General Fiction posted January 25, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
About a tumultuous marriage


by Cory G

Earthquake Contest Winner 

“Tom, did you feel that?” Kirsti put both hands on the dash of the car instinctively.

“Sure did,” he said, his eyes opening wide. The ground shook their car and everything around them, Kirsti’s St. Christopher’s medallion, she insisted come with them on the trip, swung gently back and forth from the rear-view mirror—a total distraction in Tom’s eyes, but it was one more fight that Tom didn’t want to pick so he stayed quiet about it. Tom inched the car up slowly towards the truck in front of them awaiting the ferry to Victoria, then stopped and put it in park. The old ’90 Topaz Tom bought after high school had seen better days but it hadn’t started to nickel-and-dime them yet so he hung on to it. Besides, the car was paid for and the last thing he needed was another thing in his life to pay for that he couldn’t really afford.

“Do you think it was an earthquake?” Kirsti asked, gnawing on her too short fingernails.

“Probably. But don’t worry, Vancouver doesn’t get the bad ones,” he said. “It was just a little tremor.” But Tom was a bit worried. Being a boy from the prairies, he had no idea what an earthquake felt like. People from the rows of parked cars around them started to emerge from their vehicles and Tom rolled down his window. He heard a baby crying and a young mother walked between the cars and trucks, lightly patting her baby’s back and singing a soothing tune to dampen the wails. It made Tom think of his boys back home, staying with Kirsti’s parents for the week. Nate and Jack loved to spend time with their Nana and Gramps. They were probably out fishing in the river at the bottom of the coulee or trying to snare gophers with baler twine on the farm where there were a myriad of things for a couple of young boys to do. The thought comforted him a little, but a slight pang jabbed his stomach knowing that he missed them already and they’d only been gone a couple of days. Tom pushed away the thought that he and Kirsti might not come back to their boys, maybe they’d be killed and Nana and Gramps would have to raise them. Nana and Gramps would be the ones to see them through their teen years, through high school graduations, send them to college, and see them get married. Tom did not share this thought with Kirsti, a thought he knew would send her off the deep end and she’d done enough of that lately.

Kirsti clicked on the radio and turned the dial until she tuned into a station broadcasting the news. Then she shushed Tom to be quiet even though he wasn’t making a sound.

—measured 4.3 on the Richter scale. Don’t worry folks, you’ve felt the worst of it. Onto traffic, here’s Carolyn Me—“

Tom turned off the radio. “See, there’s nothing to be concerned about, Kirsti. Look around, nobody’s worried. The locals are used to this sort of thing happening around here.”

But Kirsti continued to chew on her fingernails, torn down past the quicks and sometimes bleeding, a bad nervous habit that had gotten worse, especially in the past few years.

The ferry arrived. People milling about began to get back in their vehicles. The young mother with her baby, laughing and babbling and no longer crying, walked past their car. The smell of exhaust mixed with the salty, sea-weed scent of the ocean filled the air. Seagulls cawed and soared above the shoreline, searching for any scrap of food -- potato chip, crust of bread, or Skittle-- left behind by waiting ferry-goers. Other than the brief ground rumbling it was a perfect, sun-shining, cloudless day—a rare, precious kind of day on the coast in the springtime where it was usually grey and cloudy even if it wasn’t raining.

Tom and Kirsti watched as a parade of cars and trucks and motor homes and boats filed off the ferry. Once they were all off, it was their turn to load. Tom hadn’t been on a ferry since he was a child. He waited patiently and drove onto the loading deck slowly and carefully, watching and listening to the guy in the bright safety vest directing traffic. After parking, and knowing Kirsti wouldn’t leave the car, Tom asked her if she’d like something from the canteen, perhaps a sandwich or a cup of coffee, which she declined. He headed up to the passenger cabin and bought a cup of coffee for himself, a bit on the strong side but he drank it anyway. He needed to stay awake for a few more hours, until they checked into the hotel in Victoria. It had been a long day of travel and he was exhausted, and the whole point of them taking a trip to the coast was for some rest and relaxation, but mostly to try and restore their marriage which had deteriorated to almost nothing. Tom sat down in a chair at the front of the passenger cabin and watched the sun set. It was beautiful, oranges and yellows melting below the ocean’s horizon, and how typical, Tom thought, that Kirsti wouldn’t come with him to share a cup of coffee, choosing rather to hide away from everyone and everything. Tom thumbed the rim of the paper coffee cup thinking of how messed up things between him and Kirsti had gotten. He wasn’t sure that their marriage could be fixed.  And Kirsti’s parents blamed him for everything that had gone wrong with the marriage—it was his fault she was so depressed and his fault she drank too much (which she was probably doing right now while Tom was gone, pounding back shots of vodka from the flask she always kept in the inside pocket of her coat).

The captain’s voice boomed through the intercom telling the passengers they would be docking in fifteen minutes and if everyone could make their way back to their vehicles. Tom drank the last of his coffee in one big gulp, tossed the cup in the trash can and went back down to his car. Kirsti was passed out—no surprise, and Tom didn’t bother to wake her. What would be the point? He’d accuse her of drinking again, she’d deny it as usual, and they’d be yelling at each other. Kirsti didn’t wake up when the car bounced up and down as they drove over the ferry ramp and she was still asleep when they arrived at the hotel. It crossed Tom’s mind to leave her in the car instead of waking her, but he knew he wouldn’t.

“Kirsti, we’re here…we’re at the hotel. Wake up.” Tom gently shook her shoulder. Her head was lolled over to the side and rested against the window. A clear ribbon of drool had slid from the corner of her mouth.

“Huh…yeah…we’re here?” she mumbled, blinking her bloodshot eyes open.

“Yes, we’re here. Don’t worry, I’ll get the luggage,” said Tom, his voice tinged with annoyance. He doubted she was sober enough to notice his irritated tone.

Tom took the luggage, one large, heavy suitcase in each hand (unfortunately not the rolling kind because the suitcases were so old—hand-me-downs from Nana and Gramps), and made his way up the concrete stairs toward the hotel lobby. Kirsti staggered behind him. After Tom got checked in, they made their way up to room 201, taking the elevator, and not a single word passed between them.

Tom flopped the suitcases down on the floor near the desk and clicked on the television with the remote. After finding a news channel, he propped up the pillows on the bed and sat down with his back against them.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Tom?” Kirsti raged. She stood with both fists planted on her hips, her face pulled into snarl.

“What do you mean? I’m beat. I’m going to watch some television and then I’m going to bed.” Tom knew a fight was coming on and even though he was tired he wasn’t going to back down.

“No, you’re not. We’ve come all this way to be on vacation. To save our marriage. Remember? Let’s go out for a drink.” Kirsti stumbled forward but caught herself and stood back up.

Tom looked at her in disbelief, his eyes opened wide and the lines on his forehead pulled together. “Are you for real, Kirsti? You just slept the last two hours and you wouldn’t get out of the car to spend time with me on the ferry. No—instead you got shitfaced on vodka and you can hardly stand up!”

“I wasn’t drinking, Tom,” she said, bleary-eyed.

Tom quickly got up and stomped toward her. He reached for her coat. “Oh, really? Then what’s this?” He grabbed the empty flask from the pocket inside her coat and waved it wildly in front of her face. “You’re a liar, Kirsti! A liar and a drunk!”

Kirsti attempted to push Tom but ended up falling backward onto the floor, her back hitting the wall with a thud when she fell.

“Well at least I’m not a cheat!” she cried, mascara stained tears ran down her cheeks.

And there it was. She had to bring that up again, the one time Tom had cheated on her—if you can call it that. Three years ago, Kirsti had left him, took the kids and left him, said she never wanted to see him again. And that’s when it happened, when he slept with some chick he picked up at a bar. A month later Kirsti had come crawling back to him, said she wanted to work things out, and of course, Tom was willing to for Jack and Nate’s sake. But Tom wasn’t so sure he wanted to try and work things out again. Not this time. He was done with her and if he was honest with himself he didn’t love her anymore. Things between them had changed too much and there was no love left to be found.

Tom stepped back from her shaking his head, “I’m done, Kirsti.”

“Done what?” she screamed back at him.

“Done with you…with us…with our marriage,” Tom said pushing his hair back from his forehead, his voice placid. “It’s not worth the fight anymore.”

Kirsti got up and began to beat violently at his chest. Tom grabbed her wrists in a firm grip. “Stop it, Kirsti.”

“NO!” Kirsti wriggled her arms free and ran towards the door and down the hall. Tom didn’t chase her. What was the point? Maybe she’d find the hotel lounge and start drinking again. He didn’t care anymore, he was tired of caring and he knew it was time to let her go.

Tom lay back down on the bed, the news still on the television, and fell asleep. The next thing he knew he was woken by his bed shaking and the light in the corner swaying back and forth from its flimsy chain, and after a few seconds it was over. Another tremor, an aftershock. No worries, it was just a little one, no harm done.

Tom checked his watch. It was almost 10:30 P.M. so he’d been asleep for more than an hour and Kirsti wasn’t back yet. He had no urge to go and look for her. She was a big girl, she’d find her way back when she wanted to. Then, twenty minutes later, the hotel room phone rang. It was probably Kirsti’s parents, unable to get a hold of her because she was too drunk to notice her cell phone was ringing.

“Hello?” asked Tom.

“Hello…Mr. West?”


“Is your wife Kirsti West?”

“Yes. Who is this? Why are you calling?” Tom stood up and ran his fingers through his hair.

“This is Sam Perkin, the hotel manager calling. There’s been an incident involving your wife. Please come down to the hotel reception desk as soon as possible.”

Tom hung up the phone.

Oh great, Tom thought. He was sure Kirsti was drunk out of her mind and he’d have to go get her and bring her back to the room. How embarrassing, but at least they didn’t know anyone around here to spread gossip about them. God knows they were a big part of town gossip back home.

 The elevator door opened and Tom walked out into the lobby to a flurry of activity. Sirens blared and police and paramedics scrambled around. What was going on? There was no sign of Kirsti. He went to the reception desk and told the young girl working there who he was and that he’d just been called down.

“One moment, Mr. West. Officer Calder will be with you shortly. Please wait here.”

Officer Calder? The police? Tom was confused, and a bit worried now too.

A man in police uniform walked out of the hotel bar and toward Tom.

“Officer Calder?” Tom asked.

“You must be Tom West,” the officer said not cracking a smile.

“Yes, I am. Where is my wife? Is she okay?”

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Mr. West, but there’s been an accident. A tremor shook a chandelier off the ceiling in the bar and it fell on top of your wife. It was the way it hit her in the head…I’m sorry to say that your wife has passed away.”

“What? This can’t be real, Officer Calder. There must be some mistake. It was only a tremor; how could it do that? Are you sure it was Kirsti?” Tom ran his fingers through then laced both hands together behind his neck and took a deep breath. This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening.

Out came the stretcher, the only sound he could hear was the incredibly loud squeeeek of its wheels and nothing else. All the other sounds of the sirens and the people talking and shouting, faded away into a numb buzzing fog. Officer Calder was trying to talk to him but Tom couldn’t hear him, he could only see his lips moving in slow motion. Everything was moving in slow motion now. Tom ran towards the stretcher. And there was Kirsti. Her blonde hair fell to one side. She had a bloody bump on her forehead but otherwise it looked like she was sleeping. Tom tired to grab her, to shake her and wake her up, but a big, burly paramedic stepped in and stopped him. Still, Tom tried to reach for her but he couldn’t, he wasn’t strong enough to break free of the paramedic’s hold on him.

“I’m sorry, Kirsti. I’m so-so-so sorry!” Tom cried. He dropped to the floor trembling, and wept. Feelings of grief and guilt and disbelief flooded every crevice of his mind.  What about the boys? How would he tell Nate and Jack what happened? Why wasn’t he with her at the bar? Why didn’t he save her?  Why didn’t he try to save their marriage?

In the aftermath of an aftershock, Tom felt life roll over him, a heavy inescapable stone.

Writing Prompt
Write a short story about an earthquake, using fictional characters and dramatization.

Contest Winner
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by supergold at

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