For Lena and Clair

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After the earthquake, we were trapped. We assumed rescue efforts were underway, but it’d been three weeks. No one came. There was more than enough for us to drink, thanks to a burst pipe that trickled clean water through the ceiling. But that just meant we were dying more slowly. Starvation seemed imminent.

Liz thought all the other floors of the hotel had to be right on top of us. All 60 of them. How the two of us managed to avoid being crushed seemed like a miracle. Well, at first it did. As the days dragged on, and we came to the gradual realization we might not get rescued, the miracle soured. After two weeks, it was more like a curse.

We couldn’t give up, though. I constantly coaxed Liz down from hysterics which, during their worst periods, had her threatening to slam her throat onto a jagged piece of rebar. Talking about Lena and Clair helped. If we were going to get out of this, they’d need their mom. They’d need both of us.

Talk was cheap, though. No matter how much we held one another and cried, praying that the catharsis would diminish our agony, our stomachs growled. After the first week, I’d started to grow dizzy. Had I not been sitting, I know I would have passed out. But we both sat and maintained an atrocious lucidity about where we were, what was happening, and how the likelihood of our escape was dwindling.

A few times, off in a distance blocked by hundreds of feet of concrete and steel debris, we heard the sounds of rescue equipment. Saws, bulldozers, all that. Not one voice, though. That’s how far inside we were. The day it happened, we’d been getting on the elevator, which was in the center of the hotel. Once the quake started, it just shuddered and began to fall. Somehow, as the building swayed, the plunge of the elevator car was arrested by the angle of the shaft. We still came down very, very hard, but had it not been for that slight angle, no one would have survived.

Since a couple days after the earthquake, the air had been growing ripe with the odor of putrefaction. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how many people were dead in the rubble. The hotel seemed packed to the gills that day. I’ll admit, I was jealous of those who were crushed and died instantly. I know Liz was, too.

Toward the end of the third week, our desperation had reached its peak. All Liz talked about was how she’d abandoned the kids at home. She called herself a failure, even though she knew this whole, terrible thing was out of her control. It was only then that I broached the subject of Kevin.

I flicked my lighter, illuminating the carcass of our eldest son, who stood like a twisted, decaying scarecrow on the other side of the elevator. He’d been impaled and crushed when debris fell on top of the car after we hit bottom. I crawled over to his body and told Liz to close her eyes. I bit, spit into my palm, and moved back over to my wife.

“Keep your eyes closed,” I instructed, “and think about getting home to Clair and Lena.” In the dark of the elevator car, her sobs quieted as she chewed. I went back and got her more, as well as some for myself. The moment I heard her swallow the last piece, the rubble above us started to move. I was ready for the cave-in. Almost happy for it. Seconds later, we were blinded by a flashlight.

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