It’s been a year since the Big One—the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake—devastated Portland, and while Meryem Zarfati’s injuries have healed and her neighborhood is rebuilding, her mother is still missing. Refusing to give up hope, Meryem continues to search for her mother even as she learns to live without her in a changed Portland. After she receives a magical prayer shawl handed down from her maternal grandmother, a mysterious stranger appears, and Meryem is called to save a young girl living in slavery—in sixteenth-century Istanbul. The third companion in the Oregon Book Award–winning Blue Thread series explores how we recover—and rebuild—after the worst has happened.
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Eleven Months Later
Friday, February 14, 2059
I thanked Mr. Nabli for the Turkish delight because Jessa insists on showing appreciation for gifts. I would have preferred radish seeds. You can’t plant candy.
“My pleasure, Meryem,” he said. We seated ourselves on opposite sides of the dining room table, next to our weekly tray of tea and zucchini bread.
“None for me this time,” he said. “It’s the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. I fast from sunrise to sunset.”
“Sorry,” I said. I slid the tray to the end of the table and wondered for the sextillionth time why Jessa had told Rose to contact this man if anything happened. Two weeks after The Big One, she did.
Grandma was annoyed with Rose, as usual, but Grandma’s lawyer assured us that Adnan Nabli came from a respectable law firm with offices in New York, Portland, and Istanbul. She was furious when she found out that Mr. Nabli was to be my temporary guardian, but the lawyers said all the papers were in order. Even in her absence, Jessa got her way.
Mr. Nabli extracted a vintage fountain pen and stack of papers from a courier bag made from upcycled Mylar survival blankets. “How are things?”
“Fine,” I said, spouting the same answer to the same question I’d heard for months so we could get the damn paperwork over with. Fine—the other all-purpose four-letter F-word, suitable for all, especially useful in self-defense.
Mr. Nabli produced the usual sheaf of official-looking documents duly stamped and decorated with:
PORTLAND METROPOLITAN AREA RESILIENCE COUNCIL
Authorized by National Disaster Recovery Plan 2058-16a
STATE DISASTER RECOVERY COORDINATION OFFICE
FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY, REGION X
“Fine as in genuinely better than last week, Meryem? Or fine as in shut up and let’s get down to business?”
A laugh bubbled up inside and suffocated in my mouth.
Mr. Nabli handed me his pen. “I speak English as well as legalese. Do I detect a smile this week?”
“Fine as in the second sense,” I admitted. Maybe he was being particularly friendly because this was the first time Rose wasn’t meeting with us, and he wanted to put me at ease.
“Fair enough,” he said. We got down to business. The first list claimed to contain all of the current non-credit occupants of 732-NW19-97209, meaning my house on Northwest 19th and Johnson. According to the Council, the non-credit occupants were me and Rose plus now The Ladies—Auntie An and my grandmother—who’d been with us since right after The Big One. Or, in legalese:
ZARFATI, MERYEM EINHORN, 15, RESIDENT MINOR, TEMPORARY WARD OF ADNAN NABLI, ATTORNEY
KROPOTKIN, HROUZA, 41, RESIDENT HOUSEKEEPER
EINHORN, AN CHAU CLEMENT, 88, GREAT-AUNT OF RESIDENT MINOR
ZARFATI, LY TIEN EINHORN, 85, GRANDMOTHER OF RESIDENT MINOR
The only other document where I’d seen Rose’s Russian name was her American passport. Calling Rose a resident housekeeper was like calling your right lung a resident organ. I couldn’t imagine life without Rose. I could, however, imagine The Ladies returning to their condo as soon as it was rehabbed.
“Jessa should be on this list,” I said. “She lives here.”
Mr. Nabli got that sympathetic look. “I know. We’ve gone through this before. However, it is my responsibility to consider potential inheritance and insurance factors.”
Blah, blah, blah. I added my mother’s name as usual, and her current age.
Zarfati, Jessa Einhorn, 51, resident owner, employed—PaleoGenetics, LLC.
Mr. Nabli smoothed his hair, which fell to his shoulders in a thick black mane and smelled of coconuts. “I’m still trying to get credit-tenant funds for your grandmother and great-aunt, since they lodged here temporarily after earthquake-related displacement and in lieu of seeking Council-supervised shelter elsewhere. But the Council insists that family is family, and they don’t qualify as credit tenants.”
The Council. I was sick to death of the Council. They and FEMA still governed so much of our lives—where we could travel, what was available to eat, and who could shelter where. They tightened the water restrictions we’d had before The Big One and made it a crime to be out after midnight.
Mr. Nabli must have read my face. “Portland is still under a state of emergency, Meryem. We all have to do our part."
“I see you’ll turn sixteen next week,” he said. “February 18. Your date of birth is on all my documents. Any celebration plans?”
He read my look again. “Right. Not this year.” Mr. Nabli cleared his throat. “One more item.”
I knew what was coming. My mouth turned sour. I stood up and pushed my chair against the table. Meeting over.
“I’m drafting the missing persons documentation,” he persisted. “On March 9, it will be one year since The Big One, and under the law …”
“Mr. Nabli,” I said, trying to keep my voice strong and steady. “I spent all morning at RescueCommons examining scans of the tsunami’s coastal inundation zone. I found dental braces with three teeth attached. I’ve had enough of missing persons for one day.”
His voice softened. “I know this is hard, Meryem. Believe me, I’m on your side. Let’s wait to discuss this until after your birthday.”
Mr. Nabli capped his precious pen and reached for his courier bag. “I can still arrange for someone to guard the house so you can attend the bicentennial events today. Leave it to Oregon to become a state on Valentine’s Day.”
I picked up his bike helmet. “Too much work.”
He didn’t argue. “Don’t forget to set your Sentry Mat sensors after I leave. Safety is paramount, you know.”
Paramount. I remembered Jessa pronouncing and defining the word in her homeschooling mode. Pa-ra-mount. Of chief concern. We were sitting cross-legged on the floor. I was fan-folding a page from one of Grandma’s vintage word-a-day calendars. “Let’s see, lovey,” she said. “When you grow up and become a sky diver, the state of your parachute will be paramount.”
“Meryem? My bike helmet?”
“Sorry. I was someplace else.” I handed Mr. Nabli his helmet and waved him on his way. Then I sat on the hallway stairs and leaned against the prayer rug that had hung on the wall there since Jessa brought it back from Istanbul when I was a baby. I slid a finger across my left forearm where my PerSafe chip nested between flexor and extensor muscles. Jessa’s chip was just like mine, our private link that had been silent for so long.
Now that Mr. Nabli was gone, I’d type in her code and wait. So what if I was the only one left who still believed Jessa was out there somewhere. It wouldn’t hurt to keeping trying.
Which was so not true. I shuddered. Waiting and trying and nothing-nothing-nothing over and over hurt like hell, but I’d keep doing it anyway. If I stopped, she’d never come back.