October 11
People who have gone through sorrow are more sympathetic than others, not so much because of what they know about sorrow, but because they know more about happiness. They appreciate its value and its fragility, and welcome it wherever it may be. The Puritan attitude which grudges happiness belongs only to those who have never entered very deeply into life. ----- Freya Stark, Beyond Euphrates


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JANUARY 26, 2010 11:20PM

An Earthquake Story (Fiction based on Haiti News Stories)

Rate: 31 Flag

It was late afternoon and Marie was stirring a pot of beans on an open fire in the alleyway just outside of their small apartment.  Jean Paul, a three-year-old, plays with a wooden spoon and an aluminum pot on the dirt.  Little Rene, 12 months old, is gurgling happily in his crib just inside the house. 

The cinderblock building is two stories and their apartment is small, about 10 feet by 10 feet.  Most of the room is taken up by their beds and Rene's crib - which is  really just a sturdy wooden crate left over from a nearby Christian missionary's home, but it's slats keep him from rolling out onto the floor or crawling out of bed before Marie wakes up.

A sudden movement causes Marie to lose her balance.  She looks around her and sees that Jean Paul has fallen on his side and is rolling around on the ground -- unable to sit or stand up.   In the seconds it has taken for the reality of what is happening to register, the walls of the cinderblock building are cracking and begin to cave in on each other.

Marie runs toward the door and is knocked back by the explosion of dust and concrete and wood beams that less than a minute ago had been their home.  The earth is still moving and Marie is sprawled on the ground, frozen -- not sure that Jean Paul will not be swallowed up by the rumbling terror, and the horrible realization that Rene has been buried under the building.

Finally the trembling stops. 

The walls have completely fallen in on themselves and what was the roof is now in giant shards, suspended by huge blocks of cinderblock and cement.  She runs to the front door -- to what was the door of her home.  Now it is indiscernible among the blocks of cement.

She hears Rene screaming from within the rubble.  Dust is still swirling as she frantically begins pulling at the blocks, trying to lift the wooden beams and slabs of cement to get to her son.  She can hear him screaming.  She realizes she is screaming, too.  In minutes her fingers are bleeding from her wild thrashing at the tin and wood and cement.

She decides she must remove each piece of rubble individually in order to make any headway toward the cries of her baby.  Calmer now, she pulls out one piece, then another.  She lays on the ground and reaches in to grab whatever pieces she can grab, tossing them away.  But she quickly reaches bigger, immovable pieces.  She has no tools, no shovel or pick -- nothing to leverage against the massive weight of those mortared cinder blocks.

After a few hours, struggling against the ruins, her hands are shredded and dust mingles with her blood creating a batter on her hands as if she was dipping chicken in flour before frying it. 

Still she hears Rene crying.  Her aunt comes to her -- pleads with her to stop -- it's no use, she says, you must leave. The building across the way is still standing and could topple at any moment.  But Marie will not leave -- she can hear Rene.  His screams have subsided into pitiful cries.   She must get him out.  He's alive!  He will be okay if she can just move the crumbled remains of the walls out of the way.  She knows he's just a few feet away. 

She pulls and twists her hands around the pieces and in desperation and frustration swings her fists against the gray mass.

Finally, completely spent, she sits on the edge of the rubble.  It's been 12 hours since the earthquake and dawn is breaking.  There are sporadic cries from Rene now -- not as terrifying as before.  He is still alive. 

Having rested for a little while, she continues to pull at the large blocks of cement.  She will not, can not, stop trying.  Occasionally she looks around to see if there's anyone to come help.  From time to time she enlists the aid of a passerby, but the people who stop can see how hopeless it is and they continue down the road looking for what -- they don't even know.

Another 12 hours of no food, no water, no help -- just the intermittent cries of her child.  Jean Paul sits quietly and stares.  He doesn't cry, he doesn't move. 

All night she holds vigil, gathering up enough energy from time to time to do battle against the massive stone.  As morning comes again, she hears the sound of a motor -- she looks up and sees a helicopter.  She waves wildly, jumping up and down screaming for help.  The helicopter passes slowly and is gone.

Now she sits and cradles Jean Paul.  He is still silent and passively lies in mother's arms -- dozing.

The three of them pass another night this way -- Marie praying for God to send help, help for her baby Rene, food and water.  She sings quietly, and is both thrilled and paralzyed with fear when she hears Rene's weak cries.

In the morning another motor.  This time it is not a helicopter.  It's coming nearer and finally appears at the end of the street.  The truck must stop several yards away because of the debris in the street.  Four men in red coveralls, gloves and helmets walk toward her.  Marie is not sure if maybe she's just dreaming.  One man touches her shoulder as she stares up at him.  He puts his arms out to take Jean Paul and she seems to awaken from a stupor.  In a hoarse voice she says -- as she points toward the rubble of her home -- my baby, in there, my baby. 

A woman comes up and takes Jean Paul back to the truck.  The men pull on Marie to come with them -- they will get help for her and the child.  She recovers her senses and begins pointing at the rubble trying to explain that her younger son, Rene, is still alive under the house.  The men cast glances at each other.   Judging by the stench rising all around they are convinced that she's gone mad.  There are glimpses of body parts peeking through the pile of rock -- no one could have survived this twisted mess.

Then they hear something.  It is the faint cry of a child. 

Marie frantically starts clawing at the rubble again, her energy renewed at the prospect that now -- with their help -- she'll be able to move the obstacles to her son.

One of the men gently pulls at her.  She realizes he wants her to move out of their way.  She anxiously steps aside and watches as the four of them struggle to lift huge chunks of the walls -- slowly clearing a small tunnel.  With each layer of debris removed, the child's cries are clearer -- still faint, but definitely a child's cry.

At last, after an hour of hefting the large pieces they're able to see Rene.  The smallest of the men climbs down into the tunnel they've cleared and gingerly lifts Rene's body to the men above.  They place Rene on a plastic shell -- it looks like a tiny canoe. 

Marie nervously twists the hem of her skirt while she stands in the street between the piles of furniture and pieces of nearby buildings, willing the men carrying her child to climb faster down from the mountain of debris. 

At last they place Rene on the ground next to her.  He is quiet.  His eyes are fixed on the sky.  The men look off into the distance -- not wanting to witness the grief stricken mother and the unresponsive child. 

Marie leans over him touching his face, kissing his hands.  Rene lifts a small, pudgy arm toward her and in a raspy voice whispers, "Mama."  Marie screams and raises her hands to the sky, shaking her head back and forth, thanking God that her child has been spared.

Revived by the sound of Rene's voice, the men lift Marie and carry them both down the street to the truck.  Jean Paul is sitting in the woman's lap, wrapped in a blanket. 

And finally, as his mother and baby brother get closer, Jean Paul begins to cry.

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Brilliant vision of what must be. I admire your reserve and ability to do this. Much honor to you.
Thank you very much next please. I'm not comfortable writing fiction -- unless it's based on a real story.
Oh man, Skeletnwmn. I felt like I was there, in that rubble, I was trying to lift those beams. You told this story SO well. SO well. And it was so real, unfortunately, so real.
Trilogy: It is too real. Thank you for reading and commenting.
I felt like a ghost, watching, but unable to help the woman and her children . . . I can only imagine how much worse it may be . . . well-done, skel. Haunting.
That's how I feel, too, Owl. If I could, I'd go to Haiti this minute. But I don't speak french, I'm not a medical person and I can't pick up heavy stuff -- so I think I'd just be in the way. It's a very helpless feeling. I never dreamed after what happened in New ORleans we would see this kind of disorganized reaction to another catastrophic event.
I know what you mean. There's no excuse for what happened to New Orleans . . . but the logistics in a country like Haiti, where the infrastructure (both physical and political) was pretty shaky before the earthquake are a whole 'nother nightmare. It's still no excuse, but it's really a different world.
Have you seen how close Guantanamo is to Haiti? Do you realize how many troops are stationed there? Go look at Wiki - Guantanomo Bay Prison. There's a photo of Americans being airlifted to Miami -- a whopping 5 people -- from Haiti. Why weren't those troops sent over to Haiti? It would have taken a couple of hours. Must be a political thing -- all's I can figure.
this is incredible. enough so that I read it but had to come back to it. you capture it and it hurts.
Sike: Thank you -- for reading it even though it's scary and not a very pretty picture and not very comforting. And because most people are already sick of hearing about it. I appreciate your words very much.
Politics tend to be the biggest obstacle to common sense and humanity . . . or so it seems to me.
I think the UN needs an administrative assistant -- one who's used to emergencies arising at the end of the day. Someone who can organize the huge resources in this world -- concentrate medical and shelter and food relief to a few thousand acres of land on a tiny island. I mean, it's not like we don't have the planes, the volunteers, the expert rescue people, extra tents laying around.
I came back and rated.
I like the way you think, skel.
I also want to say that you have put a voice, perhaps even a face, to something more real than most would like to imagine.
Having been involved in search and rescue professionally myself, you gave an intimate insight to the emotions and confusion of extremely dire situations. Very well done, the emotions you portrayed even though fictionalized here, are played out in sad fashion daily in the world. Again very well done, and thank you. My best as always, o/e *****R*
Must have been hard to write. No doubt this scene was repeated many times and with not such good results. God bless you for caring -- and the mothers and children who had to endure this kind of scene.
This might be fiction Skel, but it happened and you nailed it. I too cannot get those kids out of my head. So Sad!
Superb job, skel, just superb.
I'm glad you made it a happy ending.
Older/Exasperated: I wrote it from the perspective of a Mom, and it means a lot to me that as someone who's been there -- you believed it. My daughter told me this morning she thought it sounded just like what I would have done. I can't think of any higher compliments than yours and hers.

Monte: It was hard -- and there's so many details I didn't get to -- like the smell of decaying bodies. There had to have been many bodies in that rubble near Rene. The stench would have been unbearable -- unless, of course, your child was in there.

scanner: Thanks for reading it -- I know it's hard. Part of the reason I wrote it -- keeping these stories in the feed keeps the good thoughts streaming toward Haiti.

Athome: Thank you so much.

sixtycandles: Getting him out would have been the first half of the ordeal. Let's hope they were able to get medical care right away -- and that food was waiting for them somewhere.
Your ability to "put yourself in their shoes" and make this so vivid and real is amazing.
mgin: You're wonderful for dropping by and reading -- thank you.
that was wonderful. you're a terrific fiction writer. I was completely absorbed and invested in the narrative.

like you I have been somewhat obsessed with this tragedy. it seems to me to be about basics and why these human beings were denied them even before the earthquake and now everyone is standing around scratching their asses wondering why there's no military to keep order and no port system and no codes that houses were built with, etc.

I don't understand (like katrina) how it is that we weren't able to airlift simple palettes of water to the Haitians. I don't get why they weren't literally drowning in our bottled water. Water is so essential. I KNOW why, but I still can't understand it with the Dominican Republic right over on the other side.

once again, we see how easy it has been to overlook extreme conditions of poverty and human need. well done sara. well done!
monkey: I just hope my town isn't hit by devastation any time soon -- we'd all be on our own. Thanks for your words.
thanks Donna. Nice to see you -- thanks for reading.
Ohhhhhh, you took us there. You took us there.
Gracias waking. Appreciate you reading it.
Standing and clapping slowly..brava!brava!
Beautifully realized. A thoughtful imagining of the nearly unimaginable. And a happy ending. Too many sad ones, I'm afraid.
Patie & Frank: thank you both very much. I wish I could be there to write factual stories -- they'd be much more fantastic I'm sure.
Very intense and realistic. I've been in an earthquake... they are unbelievably frightening. You captured it so well.
Rated - yes, earthquakes are terrifying - and even more so, in a place where the buildings dissolve under the merest shaking.
They make a noise too, you know - I compared it to standing on the platform of a railway station, with a fast express running through on another platform.
Rosy: thank YOU.

Sally: Glad you liked it -- thanks for stopping by.

Sgt. Mom: the NOISE!!! I forgot about that -- may have to work that in somehow. I appreciate your stopping by.
So hard to read, so wonderfully, emotionally written. It brings the terror closer still.
I always said that Stephen King was overrated.
Great job, skeletnwmn, rated.
Nice job, skeletnwmn! Brave rendition of a story, that unfortunately, was played out too few times.
Thanks so much for this...this brought tears to my eyes. This was beautifully written and captures so many of the Haitian people's story.
Lunchlady 2
Jill McLaughlin

Thank you all very much for reading.
You see through compassionate eyes and write with a compassionate heart.
Thank you for this! Fiction is important, and important to express the humanity in what's happening in Haiti. Thanks for telling the story of one family, and many...
Well done... that sounds kind of flat and prissy, but it is well done. I relate to the physicality of weight on bodies, the mess of rubble, the terror of confinement, and the close-to-madness fear. Thank you.
Very well done. In fact, so well done it does not come across as fiction Skel. I have no understanding of the mess that is Haiti. We have a hospital ship there with empty beds. We hold up aid to fly out our citizens. Fux news goes into propaganda mode immediately.
Your piece stirs me this early morn dear.
Scarlett, Julie, Writer & Mission: I appreciate all your compliments, but most of all -- thank you for reading.
nice to see you Jimmymac. Thanks.
skel--you totally deserve all the ratings and comments. I was that mother. I think every mother would identify and I love the happy endings even if such are few in actual Haiti. Very beautiful. Makes for a common humanity. I would act just like that mom if it were my own kid. As would most here. Thank you. beautiful!
thank YOU wendyo! I wish I could find the little blurb I heard on the news -- there really was a little boy rescued and he was incoherent until he saw his mama.
beautiful. tragically beautiful. I can't turn on the radio without tearing up and now this. This may be fiction but it speaks volumes of truth. well done.
Oh Mimetalker, I know. Hopefully Haiti will be able to recover and prosper after this horrific blow -- more of us than ever are aware of how they've been manipulated by other governments (ours included).
Thank-you for providing an ending of hope for your remarkable story. As the mother of a 2-yr-old son, I was feeling every word. This was riveting. Prayers to the mothers in Haiti. Your story helps.

Thanks JK Brady for sending me here...
Heron: thank you -- enjoyed reading your husband's poem, too.
Well-written. The stories are numerous and chilling...and there will be such stories for a very long time to come. You've a caring heart. Thanks for sharing. LAURIE MORROW
Skel, I finally got here to read this, and now I ache. And I ached for that child, that mother, the brother as I read this. It is a hard thing to write, and you have done it so well. And I wish all stories from Haiti ended like this. xo