The Big One

Abbie Barker


The year Jack was born, I researched fault lines and tracked seismic activity. You said there’s no use worrying about things we can’t control. I told you The Big One is coming, even if we don’t know when.

It was the year of the record-breaking heatwave. Jack couldn’t sleep and neither could I. He was born large, over nine pounds, and I nursed him until I cracked and bled. We bought a Costco membership to save on air conditioners and diapers. Formula. You mixed the bottles because every time I scooped those chalky clumps, I sobbed.

It was the year more than 630,000 acres of Oregon forest burned and my doctor said it might be time I start taking something. We sleep-trained Jack because maybe I just needed rest. I read somewhere that animals can sense seismic waves before humans, and I convinced you to buy a dog. He was big, too big. People stopped us in the street just to gasp. You said maybe we’ve taken on too much responsibility. I said maybe we aren’t doing enough to prepare.

It was the year I enrolled in an earthquake preparedness course and brought our water heater up to code. I stocked the pantry with non-perishables, ordered batteries in every shape. You grabbed my face with both hands and said this is silly. I pushed you away and said you’ll understand when the earthquake finally comes.

And that year The Big One did come, but not the version I had rehearsed. And the dog did try to warn us—like I knew he would—because even from the other side of Jack’s door, he could sense the slightest shift. But by then, my doctor had prescribed something I could only take before bed, and by then we kept the air conditioners running all night even after the temperatures had dropped. By then we believed we had made it through the hardest months, and I felt safe enough to sleep. I should have listened when you said it’s useless to plan for disaster. I spent the year preparing for an earthquake, but I never imagined what could come in its place.


Abbie Barker lives with her husband and two kids in New Hampshire. Her flash fiction has appeared in HobartMonkeybicycleAtticus ReviewGone LawnTrampsetCease, Cows and others. She teaches creative writing and is a reader for Fractured Lit. You can find her on Twitter @AbbieMBarker.