Twenty Minutes to Vacate

This is an imaginary piece prompted by a writing group that I attend–august 7, 2011



The engine noise from the plane, sounding too close to the house, jarred me awake.   Then it sounded like thunder close by.  I felt the bed rock like a rubber raft on an angry river.  I opened my eyes just as the entire room swayed, lamp shades shifting violently to and fro, the dresser vibrating as if ready to slide across the room and everything on top sailing to the floor.   I heard the kitchen cabinets break free of their latches, doors flying open and contents spilling out. 

An explosion of red and orange light flashed through the windows.  Then silence…an eerie silence.

I rolled out of bed and scrambled into my clothes and realized that Tom had slept through the ordeal and was still quietly slumbering away.   As I searched in the dark for my shoes, I yelled, “Tom, Tom, I think it’s an earthquake.”  I couldn’t seem to quit yelling.

He bolted upright in bed, staring at me as if he thought I was a madman.  And in less than a minute he realized that something was happening and he calmly crawled out of bed and began to dress while I raced into the kitchen.

As I reached for the light switch to see if we had power, I could hear the cereal and crackers crunch under my feet. Temporarily blinded by the light I slid my hand along the counter seeking the remote control. Finding it, I quickly switched on the TV.  As my vision cleared and as I began to survey the damage in the room, I could hear the shrill screaming of fire engines as they raced past our house.  

 “An airplane has crashed and exploded just east of the airport,” blared from the television.  “Everyone living in that area has twenty minutes to vacate their homes.”

I couldn’t seem to focus.  My thoughts were scattered.  I raced downstairs.  I dumped big plastic tubs full of fabric on the floor.  I pulled the totes up the stairs and began tossing photo albums inside.  What’s important, what’s important?  I kept asking myself the same question over and over.  What’s really important?

I suddenly remembered the picture of Tom’s father hanging on the wall downstairs, one of only a few pictures of him that we have, Irreplaceable, I thought.   I raced back down, grabbed it from the wall and charged back up the stairs and tossed it on top of the photo albums. 

From there my mind changed course and I remembered that my wedding rings were in the armoires.  I dashed to the bedroom and shoved my rings on my little finger.  On my way back into the bedroom I noticed the picture of Tom’s mom hanging in the hallway.   Also irreplaceable, I thought.  I snatched it from its hook and placed it on top of the plastic tote full of picture albums.

I checked to see what Tom was doing.  Where was he anyway?  While I was frantically chasing around, he had backed the car in front of the house and loaded the totes full of picture albums.  He had grabbed the insurance papers and investment book from the filing cabinet and placed them in the car.  He had carried a suitcase up the stairs, filled it with under wear, clean shirts and socks and was about ready to carry it out the door.

An empty suit case lay open on the bed.  “Don’t you think you want to take some clothes” he asked.  “If this fire spreads, there may not be anything left to come back to. And, Mary Ann, it is time to go”

At first his calmness angered me.   Then my chaotic brain came out of overdrive and began to function.  I realized that very little else mattered.  We were both okay.  I grabbed some clothes, flung them in my suitcase and met him at the door.

It was the first time I had looked to see what had happened.  The plane had crashed in the intersection just yards from the house.  It had missed every house in the neighborhood, but some of the neighbors surely had to vacate by their back doors.   The flames were rapidly engulfing the hedges and fences all around.  It was clearly imperative that we move along.  But I couldn’t leave.  Not just yet. 

A police officer stood at the edge of the road.  I walked over and asked, “What about the neighbors?  Are they out?”

“Yes,” he replied.   “They all left about ten minutes ago.  Now, you must go.”








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