Darkness, Darkness

 

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“I wonder what they did in those days . . .” My husband was sprawled in a chair on our screen porch as the sun slid behind the trees, dimming our hopes of electricity before dark.

It had stormed earlier—just an ordinary thunderstorm with heavy rain and wind— nothing to write home about, as storms go. The storm had passed, the sun was shining in the west, and we thought the worst was over. Since the storm had had little effect on the heat and humidity (98 degrees and 70 percent), we planned to spend the evening watching tv in air conditioned comfort. Then the lights went out, flickered back on for a second, went out again . . . and stayed out.

Chris called Xcel Energy, and a recording said that the problem was being worked on and would be fixed as soon as possible. We hoped for the best, even when, an hour later, an Xcel Energy truck drove slowly by a transformer across the street, turned around and went back up the highway, by which we deduced that the problem had not yet been located. Later, we got a call from Xcel Energy, telling us that the power would be back on at 10:38 p.m.

With the air conditioning and fans off, the house was getting uncomfortable, so we moved to the porch, where the air was oppressive, but there was an occasional hint of a breeze. We lounged on the porch listlessly. I was trying to read a book in the dying light and Chris was playing a game on his phone. We weren’t doing what we had planned and it made us uncomfortable.

“Played the fiddle,” I said, answering his question. “Played games, read by lantern light, sang songs, talked . . .” It was too hot to consider the activity that leads to a spike in the birthrate nine months after a blackout.

“Hmmmm,” he went back to his phone game. I opened my Kindle, which offered light for reading and read a story about a writer who had made it big by writing nonfiction books for children, and another about a writer who had met just the right agent at just the right conference and got her first novel printed with nary a fuss. Now I was really depressed. By this time, Chris had moved the lounger to the front of the porch for more of a chance at a breeze and was on his belly, dozing.

Our dachshund, Clyde, was thoroughly confused by our behavior, but the novelty of being out on the porch in the dark captivated him, particularly when a family of raccoons began an epic battle on the shoreline across the river. Clyde pressed his nose to the screen, quivering in excitement, but not making a sound. “Bark,” I told him. “Scare them away.” He glanced up at me as if to say “are you kidding me? This is the main event!”

It got quiet again. I had closed the Kindle and was shocked at how dark it had become, but it afforded me a spectacular light show in fireflies. I was watching the blinking lights drift here and there when Clyde let out a ferocious growl and chased at something on the other side of the porch, running under the full length of the lounger, and startling Chris awake.

“What the hell was that?” he asked, while the dog continued his frantic barking at something just below the porch. I had an impulse to turn the outside light on, until I realized it wouldn’t shed light on anything. The creature, whatever it had been lumbered away, and Clyde settled down to guard that side of the porch, letting out an occasional whine at the injustice of being cooped in with us when the night was full of creatures to hunt.

The magic hour of 10:38 came and went with no flicker of power from anything but the fireflies. Someone across the river lit a few fireworks and then all was quiet. I decided that even a bed in a hot room with no fan was preferable to sitting up in a wicker chair listening to the dog whine and the husband snore. I went to bed.

Chris said the power came back on at about 1 a.m., with a great whirring and clicking of appliances and fans coming back to life. He celebrated by coming to bed.

 

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