“They’re big in Atlanta,” Wes explained to Kristy.
“Huge,” I said.
Kristy looked at him, then at me. “Whatever,” she said, nodding, as she pushed her chair out and hopped down. “I’m going to find out about that Big Buzz.”
I watched her as she walked into the living room, flopping down in our overstuffed chair. She ran her hands over the arms, settling in, then looked up at the ceiling before directing her attention to the TV.
Wes, across from me, turned a page of the magazine. “Everything okay with your mom?” he asked, not looking up.
“Yeah,” I said, glancing down at one of the iron herons. “I’m not getting the appeal of those,” I said.
He pointed at the picture. “See, first, they’re very clean and simple looking. People like that. Second, they have the wildlife thing going for them, so they fit in well with a garden. And thirdly,” he turned the page, indicating another picture, “the artist takes himself, and the herons, very seriously. So that gives them a certain cachet as well.”
I looked at the artist. He was a tall guy with white hair pulled back in a ponytail, striking a pensive pose by a reflecting pond. To me, one of the quotes below it read, my herons represent the fragility of life and destiny. “Ugh,” I said. “If that’s taking your work seriously, he can have it. ”
“Just wait, though,” I said. “Someday you’ll be in Southern Living, with a picture just like that, talking about the deep true meaning of your work.”
“Unlikely,” he said. “I don’t think they pick people who got their start by being arrested and getting sent to reform school.”
“Maybe that could be your angle,” I suggested. He made a face at me. “And anyway, what kind of attitude is that?” I asked.
“A realistic one,” he told me, shutting the magazine.
“You,” I said, poking him, “need a little positivity.”
“And you,” he said, “need to stop poking me.”
I laughed, then heard something behind me and turned around. It was my mother again, standing in the doorway. How long had she been there, I wondered, but one look at the expression on her face—stern, chin set, clearly not happy—answered this question.
“Macy,” she said, her voice level, “could you hand me that folder on the counter, please.”
I walked over to the counter by the fridge, feeling her watching me. Wes, who couldn’t help but pick up on the sudden tension in the air, started toward the living room. As he got close, Kristy moved over in the big chair, making room, and he slid in beside her.
“A reverberation,” the announcer was saying from the living room, “that would cause a domino effect among the population, causing people to slowly go insane from the constant, unknown droning.”
“You can go crazy from vibrations?” Kristy said.
“Oh, yeah,” Bert said. “You can go crazy from anything.”
“. . . a natural phenomenon,” the announcer was saying, “or perhaps a tool used by extraterrestrials, who may communicate using sounds beyond our comprehension?”
“Interesting,” Delia murmured, rubbing her stomach.
“Mmm-hmm,” Monica echoed.
I picked up the folder and brought it to my mother. She stepped out into the darkness of the hallway, giving me a look that meant I should follow.
“Macy,” she said, “did I just hear that boy say he’s been arrested?”
“It was a long time ago,” I said. “And—”
“Macy!” Kristy called out. “You’re going to miss the megahunami! ”
“Tsunami,” Bert said.
“Whatever,” she said. “It’s the mega part that matters, anyway.”
But I could barely hear this. I was just watching my mother, the way she was staring at them, her judgment so clear on her face. From Delia’s chaotic business practices to Kristy’s scars to Wes’s past, it was clear they were far from flawless.
“He’s the boy you were with the other night, correct?” she asked.
“What?” I asked.
She looked at me, her face stern, as if I was talking back, which I wasn’t. “The other night,” she repeated, enunciating the words, “when I came home and you were outside with someone. In a truck. Was that him?”
“Um,” I said, “yeah, I guess it was. He just gave me a ride.” And here I’d thought she’d hardly noticed us. But now, as I watched her looking at Wes, I knew this was one more thing she would hold against me. “It’s not what you think. He’s a nice guy, Mom.”
“When the show is over,” she said, as if I hadn’t even said this, “they leave. Understood?”
I nodded, and she stuck the folder under her arm as I headed back through the kitchen, toward the living room. I was almost there when I heard her call after me.
“I forgot to tell you,” she said, her voice loud and clear. “Jason called. He’s going to be in town for the weekend.”
“He did?” I said. “He is?”
“His grandmother’s taken ill, apparently,” she said. “So he’s coming down for the weekend. He said to tell you he gets in around noon, and he’ll see you at the library.”
I just stood there, trying to process this information, as she turned and headed back to her office. Jason was coming home. And of course my mother had felt it necessary to announce this out loud, in front of everyone—especially Wes—while so much of our other business had been conducted in private. She’d told me she wanted me back on track: this was one way of nudging me there.
When I walked into the living room, the announcer on the TV was talking about the mega-tsunami, describing in detail how all it would take was one volcano blowing to set off the chain reaction of events that would end with that big wave crashing over our extended coastline. What other proof, I thought, did you need that life was short. That volcano could already be rumbling, magma bubbling up, pressure building to an inevitable, irrevocable burst.
Kristy scooted over on the wide arm of the oversized chair, making a space for me between herself and Wes, who was studying the screen intently. He didn’t say anything as I sat down, and I wondered if he’d heard my mother say Jason was coming home. Not that it mattered. We were just friends, after all.
“Everything okay?” Kristy asked me, and I nodded, my eyes on the TV, which was showing a computer simulation of the mega-wave. There was the volcano blowing, there was the land falling into the ocean, all of these events that led up to this one, huge After as the wave rose up and began to move across the ocean, crossing the space between Africa and where we were. All I could think was that right there, in every passing second, was the future winding itself down. Never would forever, with all its meanings, be so clear and distinct as in the true, guaranteed end of the world.