Powerlessness

I’ve been attempting to get through a first draft of a short story, something just this side of speculative fiction, trying not to make it resemble any of the other storylines I’m not recalling since beginning on to work on it. Susanne is dunking herself, meanwhile, into her own writing—hers of the academic, public policy bent, which in this world is arguably weirder than anything I conjure up in pretend-land. But we decided to take a break and play a game of Hand and Foot, which is an intense version of canasta.

Over the hills and behind the orchard, we could see the sky shifting from gloomy to doomy, and when the wind picked up, we wondered if we would get only the southern skirt of the storm, or bear the brunt of it. Quickly Susanne and I went out to the deck and brought in furniture cushions, laid the tables on their sides, and called that hunkering down.

We played our hands, sitting around the kitchen table as the rain began, evolving quickly from small, unintimidating droplets to pouring down sheets of rain. Only the zinnias in a flower box seemed happy about it. I asked if they had any candles in case the power cut out. This seemed to have the effect of an unintended wish, because shortly thereafter, everything clicked off, a thin stream of lights stayed on. It wasn’t a total black out, but it was a darn thin brown out. The kind of brown out that kills things like refrigerator compressors.

When the power went out about 40 minutes into the thrashing, I vaguely pondered how long it would stay off. In Syracuse and Washington, DC, two cities in which I’ve suffered through outages, electricity comes back on relatively quickly, usually only a few hours later. Out here in rural Michigan, it could be off for days, as the line crews head toward fixing things in the population centers first. We found the flashlights and batteries, lit candles, and continued our card game. Much like the first class passengers on the Titanic, I suppose.

Nothing came anywhere near to that tragedy, of course, and I thought about how people have lived without power for much, much longer than we’ve ever had it. We’re so far north that at this time of the year, it is still light outside until after 9:30. We weren’t submerged into darkness until a couple of hours later. But we did immediately feel the lack of air conditioning.

Morning rolled around and everything was still waiting for some juice. I headed down to a coffeeshop 15 miles to the south so I could make a deadline, feeling guilty for abandoning my clan. Around the corner from the house I saw a truck from the power company, hauling a large ash tree off of a power line. One crewman waved me around his vehicle, and I rolled down my window.

“Is this why the power is out?”

“Yup,” he said like he’d been asked this question 2,000 that morning before me. “Should be up and working again in a few hours.”

I thanked him and called Susanne on her cell phone and gave her the good news. She declared that she would communicate our collective good fortune and then return to her nap.

And the zinnias look fantastic today.

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