EMERGENCIES, IN THE EVENT OF
- You cannot outrun it. Stand and wave both fists. Hide your palms. Speak softly. If it charges, curl up on your side, tuck in your head, and project beach ball harmlessness.
- Feel free to breathe. This is no respiratory contagion. But avoid open sores and exchanging bodily fluids. Maybe cancel your trip.
- Enter the nearest building. No building but a car? Get in. No shelter and you hear the telltale crackle, feel your hairs stand and wave, see the blue glow of St. Elmo’s fire? Crouch, seize your ankles and pray. There is no scientific evidence that this position will protect you. Anyway, what are you doing on my prairie?
- Secure your children. Check for injuries. Locate your flashlight. Assess destruction, check for fires, sniff for gas leaks, shut off damaged utilities, prepare to evacuate, help Mrs. Erickson next door, await direction from local emergency officials. Remain calm. Fake calmness. Your voice is as soft as a lullaby.
- Do not ignore the cold sweat, nausea, pain in the arms, ache in the back, shortness of breath and unpleasant squeezebox that plays in the chest. Your arteries have hardened. The heart has sprung an uncertain, galloping beat. Valves have prolapsed. Turn off the oven. Set down the hammer. Get off the treadmill. What are you waiting for? No, no, you are not a nuisance, Mrs. Erickson. Please don’t say that. Never mind. I will call for you.
- Suck in your stomach and smile, but don’t knock yourself out. Twenty years have passed. It shows. However, it shows on both of you. Better to laugh at something your child says or offer your partner’s arm a breezy caress: express the sweetly superior fate that long ago break-up dealt you. You have outrun him. Note his bald spot.
- Put down her window. Tell her to close her eyes. Model the worthless noisy mouth breathing you learned before you gave birth to her. Crawl to the back. Wiggle yourself between the two car seats. Order her brother to stop whining. Prepare the bag. Ready the wipes. Hold back her hair. She is so little, so slight. Poor thing. Discard the bag. Clean her face. Kiss her cheek. Play I-Spy for the remainder of the ill-conceived trip.
- Do not tie up the phone lines. Slip to the ground, take cover, hide in the cellar, seek refuge on the roof, get out fast, stay inside, stop, drop and steer clear of your windows, close every door, keep dry, reserve fuel, watch out for flying debris, do not admire the size of the wave, evacuate, save your family, your neighbor, yourself and stay away until the lava cools, until the subterranean rocks stop shifting. Are you calm? Stay calm. Breathe through your mouth. Listen. I will sing you a lullaby.
Melissa Ostrom teaches English at a community college and serves as a public school curriculum consultant. She lives in rural Western New York with her husband and children and writes whenever she can—or as much as her four year old and six year old let her.