A few annoying flickers during the Netflix show – not enough to stop it, but enough to miss a few seconds as the TV is more sensitive, apparently, to a lack of electricity than the gaming console. Outside, the wind shreds the rain and it just looks like white water pounding against the glass. A wicked storm.
The next time, the TV doesn’t come back on. We sit, making pensive humming sounds as we wait for the electrons to come back. We sit, and the storm calms somewhat outside.
Eventually, we shrug and collect up our dinner plates… okay, let’s be real, our dinner personal pizza boxes. It was Friday night, after all. We wander into the kitchen-dining room-sitting room-studio-office, with all the big windows, with the last of the light, and we sit. We sit, thinking nothing of the jarring alarum both of our cell phones had blared just a while ago. You are waiting to go to your regular Friday night get together. I am waiting to see if my night alone will be occupied with video games or something more unplugged.
We look out the window and see our street flooded. All the way up to the doorway of the garage across from us. A maelstrom swirls at one of the storm drains, and cars and trucks slow suddenly as they realize how deep the water gets. We wonder aloud at the state of the pit next door, but we can’t see from our vantage point.
Due to the weather, you start out early. I walk down the stairs to the second sub-basement – the parking garage – with you, both of us carrying our headlamps because we aren’t sure quite the extent of the emergency systems. We’re happily surprised to find that it’s rather well lit, and you drive me to the front door. I’m fortunate because someone is waiting in the lobby and has already identified the fault in the system – the key fobs “let you in” but the emergency system isn’t attached to the door unlocking mechanism.
I sit where you had been and keep reading my short story collection by Charles de Lint. I text my family to let them know we’re without power and that my mother’s emergency preparations are a good call, as the system is supposed to rake across them as well. Eventually, as an afterthought, perhaps after a brief check of Twitter to see what people were saying, I text you to ask that you let me know when you get to our friends’ house. I’m not sure I really understood at that time what had happened.
It starts to get darker now, so I assemble the three candles on display into the one softly rectangular platter, and try to read by the orange glow. After the shortest one drowns in its own beeswax, I figure I should find all my stores candles – hand rolled beeswax ones, made by me a few years ago. Then I take my headlamp and assemble our flashlights, digging out the triple A and double A batteries from their various places and refreshing them. I decide the double A battery powered flashlight will have to be my workhorse, because we have more of those.
You tell me that it was hell trying to drive anywhere. All the traffic lights were out and it took so long to get there. But you were playing a board game, everyone present and accounted for, the house lights powered by our friend’s generator.
I read, occasionally checking Twitter, and beginning to see the destruction wrought across my city. I’m aghast at the screenshot I take from a video of a white delivery truck toppled onto a red hatchback, surrounded by toothpick-snapped telephone poles. I can’t even recognize where on the street it’s taken, and I have a mind for images. I send it to my family, and to you. I read about Dunrobin and wonder if the house I visited a week earlier is still standing. I wonder if I should text my friend but then reason she probably wouldn’t know yet either. I look for the emergency check in on Facebook but only find three other catastrophes on the other side of the world, so I wonder if ours isn’t big enough. I’ll end up finding it later and marking myself safe after I post a short statement to that effect just in my own words.
Eventually, I decide to crawl into bed so that I can just lay down when I feel like stopping reading. Surely the power will come back on.
It doesn’t. You get home sometime around 2am, and I wake up when I hear you come in. The city is unrecognizable in the dark, you tell me. None of the traffic lights were lit on your drive back in. You’re sure you blew through intersections you didn’t even see. South Keys was a gaping abyss of shocking darkness. Only one small enclave of power on the south edge of town was the aberration in your inky drive home. Surreal.
We wake the next morning to no power. Cold showers later, we are more or less presentable when we eat a cold breakfast of what’s on hand and I convince you to brave the streets again since our phones don’t have reception. We must check on our people. Intersection after intersection is a four way stop, until we weirdly find one with power. Our people are in the same boat as we – no damage but no power. All is well-ish. We return to our cave and wait.
Cold dinner of vegetables and meat and cheese from the fridge before another evening of reading. I’m now on my short stories collection of Frank Herbert. It seems appropriate to have such an intimate experience with the night as it rises to prominence again in the seasonal cycle. The equinox passes with hundreds of thousands of my fellow city-zens incapable of missing the equal share of night with day. We call it a night, possibly early, but who can tell when you live in a black hole.
The next day, I insist we go in search of warm food and coffee. I’ll pay for that later with two massive blisters on my Achilles tendons from my first foray out in shoes rather than my comfortable sandals. But we cram into the first open diner we find walking east. An air of desperation and a strange mix of friendliness and hostility colours everyone’s body language and words. I mention that my edict on sugar is not being observed while this emergency is happening, but I avoid using the catsup on my eggs anyway. It’s because I have already planned on the vegetarian food I was going to pull from the still-frozen freezer that we can have cold, and I know it has sugar added. I’ll later allow myself a blooming rose tea latte from a Starbucks in Kanata we stop at to charge our phones simultaneously instead of taking turns charging them off of the car.
A second candle sputters out that evening, as we cuddle on the couch to read by flashlight together. We’ve already read on Twitter that police are asking folks to stay home, off the roads, since so many traffic lights are still out. My boss tells me the same via an improvised phone tree.
Then beeps and air being forced through vents after another return to bed is considered. I flick a switch and the light is intrusive, almost brash in comparison with the gentle honeyed glow, but it is joyous as well. We’re not sure if this is the full return, and indeed I am awoken that night as the beeps sound again, another flicker of the grid, but we now have our regular past times back. And I wonder if we won’t remember how life was without the power.