The boom rattled the doors and the windows. The whole frame shook underneath the shingled roof and its solar panels, leaving the man to stare at the coffee trembling in his mug. Then a brief pause before the smiting began again.
“Do you think it’s a drill?” asked the woman, referencing their proximity to the military base.
“I don’t know,” he said. “It sounds awfully close.”
Their daughters were running around, playing. Another boom. Another tower of wooden alphabet blocks falling and ricocheting across the floor.
“Breakfast is ready,” he said again. But they did not heed them. He turned his attention back to an article. “Huh,” he said, “Maybe it’s the rock quarry. Did you know there’s a rock quarry about a mile from their preschool? That’s just up the road.” He bit into the savory flesh of the Everything bagel. Seeds rained down on the barren table’s landscape.
To and from school the girls sang “Rock around the clock” and “Rockin’ Robin.” They sang the songs in blended, broken fragments. A bit here. A bit there. Never whole.
“Who taught you those songs?” asked the mother.
“We sing them at school,” chimed one of the girls.
“You know your grandpa loves those songs.”
“Grandpa doesn’t sing,” the girls laughed. They were young and silly. They could imagine funfetti volcanoes and unicorn doctors, but they could not fathom a singing patriarch.
Another boom. Like thunder. But the sky was blue.
They pulled into the school parking lot. The mom helped them out of their carseats. She helped them put on their little book bags that held their even smaller lunchboxes. She held their hands in hers as they walked to the front doors of the preschool. “Rock rock rockin’ Robin. Tweet-a-leet-a-leet. Tweet-a-leet-a-leet.”
“You know, they’re trying to expand that quarry. Two of the neighborhoods on the other side of that main road are signing petitions to stop the expansion.”
“Did you read that in the article?”
“They already took down a bunch of old growth trees according to one of the women they interviewed.”
“What are they even digging for here?”
“Gravel maybe. Something like gravel.”
“What do they use it for?”
“Construction. They blast the big rocks to make little rocks.”
“They operate in thirty states across the country. It’s a big operation.”
“The girls have a recital coming up.”
“One o’clock Two o’clock Three o’clock rock Four o’clock Five o’clock Six o’clock rock Seven o’clock Eight o’clock Nine o’clock rock We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight.”
The next morning started with a boom. The people’s elbow from the sky to the earth.
“Are we late?”
“We’re not on time.”
A sonic boom. A real glass rattler.
“Has to be the quarry.”
“Yeah, it’s too close to be anything else.”
All the parents sat in rows. All the preschoolers were not in the room yet. When the preschoolers entered the room, they were all wearing hardhats with headlamps. That was the first thing the parents noticed.
“Oh, look at the little hardhats.”
“They’re so cute.”
Some of the preschoolers flicked their headlamps on and off.
“Oh, and they’re covered in dust and grime--how authentic! What dedication to detail!”
And the children were all covered with dust and grime. After all, they had been working hard all morning for the recital.
Then the room fell silent, and the music began. They sang “Rock Around the Clock.” They sang “Rockin’ Robin.” But they also sang “Chain Gang,” but some of the lines were altered so that the preschoolers sang, “That’s the sound of the kids workin’ on the chain gang.” Other songs included “Jailhouse Rock” and “Schoolhouse Rock” and “Keep on Rockin’ Me, Baby”. When the songs ended, a loud boom shook the walls and penetrated bone.
“That sounded like it was right on top of us.”
Then the preschoolers all melted back into individual entities and rushed into their parents’ arms.
“Where’s your sister?” asked the mom, and the dad scanned the room. How had he not noticed her absence earlier?
“She didn’t finish her work,” said the sister who was present.
And they all looked around the room as the little girl half-hummed and half-sung, “That’s the sound of the kids workin’ on the chain gang HUH.”
The parents started to drift toward the backdoor. They had no direct purpose, but they were not aimless either. They slid out the backdoor and continued drifting through an atrium and around the building’s periphery. Then they saw their missing girl driving atop a humming hunk of yellow metal named after a larva. They had to crane their necks to see her clearly floating above them. Everything the girls had learned was against the earth and full of hunger.
They were an Eric Carle demolition crew. Rockin’ robin tweet-a-leet-a-leet.
And a cloud of smoke rising from the blast.