My mother and my father and I are eating as slabs of concrete advance on the north shore of Long Island. The coast guard are first alerted when the lighthouse off Huntington Bay reports that the lights of Stamford are no longer visible. It is a perfectly clear night. All subsequent communication attempts fail.
We have a family meeting. "Something is going on here, and I don't like it," my father says. "Does anyone else feel this? Feel like there is something wrong?" My mother looks at me. I look at her, and then away.
"Yes. It definitely feels like something is wrong," I say.
Once I dreamt that I was watching my father lying on our front lawn at night. I look through the window and wave, but he doesn't see me. His eyes are fixed on the sky. I thought to myself: How good it is to see him like this! I felt his blood in mine, and understood why I believed that looking beholds the world into being. Then he bolted upright. "Did you see him? Get that son of a bitch!" The burglar alarm went off and we raced through the house, all the while him waving a baseball bat and saying, "Don't let him get away!" Finally we turned down the last hallway into the master bedroom, where we saw the body of his father, laid out on the floor, with the figure of my grandmother hunched over him, tearing out her hair. Saying, "You were too late... you were too late..."
As the low rumble gets louder, families peer nervously from their windows into the darkness. The sound is reported to the police, who, unsure of what to do, dispatch a vehicle to the shore. The officers stand at the edge of the beach, listening to the treble of evening waves and a deep, uneven roar coming from somewhere offshore. "Can''t see the lighthouse tonight," one says. They keep looking. "I can't even see Connecticut," says the other. He is thinking that the moon isn't reflected in the water when his eyes adjust and for a moment thinks the ocean has reared up in a single, massive wave. And then the air in front of their faces turns to stone, and there is no time to realize or cry out as the concrete hits the shore and they are gone.
"What should we do about it?" my mother asks.
"Someone has got to say something," my father says. We do not move. The radio is on in the kitchen and I can hear a DJ say, "The greatest hits of the 70s, 80s, and today." In the corner of the room is the shrine to Buster, my father's favorite dog. In a past life my father believes he was a boxer dog, like Buster. His pictures are arranged on the floor around the spot where the finally died, cancer in his stomach. My father wrote on an index card, "Here was Buster, loyal & strong. He was a good dog."
"Maybe we should turn on the TV," I say, and then I hear a low rumbling coming from the south side of the house.
Jennifer is at college. She paints beautiful pictures of people who like trees, people who look like tigers, and people with light in their hair. But when I think of her, she is still a little girl, bent over a patch of interesting grass, or investigating a family of pillbugs. On the day she turned five, my mother threw her a costume party. Jennifer dressed as a spotted dog. When everyone had left, and it was time to take off the costume, she refused. Started to cry. My mother, unsure of what to do, eventually shrugged. And that is how Jennifer dressed as a dog for one whole year.
"It's an earthquake," my father says. "Everyone, get to the basement!" The floor is shaking as we rush down the hall. The radio falls from the counter. Dishes from the table lurch and shatter on the floor. When we get to the bottom of the stairs, my father locks and bars the basement door. "You never know what's out there," he says. "Turn on the TV."
"It's nothing but static."
"What about the other stations?"
"Nothing, there's nothing on any of them." We sit on the old couch, smelling of mildew. The TV is small, with a dial to change the station and a VCR. In the corner are a pile of VHS tapes, and some of Jennifer's old paintings and sculptures. A sunflower. A pig with wings. The rumbling is not as loud down here, though somehow I can feel it getting more intense above us. It is punctured by sharp cracks.
"Are those gunshots?" my mother asks.
"I don't know..."
"What should we do?"
"We just have to wait and see what happens."
"Do you think we're safe down here?"
"I think so," my father says.
"I'm scared," whispers my mother. My father starts to put his arms around her, and then pulls back.
"I have an idea," he says. He goes over to the pile of tapes and pulls out one. "Let's get out minds on something else." He holds it up.
"Oh, Richie, I hate that movie," my mother says.
"It's his favorite."
"I know but -- can't we watch something else?"
"The rest are old home movies," my father says. "At least this will keep us occupied. Besides, Adam likes it, right?"
"You know what they say, right?"
We say the line together. My father laughs. We watch together and he turns up the volume as the sounds of helicopters and gunfire travel around the room and join the sound from up above, like a wave slowly crashing on the house above our heads. But my father is right, and soon we are lost in the world flickering on the walls and the paintings and across our faces. Even my mother gets into it. And when the line comes up, we all say it together, laughing, and I wish Jennifer were here with us, and Buster too, because it really is a good line.