When the power goes out, I panic. Refrigerator’s hum silenced. Television beam reduced to pulsar, then extinction. Familiar rooms now filled with eerie shapes and unseen obstacles.
My young tomcat is untroubled by electricity’s failure. Pupils fanned, he prowls undisturbed across the carpet. Executes a perfect leap from table to window ledge, a precipice my eyes cannot discern.
But for the cat, I live alone. It’s not assault I fear in darkness, but dearth of stimulation, deprived of those small mediations against loneliness. My sit-com pals. Computer solitaire. Daily crossword. Even the solace of books off-limits. Even the telephone, its lifeline.
Time dissolves, unmeasured by clock’s precise digits. What to do now with hours before bedtime? My nocturnal repertoire is scant, reliant on technologies so abruptly rendered useless. I rue the knitting I let lapse. Classes never taken in night gardening, astronomy.
Hush seems to press like clouds. Even cars moving up the hill travel more slowly. I hear the wind of my breath sweeping through the rooms. Echo of midnight inside me.
Even prayer begs a candle. But what to pray for? For curdling milk and thawing shellfish in the warming cavern of refrigerator? For a dial tone? For lightning to illuminate sky? For the balm of sleep?
From my window, the whole hillside’s dark. These houses full of neighbors I don’t know. Whose language I never learned to speak beyond ¿Como estas? Muy bien. ¿Y tu? Should we call to one another like coyotes, crouched at the openings of our dens, till canyon resounds with our fractured tongues?
Or might I leave my blacked-out fortress? Abandon the presumed safety of its walls? Walk out beyond the iron gate into streets lit only intermittently by headlamps of passing cars? Risk the not-knowing, the unseen?
Might I carry my roiling darkness, my keening spiral of emptiness, into these streets? Might I be received into the arms of night?
“Outage” was previously published in Third Coast, Fall 2007.