The power was still out in Pacific Heights. Candlelight flickered in the windows on Buchanan Street. Neighbors who had lived side-by-side for years, stood bundled up against the cold on their porches and in the street, meeting for the first time. One man had set up his Kettle Bar B Q in front of his house, feeding the neighborhood on grilled steaks and chops that had defrosted in his freezer. Others brought chicken, ice cream, anything that would spoil before the power came back on. Someone had a battery powered radio tuned to the news and in between the reporting, the station played I Left My Heart In San Francisco and Dock Of The Bay to boost the city’s morale.
Barbara stood in front of her building talking with a young couple, recently moved to the city from Atlanta. She was trying to convince them that earthquakes were, in fact, a rare occurrence.
“You’re real San Franciscans now. You’ve been baptized.”
“It sure puts things into perspective. Makes you feel pretty small,” the husband said.
“Earthquakes are bad enough but the real nightmare is trying to find a parking place in this city,” his wife quipped.
“That’s why I sold my car,” Barbara replied.
“What do you do when you want to get out of town?”
“I haven’t been any farther than Daly City in years.” As Barbara said it, the embarrassment of the admission reignited the indignation that had driven her to go AWOL at work. “But I’m going to be traveling soon,” she added.
“Where are you going?” the wife asked.
Barbara felt a surge of happiness and smiled. At last convinced it was safe to go back inside their homes, the neighbors retreated from the cold. Barbara was on her knees trying to coax Seamus out from under the bed when she heard Daniel and Patrick come in.
“We’re home. Where’s the champagne?” Daniel called.
“It’s in the living room. Come on, Seamus. Come to Mommy,” she said, trying to woo the two little black eyes under the bed.
“Still hasn’t come out, huh?” Patrick asked.
“Wave a hot dog at him. He’ll come out,” Daniel suggested as he peeled the foil from the top of the bottle. The champagne made a loud pop when he pulled the cork and Seamus flew out from under the bed, making a mad dash under the couch in the living room. They all laughed.
“L’Chaim. To life,” Daniel toasted.
“Here’s mud in your eye,” Patrick added.
“Cheers, big ears,” Barbara countered, eliciting another round of laughter. The three sat in half darkness, sipping champagne, faces illuminated by a dozen candles glowing throughout the room.
“I saved a man’s life today,” Patrick said, proudly.
“It’s true. He gave CPR to a dying man. He’s a hero.”
Barbara raised her glass. “Here’s to our resident hero.”
“So, what happened today out at the bridge?” Patrick asked, sinking deeper into an arm chair.
“It’s still there,” Barbara replied then added, nonchalantly, “I quit today.”
“Seriously?” Daniel asked.
“Yep, and it’s about time too. I’m taking my savings and going to France.”
“You’re not!” Patrick said, astounded by the change in her demeanor.
“Well, good for you, sweetie,” Daniel said.
“I’m going to sublet the flat and travel until my savings run out. Can I stay in your spare room when I get back until I can find a job?” Patrick and Daniel flashed each other a look of surprise.
“Funny you should ask, Barb. We decided today to bring my mother out to stay with us. She’ll have the spare room,” Patrick replied, sheepishly. Barbara’s mood switched immediately from buoyant to blue.
“Well, that’s wonderful, Patrick. I know how much you miss your mother,” she said, half-heartedly.
“Now, let’s think about this for a minute, Daniel quickly said, desperate not to dampen Barbara’s new found joie de vivre. “Here’s a thought! How about we all go to France together for a vacation?”
“Great idea,” Patrick said.
“I’ve got vacation time saved up and you can close up the store for a couple of weeks. What do you think, Barbara?”
“I think two’s company, three’s a crowd. You don’t want me tagging along on your vacation,” Barbara responded with her usual oh woe is me attitude.
“Don’t do that, Barbara,” Daniel said, sternly, “Don’t turn a disappointment into a Greek tragedy. You act as though you’re the only person on Earth who’s ever been unhappy. Everyone’s unhappy sometimes. You either pull yourself out of it or wallow in it.” He drew a breath. “Pull yourself out of it, sweetie,” he added, softly.
He had never spoken to her like that.He had always treated her with kid gloves out of pity, indulged her depression, just as he had his mother. Patrick was silent, shocked by what had just happened. Barbara averted her gaze toward the bay window and sat quietly staring at the blackness outside for a few, long minutes. She was perfectly still and unemotional. Daniel began to regret his remarks as the tension mounted in the room. While he had spoken truth out of concern, he feared he had crossed an irrevocable line, knowing Barbara as he did. They were good friends but they had never tested the delicate balance of their friendship. For years they had danced around each others shortcomings, tolerating little nuisances without protest. In a mere twenty seconds, the earthquake had changed each of them. It had shaken Barbara back to life, Patrick had finally realized his good fortune in his choice of a partner, and Daniel, for the sake of love, was ready to give up a life of good times for one of deeper meaning. At last, Barbara looked at them and said, “What about Seamus?”
“We’ll take him with us. People travel with their pets all the time,” Daniel replied.
“And the French love dogs,” Patrick added, enthusiastically. There was another long pause then Barbara smiled sweetly at them.
“How am I going to get him on a plane? I can’t ever get him out from under the couch.”