Up Front by Emma Hart


Ups and Downs. And Side-to-Sides.


 Sitting at the computer polishing the most recent chapter of my novel. I started it back in December, got the news my mother was very ill, and hadn't really been up to tackling it again since. About to mail it out to my reading group.

 Aftershock. No, earthquake. Sitting on the floor in the doorway hanging onto the frame. Everything is falling, crashing. Monitor and television both fall over forwards. So much noise. So much worse than anything before. Have been this scared once before, that I can remember. Legendary staunchness deserts. Screaming and crying.

 Stops for a bit. Grab my phone. Power out. Text from my partner Karl, "im okay." Text him back that I'm unhurt. Autocorrect changes it to 'injured'.


 Karl freaks out a bit. Texts children.


 Freaks out quite a bit more. Knows if I'm saying that, my leg has probably come off. Has to find children before he can come home. Heads for the carpark

 "Un. Hurt. Fuck you, autocorrect. Have you heard from the kids?"

 Rhiana joins him at the car. She was in the public library, not in the Southern Star building, where she should have been, which has lost its entire frontage.

 I get a text from Kieran saying he's okay, but narrowly missed by a falling pipe.

 Karl and Rhiana can only get as far as Latimer Square. Fortunately, that's the school evac point, and Kieran is there.

 Meanwhile, shaking continues at home. I get Karl's initial text six more times, and no reply to my last. Each "im okay" is less reassuring. Feeling like an episode of Dr Who. You know the one.

Put tweetdeck on my phone yesterday. Can still connect with outside world. Battery slowly dying. No, fastly dying.

 Shaking stops enough to start cleaning up. Broken crockery everywhere. Heirloom china of my grandmother's I just brought home from Mum's all broken. Falling shelving in both kids' bedrooms. On their beds. Lego propelled halfway up the hall. Phone battery dies.

 Family finally make it home. One of Kieran's friends with us, whose family cannot reach him. Have texted to say where he is, but texts still ghosting. Karl and Rhiana assemble top-class outdoor toilet facilities. Karl makes three unsuccessful attempts to take William home.

 Cats turn up. Huge.

 Fire up barbeque and give everyone a hot meal. Darkness falls, starts raining. Put buckets out to catch water. Go to bed about half eight after a stiff whisky. Aftershocks continue. Not much sleeping going on.

 Must have gone to sleep, woken by phone at around 1a.m. My boss at Bardic Web, Cris, ringing from Canada. Friends in US have just woken up and seen the news.



 Still no power, no water, no fucking idea what's going on. Relying on battery-operated radio and Radio New Zealand. Another failed attempt to return William. Cannot get through to his parents. (Turns out they only have cordless phones on their landline.) But, people carrying water, must be a tanker around.

 Karl investigates. Not a tanker. They've been drilling a bore on the corner of Linwood and St Johns, and it's pouring out hundred of litres of water. People are taking their wheelie bins down and filling them.

 Local dairy is sort-of open. Wonderful, wonderful people selling from the door at normal prices.

 William's parents arrive. Every bridge over the Avon broken. Have had to come to Bromley from Burwood via Riccarton. Their older son had to abandon his car and walk home last night, took him nine hours.

 Get out a jigsaw. By evening, children squinting over it by candlelight, have nearly finished. I have been gardening, as it's "the only thing I do that doesn't plug in." Reports of deaths. Still don't know where a lot of our friends are. Have been switching sim cards with money on to phones with battery power. Texts still ghosting. Wondering about the texts coming from people in the rubble.

 Contemplate bugging out, driving to Timaru and staying in my mother's house. Would leave, but for cats, who are badly stressed.

 Cook frittata on the barbeque. Fucking rock, to be honest.

 Thinking we might have to just go to bed again when the lights come on. Power! Rush to plug laptops and phones back in. Turn on television. Start seeing first pictures. Start crying. Watch fifty emails arrive. Cry some more. Karl contacts his parents. I have no parents to contact. Start smoking again.



 Discovering, slowly, friends are okay. People in west Christchurch have power and running water. Just know, with this many people dead and missing, there'll be someone we know. Offers of help and beds flooding in.

 Still crying, on and off. Reputation for staunchness possibly fucked forever.

Emma Hart is the author of the book 'Not Safe For Work'.

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