way toward him, "Have you asked our guests if they need anything?" Bernie nodded his head, or shook it. Upon reaching him, Sara leaned in close and whispered, "Could you please be a bit more proactive here? Maybe curb the beer? Perhaps actually get out of that chair for a minute or two. People are watching." Behind them the hole in the earth grew, a swirling funnel, just large enough to drop a penny in.

Bernie said something appropriately appeasing and Sara walked away unsatisfied just as Jim made his way over, wanting to know if Bernie needed help tending the grill. "Sure thing," Bernie said, looking up at him. Jim, a high school guidance counselor, suffered from a bad comb-over, a thin, brittle mustache, and cheeks and nose that looked perpetually rubbed with red lipstick due to a vibrant case of Rosacea. Jim loved his wife, Millie, a rather tall and burly sort of a woman, but of late had begun to reserve his truest devotion for God the Father, the Holy Ghost, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was Jim's newest thing. He'd been reborn into Jesus just a few months prior after a brush with death on the operating table while having elective surgery on his deviated septum. It was a miscalculation by the anesthesiologist. He'd been legally dead for three full seconds. But the good Lord saves. Millie, an agnostic who did little more than tolerate Jim's new found Jesus thing, believed in her own holy triumvirate: assets, property, and mediums of monetary exchange. She wished she had Jim's blind faith, but Millie, a financial analyst, was currently having a rather rocky relationship with her personal deity. She thought so little of the market's strength that she'd recently squirreled away bags of silver coins in thick padlocked file cabinets in the basement. If it all comes crashing down, she'd said, it's important we have something of real value, though Jim wasn't totally sure what she'd meant by it. He'd thought that if the world came crashing down, some canned chicken soup, a sturdy Bible, and a rock solid faith would be more worthy stock than any slivers of metal. The good Lord, he'd taken to saying when conversations such as those arose, will provide.

Jim grabbed the tongs from Bernie and used them to make an ever so subtle sign of the cross over the grill. He muttered some sanctitudes under his breath. "The grill," Bernie said, trying to get somewhat into the spirit of things. "Man's most sacred place."

When Jim didn't respond Bernie thought to say "Jesus must be an awfully loud talker," but thought better of it and instead turned his attention to Chip, the neighborhood lothario, who had just walked out the back door, arm-in-arm with some gorgeous young woman none of them had ever seen before. Chip was single and drove a Porsche and owned and flaunted other such ostentatious articles thought to be catnip to the fairer sex and because of this, and because he'd never been seen with the same gal twice, many of the neighbors thought him quite the talented ladies man. Others, however, preferred to posit a different opinion entirely: Chip was more than likely some sort of Bundy-esque serial killer—Wouldn't that be exciting? After all, the only logical justification for a single man to own a large suburban home such as his was to afford him space enough to tuck away all the Dead Naked Female Bodies.

That day, Chip wore mauve and tan and a winning smile and the woman he was with wore something resembling a blouse and shorts. She—just another iteration of Chip arm candy/future dead body—was certainly something to behold: long and straight, curved and blooming. She was golden. She reflected light. Bernie stared at her striking face fleetingly and then his interest, as it was wont to do, eased downward. To her breasts. Oh, sweet bosoms. Jaunty, perfect mounds of flesh. And for a moment, Bernie was happy. "Good to see you, Chip!" Bernie shouted across the lawn. Chip pointed a rakish wink in Bernie's direction, touching his forefinger to his brow and giving Bernie an understated salute. Chip and his lady friend each propelled themselves from the steps of the house and onto the lawn with such perfect and graceful strides that they evaded the hole in the earth without care or notice.

"Hey, Jim," Bernie whispered. Jim was flipping a burger and saying something about the Lord's bounty. "Jimmy," Bernie said, louder now, pushing Jim lightly with the butt end of his beer can. "Look at that woman with Chip. She's something, isn't she?" Jim stirred from his blessing of the beef and cured meats and looked at Bernie and said, "I'm sorry. I know you have a wandering eye and a head for prurience, but some of us have a higher focus"—he put his hand on Bernie's shoulder—"I'll pray for you, and ask for Jesus to give you strength."

Jim could often be rude and intrusive, a hallmark of sorts amongst the neighbors, but Bernie felt that Jim honestly seemed to care about people, at least every once in awhile between bouts of piety, and honestly caring about anything around those parts was perhaps rare, so Bernie took the rebuke in stride. "Thanks Jim," Bernie said earnestly, "I don't know what I could've been thinking." Bernie thought that he should've known better. This was Jim, right?, and Bernie was pretty sure that Jim didn't ever consider women the way Bernie himself did, and not because of Jesus. When Bernie and Sara had first moved in the neighbors had let them in on a little secret: though they didn't have any hard evidence, the neighbors were fairly certain that when Jim did ever have considerations of a sexual nature, that Jim never considered women at all. The neighbors made sure to let Bernie and Sara know that they all felt deeply sorry for the couple and especially for Millie, his wife, because, more than likely, if the neighbors were right—and they had a pretty good feeling about this one—Jim really liked cock, probably even more than he liked Jesus. Of course they hadn't described the situation in such indelicate fashion, but Bernie had known what they were getting at. We've got it on pretty good authority that Jim, God love him, is... you know... they said, and then one of them made a lilting hand motion while the other peeked out a wry smile. And how could he possibly have a healthy relationship with his wife? Relationship fitness being paramount to personal happiness—and the neighbors were all, always, very concerned about each other's happiness—everyone knew that despite the best efforts of the Lord our God, Jim must be an unhappy creature. And, Millie, poor Millie, well, she must be the most miserable person under the sun. Of course, all of this information though aptly communicated was never flat-out spoken, as amongst the neighbors circumlocution was appreciated as the highest of arts.

"For the record, I was just pointing out that she was beautiful, Jim," Bernie said. "It was nothing lascivious."

"I didn't notice," Jim said. "You know what people are saying about Chip though?" Bernie appreciated that Jim's righteousness had not tempered his penchant for rumor-mongering.

"What's that?" Bernie asked.

"I hate to gossip," Jim said. "But word has it that he's gay."

"Jim, amigo," Bernie said, choking on a sip of beer, "Women are filing in and out of his house at all hours."

"A cover up," Jim said. "That's what people are saying. They say every woman on his arm is just a 'beard.' You know what that is? I'd never heard of it before. 'The beard.' You ever hear of that?"

Jim's wife waved at him from afar.

"I know what it is Jim," Bernie said. "I've heard tell."

Jim didn't wave back. The hole in the ground opened a little more.

"I thought the only rumor about Chip was that he was some sort of nutso serial killer," Bernie continued. "You know, murdering all those women he carries on with and then eating their brains with a spoon or poaching their eyeballs in his martinis and burying the bodies in his basement. That's what some people are saying, anyway."

"So you think he's a homicidal maniac, but not gay?" Jim asked.

"Exactly," Bernie said.

Jim raised an eyebrow and the corner of his mouth turned up with one of his cheeks puffing out; it was a look that said, "If only..."

Truth be told, Bernie was an expert of sorts on maniacs. He had three kids, 6 and 9 and 11. And just then they tore past Bernie and Jim, weaving in between the grill and the lawn chair. Bernie's eldest, a boy, allowed the two smaller children to flank him—no doubt simply toying with his quarry before coming in for the inevitable kill—and then stopped suddenly, making a quick u-turn. The boy walked slowly toward Bernie and hugged him meekly. Bernie was nonplussed. Emotional contact was not his eldest's métier. The kid composed some sort of atrocious smile on his face, and then, finally, punched Bernie hard in the gut. Bernie wheezed and doubled over, but said nothing to the boy. The punch had hurt, certainly, but Bernie had felt an odd sense of relief at the boy's act of violence. There was something to be said for predictable fulfillment of expectations, after all. Jim tousled the boy's fine golden hair and Bernie collected himself and thought, Now that's the little son of a bitch I know. And then the little son of a bitch took off again, never so much as making eye contact with either of them.

"Good kid you've got there," Jim said. Bernie grunted and rubbed his stomach. The boy left an invisible vapor trail of high-manufacture white brick bar-soap and bleached cotton and impending failure.

Sara loved the boy and cared for him vigorously. She thought he was an angel. Bernie knew better. The boy was a budding young sociopath; Bernie thought that anyone with an objective eye should've been able to see this. The boy, after all, had killed someone last winter. He'd thrown a snowball and the snowball had hit a car and the car had swerved and hit a patch of ice and the car went careening into a light pole, sending the young driver to her doom. One might wonder how the boy was still walking around free. But accidents happen, yes? And lawyers intervene. Money, in monthly installments, gets transferred from checking account to checking account. Bernie, for his part, was amazed not that the child hadn't been punished by the law, but that the neighbors had seemed to have given the boy a free pass. He couldn't have been aiming at the car. He's a good boy. The neighbors had said. He must feel so guilty. He'll probably never forgive himself. Just then Bernie noticed that his eldest had abandoned the chase of his siblings and was crouched behind a bush, wielding a croquet mallet, clandestinely stalking a neighborhood cat. Bernie opened another beer and the hole in the ground sang darkly.

Millie waved again at her husband, this time with their two kids gathered around her. Jim jammed his grill fork through a hotdog and lifted it up and put it in his mouth. He bit down hard. "These are done, I think," he said, finally waiving back to Millie and his kids. Odd thing about Jim and his family, if they had survived that day (which neither he nor any of the people there that day would), four months from then, in the late fall on a cloudy day when it was cool and the trees had stilled, Jim would've sat at his chair in his cramped little office and written a note on his personalized memo pad and folded it in thirds and sealed it up and stuck it in his topmost desk drawer and gathered up a few more things than normal at the end of the day and put them in his briefcase and gone home and eaten dinner with that family of his, and late that night, when it was perfectly dark and silent and his children and wife were tucked in, fast asleep, Jim would've removed a gun from his dresser and shot up the house and everyone in it. He would've saved the last bullet for himself. His son would've stirred and run downstairs and fled to the kitchen in an effort to escape through the back door. His son would've been found on the cold tile floor in front of the spattered stainless steel oven with bullet wounds in his palms and head; a result of having held his hands in front of his face, defensively, covering his eyes, his father standing in front of him with a gun, unimaginable. The neighbors would've been stunned. They would've never seen it coming. They would've whispered that he'd done what he'd done because of the Whole gay thing, as being gay Probably just tears people all up inside. But sometimes, as in this case, the neighbors were wrong. Jim would've killed his family not because of any issues of sexual proclivity but because Jim would've had an old-fashioned psychotic break, believing he was the second coming and that God his Father was calling him home. It would've said so, right there in his suicide note, the one he would've left in his topmost drawer. "I'm bringing my family home," it would've read. The neighbors would've all speculated as to just what, exactly, that had meant. Unfortunately for the neighbors, after today, they'd never have the opportunity to speculate about anything ever again.

"But now that you mention it," Jim said, finally yielding to Bernie's wishes and giving Chip's lady friend a once over. "I think I have seen her before. In church."

The hole yawned, the diameter then of a bucket's rim. Bernie's dog stopped to pee by it, his urine sucked right in.

"Church?" Bernie asked.

"You know," Jim said, "The place with the steeple and the pews and Jesus on the cross. Where good people go to ask forgiveness for their sins?"

"I don't have any sins, Jim," Bernie said, sipping his beer.

Jim laughed. "Thou shalt not covet, Bernie.'"

"Let he who is without sin," Bernie said, "Cast the first stone."

And at that Jim's chest swelled with air and he launched into some sermonizing about churchly duties and the rapture and the pit fires of hell. Bernie rolled his eyes. Bernie just assumed that Jim's whole God thing was just something to stave off his whole gay thing and that judging Bernie was just a way to keep him from judging himself. It annoyed Bernie to no end, though Bernie would never dare say so. Bernie wasn't big on conflict. He wouldn't want to get involved to that degree. He preferred to remain silently irked by Jim. This was the easy thing to do. If only Bernie could've known that Jim would've turned out to be a simple lunatic just like the rest of them, perhaps he would've cut Jim a little more slack.

"If God wanted to rescue me, Jim," Bernie finally said, "He should've done it a long time ago."

Bernie got out of his the chair and walked away from Jim and was heading toward the house to get more beer for the cooler when he noticed Sara had been accosted by Ray Delhomme and his wife, Ronda, the three of them in close quarters over by the badminton set. Ray was a huge, aggressive, pig-fucker of a man with hands like bunches of cherry tomatoes, all red and round and primed to burst all over. Ray yakked at Sara and Sara smiled big and stared right through him. Ray got in awfully close and put his arm around Sara's shoulder and slobbered all over her. Ronda, didn't seem to mind. Bernie thought to himself that he didn't care about what was going on nearly as much as he thought he should. Though in his defense, Bernie felt fairly secure in the knowledge that it hadn't been Ray who'd been fucking his wife. Ray just wasn't Sara's kind of guy. Of course, Ray had never let a thing like a woman's obvious sense of repulsion curtail his flagrant attempts at philandering, so he proceeded to take a few healthy tugs off of the can of Schlitz nestled in the beer cozy tied around his neck and persisted in his throwing himself at Sara, right there in front of Bernie and all the neighbors. Even Ronda, for her part, seemed to be in on the wooing. But this is par for the course for Ray and Ronda, isn't it? The neighbors were probably thinking. Ray and his wife had no children. They didn't even keep pets. The neighbors had theories. Chief amongst them was that the only third that Ray was interested in welcoming into the Delhomme home was a woman no younger than 18, no older than 35, pretty and pliant. And Mrs. Delhomme, well she certainly had issues of her own. She kept her skin awfully tan and her hair awfully long—especially for a woman of her age—and she owned and wore a suspicious amount of leather. These were certainly two people not to be trusted.

Millie had reported once that she'd seen Ray and Ronda at a bar out near the bad side of town: Charlie's or Biff's or Bill's or Tom's; one of those joints with wood-paneled walls and pleather booths and tight carpeting that gave way to parquet floors covered in peanut shells. This particular establishment was famous for having the shiftiest clientele in the area. Motorcycles could often be found parked out front. Hooligans did loiter. The day that Millie saw them, Ray and Ronda were drinking liquor out of tall glasses and twisting dizzily, round and round, in their barstools, just laughing it up, having a good old time with some strange woman that wasn't from the neighborhood. Millie looked on, hidden in a back booth, taking mental notes. The strange woman had blond hair and big tits and teeth like bathroom tiles and a few times she even smashed those tits up against Ronda and whispered things into Ronda's ear and Ray watched and just lapped it all up and all the neighbors had a healthy knowledge of all of these events now because all the neighbors had all seen the pictures for themselves, Millie having made surreptitious good use of her camera phone. It's a good thing Mille had been out and about and stopped into the bar to use the bathroom or none of the neighbors would have known proof positive that the Delhomme's swung that way.

Leaning on a pole holding up the badminton netting, Ray and Ronda swooned and fell all over Sara. She cringed noticeably. Neighbors shook their heads in shame and embarrassment.

The hole in the ground groaned, wide as an alpine hot tub. Still no one seemed to notice. A model airplane flew too close, was toppled and devoured. The child with the remote controller went over to investigate. He was kneeling next to hole one moment and gone the next.

Sara started to get overtly uncomfortable with her situation, her voice raised, getting loud. Bernie decided he should probably have a mind to do something about Ray and about Ronda and about what they were doing to his wife, but just then Jim snuck up beside Bernie and elbowed him in the stomach, the second such assault of the day.

"You bastard," Jim said. At first Bernie thought this some kind of painful joke on Jim's part, but then Bernie remembered that Jim never joked.

"Jim?" Bernie managed through a muffled groan.

"You knew about this?" Jim screamed. "You knew about this and you were just laughing about it behind my back?"

Neighbors stopped gorging. Neighbors put their beverages down. Even Ray and Ronda took a breather from their salvo against Sara. They all gawked at Jim and Bernie like they were privy to some fascinating live reality television debacle. This was a neighborhood picnic, public outbursts were verboten and physical violence simply did not occur, but if these things had to happen, at least the neighbors had a proper ringside seat. "Jim, please," Bernie said, trying his best to keep things from getting out of hand. "I don't know what you're talking about." It seems that Jim had overheard that Bernie had heard from Sara that she'd overheard from a neighbor that Millie had made a cuckold of Jim. And what's worse, Millie had been doing her running around with none other than Ray and Ronda Delhomme. The shame of it all, Jim had heard one of the neighbors saying to another, and poor Jim having just found Jesus. He was probably just getting things straight.

"The rest of these vulgarians I would expect this from," Jim said waving a finger at all the world. "But you," and then he trained a stiff finger at Bernie's face.

"I knew nothing about this, Jim," Bernie begged. "I've never said or heard about any of this before right now. I swear."

"You swear? You swear to who? To God?" Jim shouted, frothing at the mouth. "You bastard. I thought you were better than this. I thought you were my friend. Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you tell me my wife had been having relations with those... those... heathens? I thought you had some notion of right and wrong."

Bernie was afraid but also oddly touched by the fact that Jim had apparently held him in some kind of heightened esteem. Bernie wanted to say so, but before he could form the words Jim had already stomped off toward Ray and Ronda, his shoulders squat and square, forecasting his agenda.

"How long have you two been copulating with my wife?" Jim shouted at them, he still twenty yards away, but closing in fast. "How long, you God damned Sodomites?"

Bernie wanted to stop Jim. Ray had several inches and more than a few pounds on Jim and things could only turn out poorly for him if he were to actually reach Ray. Bernie made a move like he was going to make a move, but then Millie rushed after Jim, bawling, so Bernie decided it perhaps best not to get involved. And before Jim could reach Ray, Millie tackled Jim, jumping on his back and wrestling him to the ground. "You stay away from them," she said. "This is your fault, not theirs. If you'd ever sleep with me anymore, I wouldn't have to look elsewhere."

The hole was a vortex then, a tornado in the ground. The neighbors were still unaware of it, too busy being entertained by Jim and Bernie and Millie and the unbelievable performance they were mounting.

"You whore of Babylon," Jim said, turning and slithering and shedding himself of Millie. He was up, then, but she was still on her knees, and he slapped her, right there, in front of everyone. Muffled gasps. The crack of his hand across her cheek died in echo across the neighborhood and for a moment the only sound anyone could hear was an odd breeze whistling somewhere in the periphery.

Ray saw Jim getting physical with Millie and decided to jump into the fray. "You can't do that, motherfucker. You can't touch her like that. I'm going to fucking kill you." Someone should play peacemaker, Bernie thought, or things are going to get ugly. He started shifting his weight, readying again his initiative, but was beat to the punch by his wife, Sara, everyone's favorite heroine.

Sara leapt into the fray and positioned herself between the two heaving testosterone pumps, holding up her palms like riot shields. "Now hold on a minute, guys," she insisted. "Let's talk about this." A sigh came in a wave over the neighbors. Everyone knew that with Sara's steady hand involved, violence might be stayed. The air of disappointment was palpable. Thankfully for the neighbors, Ray forced his agenda.

Ray pushed Sara aside, flinging her to the ground, and went right for Jim's throat.

Now wait a fucking second, Bernie thought to himself. You can't do that to Sara. That's my goddamned wife. But then Chip, the assumed serial killer, must have felt similarly, because after Ray knocked Sara down, Chip just flew out of nowhere, vaulting himself off of a picnic tabletop and high into the air, and as he sailed downward, he took a giant swing at Ray, knocking him out with one punch. Chip knelt low and gently extended his hand to Sara, the gallant knight having slain the beast. Sara stood and embraced Chip, kissed him, and not in a way that seemed like she was just being appreciative. It was obvious to Bernie that they'd practiced this kind of thing with one another before. The kiss lingered, there, right in front of Bernie, right in front of the neighbors.

Now, seriously, wait a fucking second, Bernie thought again, but then Jim swung at Chip, for Lord only knows what reason—maybe he was defending Bernie's honor or maybe he was striking a blow against sinners everywhere or maybe he was just so full of seething rage that he needed to hit someone and at that point he didn't care who—and Chip stumbled backward and then someone else swung at Jim and then Ronda got involved and then neighbors gave half-hearted efforts to pull neighbors apart and each one just toppled over the other, getting soaked up like water to a sponge, an amalgamated part of a rolling tumbleweed.

The hole in the ground tore wide open.

Neighbors tackled neighbors, falling down and flailing, swinging at one another the best they knew how. They punched and kicked and threw bowls of cold pasta salad and hard glass jars of condiments—those flying objects that missed their intended targets simply careened headlong into the vortex. Teeth gnashed, blood spilled, the orgy of violence gave a monolithic howl. Even the children got involved: boys' hands yanking bowed hair; girls' hands twisting tiny testicles.

The vortex blasted and bellowed, wide as a swimming pool. It inhaled. The neighbors went down, one after the other, some still locked in a fighting embrace. People cried. People screamed.

"The Great Tribulation is upon us!" Jim proclaimed as he found a tree to cling to. Jim supposed that these people had all deserved this. It had only been a matter of time. He took comfort in knowing he was Saved. And yet there he was, arms clutching a tree trunk, legs flapping in the breeze like a windsock, the hole still beckoning. Jim didn't understand. "Lord, please, don't you recognize me?" he pleaded. Jim's grip would soon falter and down the hole he would go, just like the rest of them.

And right before Jim's end would be Millie's, who thought of little as she went down, other than that she really hoped Jim had been dead on about the existence of God and the afterlife. At about the same time went Ray and Ronda. The two always liked to do things together, and so a partnership in death made some sort of sense to them and they held hands as they cycled away. Chip and his lady friend went in pedestrian fashion, unremarkably as the rest, which would've no doubt bothered them to no end.

Lawn chairs and picnic tables went up and over and toppled and circled, like so much debris being flushed down a drain. Basketball hoops and bird feeders and bikes would follow. Cars in the driveway started to quake and fidget and move. Fresh green sod and newly sunk plants came free at the root, snatched up and siphoned away and downward. The shutters tore off houses. The clouds unified and the sky turned black. The birds and the worms hid. The vortex could not to be satisfied. All the homes and worldly possessions of every neighbor would soon be gone, sucked in.

Bernie and Sara and the boy were among the last of them. Bernie had made it inside through the backdoor and had gotten as far as the hallway before being caught up in the furious wind. Sara and the boy had been just behind him. Bernie, for once in his life, had fought the good fight, not giving up, holding fast to one of the metal kitchen chairs turned sideways as it stuck in the gap where the back door had once been. Bernie clung to Sara's hand and Sara clung to her eldest son's. The other two children were already lost or gone, Perhaps escaped, Bernie allowed himself to hope. The eldest child let out a shriek of terror. His big black eyes paralyzed, staring at his mother's hand.

"Sara," Bernie called out. "Sara, let go of the boy. Let him go. I can't hold both of you."

Sara looked down at the boy and then back at Bernie.

"I can't," she said above all the catastrophic noise. "I can't let him go."

Objects from the kitchen flew by them, the teapot, the toaster, cabinet doors and hinges. "It's ok," Bernie said. "It's ok."

"I'm sorry, Bernie," Sara said. "I'm sorry for everything."

Bernie looked at Sara, trying to memorize her every small detail. He had so much to say to her. He wanted desperately to apologize for all the things that he'd done, but mostly for the things he'd failed to do, for her to know his love for her, for her to know him, here at this final moment.

"Sara?" he said. And then Sara let go of Bernie.

The kitchen chair bent inward and the doorframe gave way.

~ Originally Published In Indiana Review, Issue 34.2 ~

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