Yesterday, the power went out. I heard the sickening sound of every gadget in my house desperately clinging to the last volts of electricity and then nothing. Suddenly there were neighbors on porches, within minutes police sirens, the clang of metal on metal as drivers forgot how an out light turns into a stop sign. Chaos and then after a while, everything settled down. People went home, found their candles, popped new batteries into their flash lights and waited for dark. And me, well when dark came, I took the opportunity to write, pen on paper.
“If my father was here tonight, he would talk about Abraham Lincoln, how sitting together in the kitchen, the flickering light from a menagerie of candles jumping and casting long shadows on the walls says something about our past, about how America became great, if only for a while. But he’s not. He’s tucked in 200 miles away with electricity and a bowl of vanilla ice cream, chuckling genuinely to the laugh track on an I Love Lucy rerun. He’s not here, so instead I bring it up because it’s tradition, because I wish he was here. My brother and I share a glance, knowing in that moment that we share a history.
The night is hot; there is no breeze and slowly everyone is chased inside from their porches to search for candles and extra batteries as the sun dips below the western most mountain. Dinner is simple because the stove still works, grilled cheese and we all secretly contemplate a bowl of tomato soup even though the heat is stifling. No one talks. The dark is heavy on our shoulders. The light bounces at the whim of the slightest breeze.
In the darkness a dog barks, a baby cries out. The streets are ink, no streetlights or stop lights or headlights to illuminate, just a nearly full moon dripping silver from its corner of the universe. The static of the radio reverberates through the house loud in the surprising quiet. The instructions are frank. Stay home. Conserve water. Be a good neighbor. We pretend that the world is ending. We dance to the sound of almost nothing, 4 people breathing, 3 dogs panting. We open a bottle of red wine and and wonder what it would be like to know this glass was our very last. We joke. We inhabit the same space, joyously and out of necessity. There is beauty in all that is lacking.
The night lengthens slowly and each candle shortens at its own pace. Wax collects on a white glass plate. We take turns manipulating the flames, playing God of our little world .Until day break, it is this single room. I try to imagine life dictated by the sun and it tires me to think of how short that days have already become. Soon, I will pull a blanket around myself tightly at night but tonight the heat gnaws at us, like a dog with a particularly delicious bone, and we can do nothing but wait for relief or sleep, whichever comes first. I fantasize about the whirl of the air conditioning, the lopsided tick of the ceiling fan. I feel old and new like a single blade of grass. I am not eloquent, I just am. I wonder if all this is the inspiration of the wine, good but forgettable or if it is all the time I have spent listening to myself think.
The quiet rocks my baby to sleep, the air surrounding her like a cotton blanket. Her eyelashes are fanned against her blushed cheeks and I want to hold her to me but I fear waking her; to disturb her from what seems a sweet dream, filled with maybe milk and grass beneath her size 3 feet. I tuck in beside her and whisper to her all my dreams, that she will be brave, strong, happy, surrounded by love. My words move languidly through the thick air and cling to the shell of her ear. They float across her face and she breathes them in. As she sleeps they travel to the tips of her fingers, tiny bits riding on each blood cell and spreading through her with the steady thrum of her heart. “