Shelter from the Storm

“I woke up with the power out, not really something to shout about.” Arcade Fire

You know in the movies how there’s a scene where the lights go out somewhere and it’s an opportunity for some cute scrambling for candles/flashlights and then it settles into a pivotal moment? I’m talking romantic comedies and dramas here, because in horror movies and thrillers when the lights go out you KNOW there’s going to be nothing but trouble. Maybe it’s a meet cute, or maybe it’s a chance for some exposition to take place, or maybe it’s the climax and two characters end up kissing for the first time or something? It’s often played for laughs and sometimes it gets all poignant but screenwriters love to use the “lights go out let’s get some candles on” scenario in a variety of expected ways.

Well, none of that happened last night.

Last night, the lights went out around 7:00 pm because a huge wind storm was passing over, accompanied with rain and hail. We luckily brought everything in that needed to come in and my daughter and I were huddling in the living room. I was all stoic at first. “Well, Audrey, you know, sometimes in a storm the power goes out. This means that we don’t have lights or tv or music or anything, but this means we can light some candles and maybe play a board game or something. It will be fun.”

I was talking like I was in one of those rom-coms and dramas. Plus, this is 2012, the lights don’t stay out for  very long, right? In fact, I don’t remember the lights going out ever since we moved in nine years before.

Marla came upstairs with some candles and a handful of flashlights that she found that very afternoon.

“Look what I found tidying up!” she said. “If it wasn’t for my organizing today, we’d still be in the dark.”

Well we were still kinda in the dark, because none of the flashlights had working batteries. Ironically, the only flashlight that worked was this weird little caterpillar light that Audrey got for her birthday! It threw a small, pale light, but that was better than nothing, and we had some candles to fall back on. The PVR was in the middle of taping of “West Wide Story” (I guess I’ll need to wait for another night to see if Tony and Maria make a go of it), and I was in the middle of a tweet conversation about people’s favourite sandwiches when we lost power.

“Oh cool, I’ll tweet about our lost power”, I thought to myself until I realized that of course I couldn’t. This was about a half hour into the darkness. Surely the lights will be on again soon, right? Audrey and I moved into our bedroom to have a better look at the storm, and to see that our neighbour’s tree came down, almost completely blocking the front road.

All of a sudden Audrey started smiling and waving to someone outside in the darkness. I thought maybe she was seeing our reflections in the window, but no. Outside our window, shambling towards our front door, was our 93-year-old neighbour Alvena. She had her raincoat and bonnet on, and she was making slow progress with her walker. I shouted out to Marla that Alvena was outside and she went out to help her in out of the storm.

She apparently panicked when the lights went out. She doesn’t have A/C, but she circulates air throughout her house with a combination of the furnace fan and a series of portable fans. When the power went out, she was finding it hard to breathe; her windows don’t open very easily. I should also mention that she is completely deaf, and you have to write everything down if you want to have a conversation with her.

She got out of her raincoat and sat down in the living room and I got her  a glass of water. Audrey was thrilled to have an unexpected visitor, and within a matter minutes the storm was over.

But the power stayed off.

The weather even got a little cheeky. The sun came out, and the wind died down and people started to emerge to go for walks and bike rides. I decided to take Audrey out for a little stroll and to let Marla and Alvena sort out what they were going to do. When I left, Alvena was going about her three T-Bone steaks in the freezer and their general welfare. Unless the power was off for a couple of days, I assured her, her T-Bones should be just fine.

Apparently our street was the dividing line for the outage, and all the people across from us had lights on! Rubbing it in! Why couldn’t they just have one light on, in solidarity? Audrey and I mailed a letter and were back a few minutes later.

Marla looked disgusted. I was relieved to find out that it was nothing I did this time. Alvena asked Marla to call Alvena’s sister who lives on the other side of town to see if she could sleep there tonight. Alvena’s sister said that she didn’t have any room at her place and that she’d need to “tough it out”. Marla suspects that maybe Alvena and her sister have had discussions (read: fights) over Alvena staying alone in her house, and maybe this was the sister’s way of showing a little tough love. Alvena thought she could stay at the other neighbours. They have a larger house and a guest room “and air conditioning”, Alvena spouted, but we tried to get her to understand that without power, the air conditioning wasn’t much help, and the guest room was in the basement, not exactly easy access for her and her walker.

Eventually, I turned to Marla and said, “Well, there’s no getting around it, we have a 93-year-old woman in our living room who doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.”

Alvena protested at first, but when I showed her how easy it was to turn the futon into a bed, she changed her tune. She made up a list of things she would need from her house. “My slippers, the pink ones. My night-gown. It’s on the bed, I didn’t make my bed today. My underwear, they’re hanging in the bathroom. My water pills, they are in the kitchen….”

Marla headed out the door. I thought she’d be gone for a half an hour or so, manoeuvering an unfamiliar empty house in the dark, but she was back within 10 minutes. “Oh crap, I forgot the slippers!” she said. Off she went again.

“The pink ones!” I shouted after her.

All this time, Audrey was fascinated that we were about to have a sleep over. She got into the spirit of it and helped get the futon ready, but now it was time for Audrey to go to bed and she began acting a bit like the three-year-old that she actually is.

She was scared that her room was so dark, and that many of her usual bedtime tropes (the bathroom light, her special bedtime iPod mix) had to be skipped. I just had to level with her and I said, “You know Audrey. This is a strange night, and we aren’t able to have the usual routine. We just need to be brave and we’ll get through it.”

“Stay. Stay, Daddy?”

How could you not when you heard that little scared voice coming from her bed?

“Let me just get my pillow and blanket from my room, okay?”

She seemed okay with this. I was dealing with the 3 year old, my wife was with the 93 year old, both afraid of the dark apparently. When I got back to her room and laid down on the floor next to her bed, she said, “I can’t see your face, ” so I had to sit up for a bit. This seemed to calm her and she turned over on her side. It was about 11:15 pm now. When I went to lie down, I hear one more muffled, “That you, Daddy?”

“Yes, Audrey”

“Goodnight, Daddy.”

“Goodnight.”

I actually almost fell asleep on the floor myself, but after a few minutes, after I was sure Audrey was asleep, I got up and came back to our room.

Marla had Alvena all tucked in and we were about to blow out all the candles. Surely the power would be back on anytime, right?

Wrong.

I had a surprisingly deep sleep, but when I woke up at 7:30 a.m. (at least the clock on the iPod still worked), there was still no power.

Marla didn’t sleep as well as I did. She woke up in the middle of the night and heard all kinds of crazy noises. She was thinking, “What the heck is Audrey up to?” when she remembered Alvena was in the living room. Apparently Alvena was making a middle-of-the-night bathroom run and her walker was scraping across the floor!

Well, we were now in a real pickle. Marla had to leave for work in a little while, we had no power, and we couldn’t call anyone. Our phone is tied to our internet service, and although there is a back-up battery, it had died during the night. We had our cell phone (yes we have a cell phone, now.) but we aren’t used to charging it yet and the darn thing was dead as well.

I decided to head out to Tim Hortons to get some breakfast for us, Alvena was still asleep on the futon. (I guess that sleeping pill really worked) and I tried charging the phone in the car. I got a 12% charge before I got home, but it didn’t matter because as I pulled in, Marla shouted from the kitchen, “The power is back on! It just came on!”

Marla was off to work and I waited until Alvena woke up to offer her some coffee. We sat in the living room together and had a “conversation”. Me with my writing pad, her answering out loud. Some of the statements were dubious: “I’ve lived through the flood of ’50, the blizzard of ’66, and the flood of ’97 and this is the first time the power has gone out!” Other statements were just head scratchers: “If the Wildewood club didn’t have any power, would they have to empty their pool, or could they just put a bunch of chlorine in?” Planning on a dip, Alvena?

She wasn’t showing any signs of leaving, and I was wondering if we were going to have to start charging her rent when she said, “Well, I should be off. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

Audrey and I made sure she made it home safe, and there was just enough time for me to get the sheets off the futon before I was off to work too.

I was pleased to see that Audrey was the only one to wet her bed last night.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Shelter from the Storm

  1. What an eventful night!

  2. Pingback: DonJean | Mountains Beyond Mountains

  3. Pingback: Say what? | Mountains Beyond Mountains

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