We Haven't Any Home

Amy Marques

Image of Amy Marques

Amy Marques

We Haven't Any Home was accepted as part of the MSU Library Short Edition call for work on the theme of “recovery,” in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibit of Beverly Fishman's art, also called Recovery. Amy Marques grew up between languages and cultures and learned, from an early age, the multiplicity of narratives. She penned three children's books, barely read medical papers, and numerous letters before turning to short fiction. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in anthologies and journals including Star82 Review, Jellyfish Review, Flying South, and Streetcake: Experimental Writing Magazine. You can find her at @amybookwhisper1 or read more of her words at https://amybookwhisperer.wordpress.com.

If she'd been asleep, she might have thought it was a nightmare. But Lyra was halfway through her morning tea when her chair slammed against the wall. She stood, legs shaking, and held onto the doorway as the floorboards swayed and her world crashed down.

China broke, books pounded to the floor, windows shattered, and the screams of the neighboring babies' cries filled the air. Lyra's stomach lurched along with the rumbling building, and she wished she could close her eyes. It felt like hours, although she later learned that the worst of the earthquake had lasted less than a minute.

Her legs buckled and the urge to curl up into a ball and cry threatened to overwhelm her. She needed to get out of this house. But, absurdly, she wanted to never leave.

She picked up her coat and packed salve, linen for bandages, and writing supplies. In the kitchen, she added bread, cheese slices, and two apples before heading out.

Life had taught her to expect the worst.

Nothing could have prepared her for this.

San Francisco was awake and scrambling. Aftershocks rumbled in waves and at every tremor, buildings shed more plaster. As their homes succumbed to the earthquake and fires that followed, families flocked to Golden Gate Park in their nightclothes. Older children and men dashed past Lyra to retrieve what they could from cracked buildings, and an encampment of makeshift tents soon took over the park. All around her were baby carriages and carts piled high with linen, sewing machines, crayons, dishes, and old clocks. One man in a fine suit screwed roller wheels to a large trunk and toted food and heirlooms. Entire bedframes and mattresses became makeshift stretchers to carry the wounded. She had lived through shocks before, but nothing like this.

For four days, fire raged uncontrolled, water dwindled, and people swarmed. Lyra walked from tent to tent, helping where she could. When she ran out of bandages, she recruited a boy to fetch more from the emergency dispensary. Lyra cleaned wounds, bandaged burns, and tended to broken limbs and one amputated finger. She heard the calm in her voice and watched her own steady hands as if from a distance. The hardest work was writing letters dictated by those who desperately sought to reunite with loved ones.

One old man reminded her of John. He had the same fine hair with a lock that fell over his forehead. And a kind face. She struggled to meet his hopeful gaze with dry eyes.

In the last earthquake, in 1896, her John had been on his way home. She had been making dinner. Or trying to. She had been useless then. Her world rattled and she hadn't saved anything that mattered. Not dinner. Not John. Not even the child who slipped out too early from her womb.

She had nothing to lose now. Nobody to worry about. Nobody to worry about her.

"I hope you find your son," Lyra whispered. She pocketed her pencil stub and turned to go back to work. She swayed and his hand closed on her upper arm.

"Have you slept?" He kept hold of her.

"I'm fine," Lyra said.

"Sleep," his wife said. "You are of no use to anyone if you faint dead away in exhaustion."

She wanted to bristle, but their gentleness gave her pause. They were right. She had said much the same to others. She nodded a thanks, set her bag down for a pillow, wrapped herself in her coat, and closed her eyes.


Lyra awoke, but the nightmare continued. The air was thick with smoke and ashes and her throat was dry, but the line for a dipper of rationed water was hours long and she didn't have time to spare. She ate the last half of an apple she had in her satchel, making an effort to chew slowly, drawing out the moisture to sooth her thirst.

"I want to go home," a child whimpered nearby.

"We haven't any home, dearest. We..." The mother's voice faltered, and Lyra heard pain in her intake of breath. Mother and child sat wrapped in a blanket, a handful of belongings in a cloth bag at their feet.
"I'm Nurse Lyra." Lyra cleared her throat, but it didn't help. Her voice was barely more than a rasp. "Maybe I can help?"

"I'm waiting for my husband." When the toddler shifted on the woman's lap, Lyra saw that her belly was big with child and her skirt soaked. The woman closed her eyes and clenched her jaw as a contraction shuddered through her, but she kept her hold on the toddler.

Hollow panic threatened to fill Lyra, so she bit her lip. This was not like before.

"You can do this," she told herself as much as the woman before her.

It didn't take long. It took a lifetime. With a final, groaning push the baby slid out into the world. Gray and ashen and listless.

Lyra felt all the breath rush out of her as she rubbed the baby's damp cool skin and blew into its mouth. Droplets of rain began to fall, washing away ash and tears. Breathe. Come on, breathe. She blinked back tears and kept working on the tiny limp chest. Cries reverberated through the camp Rain! It's over! The fire is over!

The infant whimpered, then wailed, and Lyra let out a ragged breath of relief. She watched, wordless, as the mother wrapped her baby in a shawl and pulled newborn and toddler to bosom, crooning to both.

Lyra tilted her face up and breathed.

Explore the power of words

Select your story