What We Lose Is Found There

Kai Holmwood

She decided to get out of San Francisco because she couldn’t figure out how to be in it. Ever since she had arrived, she had felt the faultlines under her feet, sensing the ground could shift and reinvent itself without warning. 

That was why people went to California, she knew. Not for the faultlines, not exactly, but for that electric sense of possibility, the lightning-crackly knowledge that you, too, could reinvent yourself. After all, wasn’t that why she had come, too? 

But it hadn’t been like that. The instability had felt not vivid with possibility, but so destabilizing she barely knew who she was anymore, or even whether she had ever been the “she” who she had always thought was herself. 

She wandered her way around, tried to learn the city, to find the flow of its lifeblood along the veins of its streets, but the street signs changed names every few blocks. When she thought she had finally gotten her mind around them, she would find the signs had disappeared entirely in the fog, and that somehow the same road she had walked yesterday had taken her to a neighborhood she had never seen.

Even in the heart of the city, among the sounds of traffic and bustling faceless life, she felt she could hear the crashing of the waves. She stumbled now and then, as if she were on a ship rather than solid ground, as if that crashing sea were rocking the foundations of the city itself. But each time she stumbled, she would ask a passerby whether that had been an earthquake, and the answer was always the same: “No. You’ll know when it’s an earthquake.” 

She didn’t want to know, and yet as much as she tried to ignore the possibility, even the act of ignoring it made her more aware of the faultlines under her feet. 

So she decided to leave San Francisco and to go back to somewhere that she was herself, where the ground was solid, where the sea wasn’t always whispering its unsteady promises in her ear. 

But California is a place you go, and when you’re ready to leave, how do you ever go back to where you had been? 

She tried. Every road she drove led into the fog, then straight toward the sea. The maps she read had nothing to do with the landscapes before her, directing her to turn down alleys that didn’t exist or go straight at dead ends. 

Somehow, miraculously, she found herself at the airport. It wasn’t where she had intended to go, but it was good enough. She bought a ticket and boarded her flight, waiting to finally escape the shroud of fog. 

The plane rumbled into life, shaking in the familiar pre-takeoff way. But something about it was different. Wrong. The engines weren’t on yet. They weren’t moving. “This is your captain speaking,” a voice announced. “We’ve just experienced an earthquake, and all flights will be grounded until further notice.”

Kai Holmwood (she/her) holds an MA in Writing from the University of Canterbury in Aotearoa New Zealand and was awarded the H. W. Hill Prize at UC Berkeley. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Solarpunk Creatures, Stanchion, DreamForge, Flash Frontier, and elsewhere. She lives in rural Portugal with her Brazilian husband and two giant formerly stray mastiffs.