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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 17: 29 Jan. 2023
Flash Fiction: 798 words
By Stuart Watson

The Big One


Your mom and I had just finished making love—I know, Ewww, right?—and we were lying there trying to catch our breath. There’s a thing people say sometimes when they’re like that.

“Did it move?” I asked your mom. “For you?”


“The Earth. Did it? Move?”

Your mom just rolled her eyes. That’s when it really did move. The pendant light overhead started to sway. Her perfume bottles started to rattle. Her jewelry box started dancing on the dresser top and fell to the floor.

It was an earthquake. A biggish one. Bigly. It was hard to compare, until later. Just like that, your mom was looking scared. Then terrified. The walls were swaying in and out, the window frames sounded like they were going to pop. The bed moved away from the wall. The closet door sprung open and my shirts swung right, then left, then back.

I’m convinced that was the day you were conceived. We didn’t know that then, of course. We struggled out of bed and into our clothes, seesawed down the hallway to the kitchen for the cocktail we had talked about earlier. The glassware was tinkling in the cupboard. My favorite bottle of gin had self-rescued, jamming in between a bowl of oranges and a stack of napkins, proof that God exists.

We thought the quake would pass. They always did, came and went. Not that time. It just kept on going. It didn’t get worse. But it didn’t let up, either. We were sipping our martinis on the deck, watching the leaves on the trees shaking, squirrels struggling to tight-rope their branches. Finally, I looked at your mom. “Is this the new normal? Permanent quake?”

She shrugged. But as the day faded to dark and then shook and jiggled through the night, we began to think that maybe it was. Abnormal, but normal. We woke while quaking. We ate bologna on wheat while quaking. We hung from subway straps while quaking.

Days slid into weeks, weeks into months. You grew larger inside your mother. We spent a lot of time talking to you through the taut skin of her belly, waiting for the big day.

Like most people, we were curious what the experts thought. We had been warned, for years, about the looming possibility of “The Big One.” This mythic earthquake would be the quake to beat all quakes. Bigger than San Francisco in 1906. Bigger than Tokyo in 1923, Chile in 1960, Anchorage in 1964, Japan in 2011.

The experts were in shock. From their comments, it became apparent that nobody could agree on what made an earthquake “The Big One.” Some said Richter scale. Some said value of property loss. Some said loss of life.

“This One,” as some were calling it, created a new category of magnitude: Duration of quaking. It didn’t take long for “This One” to vault into first place on that list. True, it was the only quake, but in that slight distinction, it owned the list. It had set the bar, and leaped over it.

First and foremost, U.S. media swung toward a consensus that The Big One could happen nowhere but inside the United States. Even though other places had and would likely have “Bigger Ones,” our Big One would be the axle around which all other quakes rotated. Once we all accepted that, mischievous talk surfaced among foreign policy seismologists (yes, there is such a sub-discipline) about invading China and Chile, two places famous for more disastrous earthquakes. Add them to the U.S. and we could increase our odds of actually having The Big One. Experts squelched that idea. “Who would pay for repairs?” they asked. Taking credit is only half the deal.

In short order, we got used to the constant quaking. At first, I couldn’t walk ten feet without falling over. Everybody was bruised and scraped, some wearing casts to correct quake-related fractures. Bit by bit, we adjusted. Our inner ears figured it out, just like they do on the pitching deck of an ocean liner.

“How are you doing with the quake?” someone would ask a friend.

“OK now,” the friend would answer, then add, “Just afraid of what might happen when it stops.”

Which it did, oddly enough, on the day you were born. No shit. I tried to tell people that you were the cause, or if not exactly the cause, then enough of a correlation to be implicated in the quake and its duration. Few people listened, even though I still say you deserve credit, in some small way, for what the experts have decided to call The Long One.

I always smile when they talk about it like that. They have no idea.

Stuart Watson
Issue 17 (29 January 2023)

wrote for newspapers in Anchorage, Seattle and Portland. His writing appears in numerous publications, including 433, Barzakh, Bending Genres, Bloom, Fewer than 500, Five South, Flash Boulevard, Grey Sparrow Journal, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Montana Mouthful, Mystery Tribune, Pulp Modern Flash, Reckon Review, Revolution John, Sledgehammer Lit, The Writing Disorder, Two Hawks Quarterly and Yolk. He lives in Oregon, with his wife and their amazing dog.

Author’s website: https://chiselchips.com/

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