All Stories Are Love StoriesBy: Elizabeth Percer
FEBRUARY 14, MORNING
Public Service Announcement
It may be helpfull to remember that
things have not always been as they are;
this may be obvious as it sounds, easy to forget
walking concrete paths and
perceiving streams of traffic and rectangular shelters.
It may be helpful to keep in mind that at one time
these constructions were non-existant.
It may be of some use to look over
all that you can see now, the
expance and boundries
of your environment, and think how all
of this will be gone
It may be helpful to see beauty
in decomposition; because like
the leaves of trees turn brigt and fall
to the ground to replenish
their mother, it is also our inescapable
privilidge to rot.
So now it becomes necessary to
view all items
in the world as reflections, all objects as mirrors,
and then move upon this basis.
—ANONYMOUS GRAFFITI AT THE RUINS OF THE SUTRO BATHS,
San Francisco, c. 1994
On the morning of February 14, exactly seven hours, fifty-two minutes, and thirteen seconds before the earth’s two largest tectonic plates released decades’ worth of strain under a busy suburb just outside San Francisco; exactly eight hours, eight minutes, and fifty-three seconds before the energy dislodged from the seismic shifting triggered an even more catastrophic displacement farther north along the San Andreas Fault; exactly eight hours, nine minutes, and twelve seconds before all gas, power, water, cell, and satellite communications were severed from San Francisco and its environs; exactly eight hours and twenty-two minutes before thousands of tiny sparks and larger ignitions got out from under the valiant efforts of a drought-plagued, understaffed fire department and prematurely exhausted volunteers; and exactly ten hours and eleven minutes before the real danger to the old, precariously built, packed-like-sardines city—fire—proved its indomitable hunger, Max Fleurent was on the phone with his mother.
He checked his watch. They’d been on the phone for almost ten minutes and she was still trying, with mixed results, to wish him a happy birthday.
“One of these days we’ll have to really celebrate, Max. Do something special. And I wanted to get you a birthday present, even hitched a ride”—her phrase for taking the Manor shuttle—“over to that fancy confectionery”—who but his mother still used this word?—“on Hayes. But can you believe the price they put on chocolate these days, Max? Do you people”—a favorite new phrase of his mother’s, meaning, he was starting to put together, anyone under the age of seventy-four, his mother’s own age—“really eat chocolate with chili in it? Or God, what was it. Bacon!” She tsked, as if scolding the entire chocolate industry in one huffy breath. “It’s just revolting, Max. Honestly. If I didn’t like you, I’d get you bacon chocolate for your birthday.” Her voice softened as she remembered herself, “But I do want to get you something. . . .”
Max, thirty-four as of 5:46 that morning, had no illusions of his mother’s ever getting around to the sort of straightforward birthday wishes he imagined some mothers might give their sons. After a lifetime of the kind of closeness many sons might wish to have with their mothers but few would appreciate in reality, Max knew his mother’s mind almost as well as his own. He knew that she would never wish him happy birthday in any straightforward way, and he knew that she could not be rushed from one topic to another. He sighed silently, summoning the patience to wait for her to wrap up the current tangent so he could address the odd note he was hearing in her voice.
“Anyway, I’m all out of wrapping paper. I could use old newspaper, I guess, but that’s not very special. . . .”
There it was again, a hesitation, as if she were only talking to distract herself from blurting out something she was afraid to say. It wasn’t like her to hold back, at least not when it came to the sort of one-sided phone conversations she so enjoyed with her son. In fact, she stored up all her most stinging verbal assaults, vivisections of human nature she kept politely to herself in public, and later rewarded herself for good behavior by expelling them into her son’s amiably distracted ear. Usually she prattled along, complaining almost merrily. But there was a hitch in her rhythm today, something off to Max’s ear he couldn’t quite place.