FICTION: Blackout

The lights are out. The wind beats the “Welcome” sign that came with the apartment against Trish’s front door. Extending her arms in front of herself, she walks zombie-like through her small rooms, searching for some illumination.

As a little girl, blackouts were one of her favorite things. Now, she gathers candles as her mother once did to set them around her space. Her other senses come to life in this darkened world. She hears the built-it wooden drawers sliding against their frames; she feels the lopsided roll of the candles on the countertop; she smells the gas of her grille lighter as she ignites the candles. During those long-ago storms, her family would tell stories around the dining room table, and she would giggle as she knelt on her seat so that she could coat her finger in melting candle wax, feeling its power as it changed from liquid into solid again on her closely inspected pointer. She and her parents would eat ready-made dinners and play games. Her younger self almost hoped that the electricity would never be restored.

Now, as Trish sets up each candle in a variety of holders from wood to brass to glass, the rooms yield to pockets of light—romantic, mystical. She wants to share the moment with someone else; half the amusement is in the trapped-in feeling and the intimacy of darkness. She flops down on her overstuffed sofa, grabs her phone, and pauses for a moment before calling her ex. The breakup has been amicable; it’s been fine.

“My power is out. Do you want to come over?” She says as soon as he answers. The ease of their older conversations is in her tone.

She thinks he’ll understand the mystery of the darkness on a spooky fall night. She thinks he’ll want to come read poetry with her and curl in blankets to keep out the cold. She thinks he’ll appreciate the childish joy of making peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches because the stove doesn’t work, but she hears others’ voices in the background.

“Well,” he says, “we’re just making plans to go to dinner. Downtown still has power.” She can almost see him looking distractedly over his shoulder to the voices in his living room. “You can probably come join us if you want.”

Trish starts to protest, to say that she doesn’t want to flee this unexpected gift, but she hears those voices again, calling to him to hurry. Those sounds are tied to an unknown “we” that no longer includes her.

“No thanks,” Trish says quickly. “I’m ok here.” She doesn’t listen for a response before hanging up.

The spots of light throughout her apartment are sparse, one on her kitchen table, one on her bookshelf, one unseen around the bend to her bedroom. Outside, the fallen leaves are being lifted up once again in the windy storm. Trish remains where she is, listening to her breath in the darkness.

Abby Manzella is a writer and scholar who lives in Columbia, Missouri. Her work has been published from sites such as Literary Hub, Brevity, The Rumpus, Colorado Review, The Journal for the Compressed Creative Arts, and Kenyon Review. Her book Migrating Fictions: Gender, Race, and Citizenship in U.S. Internal Migrations was named by Choice Reviews as an Outstanding Academic Title. You may find her online on Twitter @AbbyManzella, Facebook @AbbyManzellaAuthor or at her website

Image: "Apagón", Siete Coyote, flickr (cc)

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