Nine Point Oh
©2004 The Angst Guy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Daria and associated characters are ©2004 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: email@example.com
Synopsis: Just before noon, January 1, 2005, west of Petchkasem Road down to Bang Niang Beach, resort city of Khao Lak, Phang-Nga province, Kingdom of Thailand: The Griffin family’s New Year.
Author's Notes: Thea Zara asked for short stories about Dariaverse characters on New Year’s Day, 2005. This was my entry.
Acknowledgements: My thanks to Thea Zara for the contest. Also, thanks to James “CINCGREEN” Bowman, who once remarked on Scorched Remains that, according to “Just Add Water,” Sandy Griffin could not swim. He adds that she did learn to do so by the time of “Fat Like Me,” however.
She remembered her name, but she did not think it mattered that she did, or that it mattered she even had a name. Her name was not something she thought of lately.
This morning, the sky was royal blue with light clouds and a breeze from the sea. To her right, she could hear the roar of breakers coming in to the beach whenever the bulldozers shut down. It was still too dangerous to swim because of floating debris and bodies, and almost everyone walking the sands was either a civilian body-recovery worker or a Thai soldier in camouflage.
She stood with a crowd of other volunteers, watching a yellow bulldozer shove aside a mountain of wreckage covering the front of a long series of storefronts, and ate the last rice cracker from a Red Cross meal with blocky Korean lettering. She held the cracker by the wrapper that had covered it, not letting her gloved fingers touch it. Later she would get a bottle of water from an aid tent, but she was working now.
Someone behind her said in French that today was New Year’s Day, Happy New Year. His voice had no animation, as if he had said it just to get it over with. She watched the bulldozer work and tried to recall what year it was. Palm fronds and seaweed clung to the dirty green roof of the one-story-high strip mall. A gull called overhead.
The infected cut on her right thigh itched. Her joints ached. She had not showered or used toilet paper in days. Nothing she wore matched. Her thin borrowed pants, two sizes too big for her and printed with a flowery pattern, were stained with sand and mud. A blue suitcase found inside an upside-down taxi had provided the two black T-shirts she wore, one over the other. Two days ago (three? more?), she had cut away her long brown hair with a steak knife, so tired was she of the knots and tangles and the way her hair got into her face when she was looking for bodies.
On the good side, someone at a first-aid tent had given her latex gloves. Also, she no longer needed to wear a scarf tied around her mouth and nose. She could no longer smell the decayed fish, the rotting plants, and the vomit-inducing odor of the dead, as she had breathed it in the air until her olfactory sense had given out.
The cracker finished, she dropped the box onto a pile of fly-covered garbage on the muddy ground beside her mismatched shoes. She had found the left shoe in a huge pool in which two children in swimming trunks floated, face down. The right sneaker had been in a hotel lobby, the entire decorative front wall smashed inward against the far wall with everything else in the lobby, tourists and staff and furniture alike.
The bulldozer driver shut off the engine and climbed down. Wordless, she walked forward with the other volunteers, spreading out to walk over the debris and survey what had been uncovered. Her mother had told her to never volunteer because it was just a way of being used, but her mother might be under the tangled mess at the shopping center, and she could not leave this place until she had found the rest of her family. Maybe Sam was in the debris, too. One of the stores had been a T-shirt shop that Sam liked to hang out in. He had spent most of Christmas Day in there, admiring the stock and trying to pick out the coolest shirt. However, he had also said he was going swimming that morning before the old world died and this unending nightmare replaced it.
Her gaze roamed over the wreckage. She thought she saw a body, but it was a store mannequin, one leg broken off. Vast amounts of broken lumber and clothing and paper and books and dead power lines and roof tiles and shoes and seaweed and dead fish lay around her. She walked through it and kept looking for bodies.
She no longer cared what she looked like. Her health was bad, and she had trouble caring about that, too. She had caught diarrhea two days ago and had lost some weight, suffering chills off and on since then. A Thai army medic who spoke good English had given her a shot and some pills, then told her to board a bus going through the jungle to Bangkok and check in at the American embassy, but she had refused. She had found only her father at that point, lying in a row of bodies along the beach awaiting identification and pickup for burial in a mass grave. Chris had turned up the next day underneath a car. She wished she had kept pictures of her mother and Sam to put on one of the many walls covered with color photos, asking for information on missing people, but all the Griffin family possessions had been in their beach bungalow, which no longer existed.
More debris, more searching. A street sign, a child’s doll—and a blackened, swollen human arm with the fingers spread, sticking out of the mud and sand.
She waved, called, and pointed. Two other volunteers saw the body and started toward it. The body was under a motorbike, lots of dried ooze, and a wad of ruined clothing from one of the stores. A burly, dark-haired man she thought was from Italy lifted the motorbike. She scanned the bloated body’s size and clothing. Too big to be Sam. Wrong clothing to be her mother. She grabbed the thick arm by a rotting, slippery wrist as a man she thought was from Germany grabbed the other, and they heaved and pulled the body out. A woman she thought was from Sweden came over with a large sheet of translucent red plastic, and they wrapped the body as best they could for the body trucks to pick up. They could not get the arms down, so they left the corpse like that, reaching upward as if for air.
She ran a filthy hand through her uneven bangs and moved on. Broken glass, more clothing, dead fish, a crushed bicycle, and more lumber, some of it possibly from a billboard. She daydreamed of taking a hot shower and never coming out.
A soldier walked down the plowed-out street past the recovery site, carrying a red plastic bag with the body of a child in it. She saw and waved at and stumbled toward the man, motioning to see the body. He shook his head and tried to walk on, but she persisted and he finally let her look. The child’s face was swollen like a green-black pumpkin, unrecognizable, but the hair gave it away. It was not Sam. She walked away and went back to the storefront recovery area, falling into her place in line again.
No one said anything to her. Everyone kept looking.
For some reason, she could not remember what had happened when the waves had come in. She knew about the earthquake from what everyone said about it later, but she had been unaware of it the morning after Christmas, when the old world ended. The family had split up to do different things after breakfast, and there was a gap in her recall from that point on. Had she been shopping? She thought maybe she had. She had a vague memory of being surrounded by rushing, dirty water as she held on to a drainpipe on the side of a building, knowing she couldn’t swim against such a violent current and trying to climb higher. A white van had floated by on its side in the roaring water. A drowning woman had reached for her but was swept away. She thought she had been on a rooftop, too, but wasn’t sure. It was hard to sort out what came after that. Had she been picked up by a boat? Had she climbed to safety? She did not remember.
Someone to her left called out, waving. She walked over: two small decaying bodies, neither of them Sam. An adult body was discovered in a shop, then two more. None of them was her mother. All were wrapped up and dragged outside and left behind.
The lady she thought was from Sweden told her to go on break and get a drink. Everyone knew who she was looking for and how they were dressed; she had described them quite often. She left after looking around once more and went to the portable toilet, then to the tent with the bottled water, taking one and drinking it dry before walking down to the beach to look at the bodies from this morning’s recovery efforts, before the corpses were taken away on a flatbed truck. A lot of trucks had already picked up loads and left before she got there. She knew Sam and her mother might long ago have been taken away and buried, but she looked anyway. There was nothing else to do.
On the way to the beach, she found a shoe. It was a bright red woman’s shoe in perfect condition, a narrow-toed high-heeled shoe for fashionable dining out, made in Italy. She remembered that she had once liked shoes like this, several lifetimes ago. In fact, it might even be one of her shoes. Before leaving college for winter break, she had bought a pair just like this and brought it on the family vacation, just in case.
After looking the shoe over a moment longer, she threw it on a debris pile and continued on to the beach. No Sam, no mother. She walked back, took her place in line at the shopping center, and went on looking.