Late Tuesday morning, reports were received describing fallen trees and leveled houses in the unincorporated territory outside Karsa. Accounts from witnesses in neighboring towns suggest an earthquake. Scientists in the capital have been unable to confirm any seismic activity.
In a region poorly populated and with an economy never recovered from the disaster of eighteen years ago, it is suspected that many of the houses affected by the event were already abandoned. It is not known how many people may be displaced. Relief agencies are mobilizing and expect to be in the area in 3 to 5 days. Any citizens remaining in the area are encouraged to relocate to central institutions such as post offices and schools to take shelter and await aid.
I am safe. I thought that if wherever you are, the land is doing there what it did here, you might come back to the house for me, and currently there is no house anymore, and no mailbox either, but if maybe one of those two things gets fixed, and you find this letter delivered to where the house once was, you won’t have to worry about me. I’m alive, I am fine.
You told me the even-numbered roads run east and west, so I took our road to where it joins up with an even-numbered one, and I headed east, because you said nothing good was west. I thought you might be proud I remember that. The rest stop I have found is about six mile markers down the highway and is called Starling Lookout. A starling is a bird and is supposed to be white and to come out in the spring. If they live where we lived, I have not seen one.
The rest stop is good new construction. The bathrooms have clean water fountains and latching stall doors and a private army of toilets. Outside there is a picnic table and a little plot with different colors of rocks in it, and these things are all as you would say “cosmetic,” but I find the extras don’t bother me. The offramp I walked to get here is also a scenic overlook, though no one has stopped to take photos. No one seems to be coming through here at all.
There is a metal railing stuck high in the high hill and from it I can keep an eye on the land and its plans. This should give me advantage if it decides to move in on us again. It is a pretty area. From up here the water shines in the rice fields and white roofs poke up in the valleys like little pimples. The people here must live far from us, even farther than we did from Aunt Cinde, but from this high, they look close, and there are a lot of them. And the houses are good new construction, and they are not yet turned inside out by trees.
Maybe I should have checked on Cinde before I left. Maybe I was too hasty, and everyone else is fine, and this is just what happens to houses old as ours was—the land just takes them back when it decides you’re done.
I’m not sure if I will move on or go back. But I’m here for now.
I do not remember giving birth to you. I remember the disaster. It is as old as you are—born the same year. In that year, and for many after, the water was everywhere and poisoned everything it touched; it was bad to drink. Instead of plumping, the roots went soft and rotten; they wasted. They could not any longer hold fast to the ground.
Most good and kind things died back, but stubborn Panembrama, your father, had a stiff, green, intractable lawn. He had a spurge bush that he’d let overgrow. You—a naked thing, alone, stumbling on toward civilization like a road turtle nicked by a passing car—you made directly for that yard. You found that bush. You forced your way through the leaf and tangle; you cried as you went, your face scratched and dirty. Reluctantly, from inside, your father heard your cries; against his will he pulled you out. He set you down on his stoop and showed you the open door to his house. If you were too dumb to make the choice on your own, he reasoned, he would leave you be and let nature do what it did. Reluctantly he watched as you chose right.
Since you were young the earth has made you anxious. On the day when, miracle of miracles, the corn began again to grow, you sat in the greening field and made up for me a story about the scarecrows. You said they are the spirits of all the failed and fallen corn looking after the spirits of the new. You said they can be jealous of the new corn for getting to live and grow; or they can be protectors, gentle or fearsome; or they can be indifferent, just watching; and that their differences in attitude change whether the crows will obey them. You said that crows were naturally disobedient. You said that any way they choose, the scarecrows get tired of their job, like anyone does. How would you have known? I did not know, as I have never had a job. If I am to keep going, I suppose I will have to find an occupation, or make it.
I remember what you said and I remember it was you that said it. I remember you told your story and I remember the new wind brushing through your long, dark, tangled hair. But how can that be, since we’ve never spoken one to another, and since we have not yet really met.