A crystal vase smashed on the floor and echoed along the apartment. Peter and Lora Ivanovi waked suddenly by the sound of it and it took them a couple of seconds to realize what was happening. Nothing makes you doubt your decision to live in your parents’ old apartment on the 6th floor as an earthquake, especially when you have never experienced one before.
“Maya, Misho, wake up! Quickly on your feet, each grab shoes and jackets and follow your dad! Peter, check whether Maria is up!”
“Mum, what is happening, why is everything moving?”
“No time to explain, Maya, shoes quickly! Hold you brother by the hand! Misho, don’t cry baby, everything will be ok!”
“Where is Tom, I want my Tom!”
“Misho, no time for toys, hurry! Maya we will put the jackets on the way, hurry up honey.”
“Misho, let me take you in my arms, common buddy, let’s get out of here. I will get back to look for Tom later, I promise.”
“Where is granny?”
“She should already be getting down the stairs. Quickly! Lora, take the car keys!”
Ivanovi managed to take a breath only after they moved away enough not to be in the reach of the building in case it started falling down. The entire operation took them 4 minutes in total. For this time Lora and Peter packed the kids together with shoes and random jackets, grabbed the car keys and opened water bottle from the corridor as during a crisis drinking water might be scarce. Everything was good, except for one thing.
“Peter, didn’t you say your mother was already down?”
Maria Ivanova, quite opposite to the cliché for mothers-in-law, was a pleasant woman who was even bearable to live together with. When she was young, people knew her for her “personal projects” which varied from teaching neighbor kids how to draw to helping widows earn some extra income in an honest way. Alongside her generous heart, Maria was a woman with a soul of an aristocrat who had the unfortunate fate to live in a time which was not embracing her interests. Peter’s dad Philip was from the families who lived well during the socialism and he had the opportunity to land a job which gave him the chance to go on business trips in the Czech republic, Poland, East Germany and Hungary. After marrying Maria, he brought her a number of unique objects – thin porcelain dishes, crystal glasses, Mouliné embroidery threads and suede high heels shoes. For their 10 years marriage anniversary, Philip managed to sneak in the country a special flower blossom-like porcelain chandelier from the Great Britain which made her beam with pride. The elder Ivanovi family lived in a full harmony for many years until quite suddenly Philip passed away. Maria managed to get on her feet, but Philip and Lora asked her to move in with them to keep an eye on her.
“Could she still be up in the apartment?”
Peter went pale only by thinking about it. This reminded him about the big earthquake in 1977 his father told him about. Maria and Philip were just married, Peter was about a year old and they were living in the very same apartment. Philip told him his brightest memory from this night was people randomly running around the building and yelling to each other to get out. After Philip rushed Maria with the baby down the stairs, he came back to help the neighbor with his sick mother who was on a bed rest. They managed to make a hammock out of a blanket, to carefully put the old lady there and to move her out. It was a chaos outside, the buildings were literally swaying, and there were many children and women crying. He managed to find Maria who was in shock and kept repeating she wants to return inside as it was too cold and Peter was going to get sick. Later, it was determined the earthquake had 7,4 Richter magnitude, one of the strongest ones the country has experienced. The aftermath included destroyed houses, a demolished factory and multiple casualties. Ivanovi were from the lucky ones who did not lose their home. Maria helped as much as she could to the people in need, providing one with food and other with a word of courage. She was ashamed to admit it out loud, but she was inconsolable for months after that not only because of the people, but also because of her almost completely broken collection. Until this day, Maria was still changing the TV channel every time there were earthquake reports in the news.
Peter took the 6 flights of stairs without sparing his breath. He was sure he saw his mother in the corridor when he was waking up the kids and that he urged her to get out of the apartment first as she was walking slower. He had a bad feeling in his heart when he entered his home. The door of the living room was ajar and he noticed some movement. The second earthquake wave hit unexpectedly. At this moment, he entered the room and his jaw dropped in surprise. His 59 year old mother was standing in her full height on the table. Both the legs of the table and her own were shaking by the tremors, but her hands were carefully holding the flower-like parts of the chandelier in order to prevent them from breaking while clashing in each other. Maria Ivanova was not going to lose another valuable object from her collection ever again even in times of a crisis.
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This was Plamena Raynova’s graduation short story, published here exactly as submitted.