Jake knew it was going to happen a full minute before it happened – he sat on his haunches, his ears half raised, then he barked, and he kept barking. The floor was moving. The whole room was moving. Things were falling. Jake tore up a mystery thriller which had fallen from the bookshelf. And then it was over.

I walked outside. The street was full of people. No one said anything. The woman from across the street was standing outside her gate. She walked over and offered me a cigarette. It was menthol, but I took it anyway.

Jake sat behind the fly-screen, watching. Then he started barking.

‘It’s okay, Jake,’ I said.

‘There’ll probably be an aftershock,’ she said. ‘I’d wait until it’s over before going back inside.’

‘I’ve never experienced an earthquake before.’

‘That one was big,’ she said. ‘But the one in ’98 was bigger.’

She drew on her cigarette. ‘Before it happens, when you think back, there’s a pure silence. The air is very still.’

I thought about that. She was right.

‘I’m Imelda,’ she said.

‘Imelda… I’m Elliott, pleased to meet you,’ I said.


Jake started barking again. I looked up at him. He ran round the living room in circles, bouncing off things, the way he used to when I first got him.

‘I think he’s jealous,’ said Imelda.

Then came the aftershock. I held Imelda. Imelda held me. It was a rush. I had an image of a street opening up and both of us falling into the fault line. But it was over, quicker than the first one.

Imelda let me go. ‘You’d better get inside and calm the dog,’ she said.

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Yeah.’

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