On the first day, the dust settles around the house like a fog. We can’t see past the mailbox at the end of the driveway. We can’t see the sun. We know it is daytime when the dust turns the color of powdered sugar and when my father goes downstairs and turns on the television. The various scientists interviewed every hour say the dust is ash from the explosions in the East, suspended in pockets of air. We always knew global nuclear geopolitics was one big game of chicken. Every bluff gets called, eventually. But we had not expected the fallout to happen so slowly. The scientists on television say the air is probably safe to breathe, except for individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions, like asthma.
On the second day, I sit in my room and look at the list: a piece of expensive jewelry, a Michelin-star dinner, a little piece of land overlooking the sea, a one-way plane ticket to a picturesque destination. At first, I was very uncomfortable with the financial component of the lawsuit. I only wanted the university to handle reports like mine better in the future. I only wanted something to change. My girlfriends convinced me about the money. They said, People in power only care about one thing. They said, Just make a list of how you’d spend a settlement. They said, Those motherfuckers, they owe you. That was five years ago. It turns out the number of stalling tactics available to institutions with a certain amount of capital is incredibly large. Practically infinite.
On the third day, the power goes. Our dog disappears. My mother stumbles through the dark house calling, Coconut, Coconut. My father tears apart the rooms looking for the battery-operated radio to replace the television. The news will be the same, my mother yells over his slamming drawers and cabinets, this is our one Coconut. When my father goes to bed, my mother stands on the porch, alone. She shakes a plastic baggie of dehydrated lamb lung, Coconut’s favorite, calling and calling into the endless, foggy black.
On the fourth day, I consider throwing the list away. People are dying, I think, everyone is going to die. In movies, the end of the world makes everyone care about the right things, right when the right things are about to be gone. Not me. I want my money. I want a big fat diamond on my finger.
On the fifth day, an order to evacuate comes through the radio. My mother does not want to leave. She says, But what if Coconut comes back and we’re gone? Marilyn, my father says, there won’t be anything to come back to.
On the sixth day, the last of the batteries die. Without radio chatter, a great silence vibrates through the house. If I tilt my head a certain way, it rings in my ears like a bell. In the lawsuit documents, I am called “Plaintiff” and the university is called “Defendant.” The boy who raped me in the freshman dormitory is also named as a Defendant, for legal strategy. That’s what you call someone who gets put on a lawsuit: named. When my mother named Coconut for his white fur, my father reminded her that coconuts, technically, are brown. My mother said, Your father was, technically, a drunk but you’re still named after him, so. Sitting in the silent house, I wonder what will happen to the lawsuit documents now, if they will go on existing somewhere, if we still get to have our names.
On the seventh day, my father packs the car. He stomps up and down the stairs, muttering and grunting. We stand in the garage. Come with me, he says. I shake my head. He looks hard at the ground. I see the lines on his forehead and around his eyes caked with dust. Fine, he says, take her side. I don’t tell him I’m not taking sides. I’m thinking about the list.
On the eighth day, the sirens start in the morning. My mother goes out into the yard and lies down where her lavender bushes used to be. From the window, I watch her push her fingers beneath the ash. The sky gets darker, then lighter again. Bits of dust gather on her eyelashes like snowflakes. I go into my room and hold the list in my lap. I think of my father, inching through the fog somewhere. I think of Coconut. The sirens get louder, so loud the windows shake in their frames. I think, Now comes the Plaintiff. I think, They owe you. I think of a diamond ring. I think of a beautiful tropical beach. The kind from a calendar or a computer screensaver. I imagine an all-inclusive vacation to the beautiful tropical beach. I see myself swimming, floating face-down in the water, letting my limbs go weightless and soft. The sun is warm on the back of my body. The water is clear, so clear it is impossible to measure the depth below me. The bottom looks at once miles away and close enough to touch. I pick up a pen and add it to the list.