by Susan Pomeroy
[This is a piece of pure fiction begun
in August, long before the fires that ravaged Southern
California this past autumn. Although Daykeeper hasn't featured fiction before,
given our global and environmental concerns, it seems appropriate
to run this piece now. The story is written in installments,
which we'll publish regularly.]
"I've got to go too," I said in a dull, blank voice.
Our eyes met and Judy stepped towards me. We clasped each other's
shoulders in a quick unplanned hug.
"Be well," she said, slipping out the sliding door to
For a few moments I ran around the house like a demented
dervish, grabbing the kids' jackets, my jacket, a bag of apples
and a block of cheese, a bottle of water, and, at the last
minute, the duffel Josh kept packed for emergencies and natural
disasters, and the hatchet we kept by the fireplace for splitting
When I pulled up to the school, the parking lot was
in chaos. A dozen big yellow buses, kids lined up looking angry
or apathetic, a few girls crying. Parents yelling. At the far
end of the lot I could see a police car parked. At this end,
Jim Petrakis, the Vice-Principal, was standing on the pavement
almost shoving an older man who looked like a parent. I could
hear Petrakis was yelling, his beefy face bright red.
"I told you that all the kids and staff are ordered
onto the busses. We don't have the authority to release a child
The parent gave Petrakis a shove, trying to get by.
Petrakis shoved back. "It's not going to happen," he said.
I drove right over the curb and parked on the lawn in front of the administration
building. I couldn't see my kids among the crowds shuffling onto
the school buses. "Let them not already be inside," I prayed. "Please
God let them not already be inside."
At that moment, Ben ran up to me. "Mom! They told us to
get on the buses, they wouldn't let us phone. They said it was
an evacuation and they were taking us to PacCom Arena and that
all the parents would be there. But I knew you and Dad wouldn't
want us to go like that."
"You're right, Ben," I said. My hands
were trembling with an unsettling mixture of relief and terror. "Now
we have to find Katia."
"I'll get her," he said, and darted back into the crowd.
I stood waiting as kids and teachers hurried past me, some
running one way, some another. Ben suddenly burst out of the
crowd, Katia after him. Katia's best friend Marie followed. "Mom!" said
Katia, running into my arms and clinging as tightly as a six-year-old.
"It's okay, honey. Come on, guys, let's get out of here."
But it was too late. As I turned, I could see Petrakis heading
towards us. My mind was suddenly racing a million miles a minute.
"Ben," I whispered, slipping the car keys from the front pocket
of my jeans into his hand, "go get the car right now and come get
He looked at me while his left hand tightened
around the keys. I could see fear in his eyes, then resolution.
Then he was running across the asphalt making for the lawn.
"Jim," I said, as Petrakis walked up to the girls
"We can't release any students, ma'am."
"I know that, Jim," I said. Behind Petrakis, Ben had reached the
minivan and was climbing in.
"I just wanted to say goodbye," I said, feeling like an idiot.
Surprisingly, his face relaxed. "That's fine, then," he said,
and turned away.
Ben nearly ran him down gunning the van over the
curb, but by then Petrakis was too far away to stop the girls
and me as we climbed into the car. "Scoot over, honey," I said
to Ben, and took the wheel. We were on our way.
To be continued...