When we wake, the power is out. We assume, given the strength of the storm, that we are far from alone. Amber checks her phone, which more than confirms our suspicions. Millions are without power. Though New York City girded itself for the apocalypse, towns well north are swallowed beneath feet of water. The worst I can claim is severe water damage to one part of my ceiling and several drips easily conquered with bowls. When I speak to my parents, they inform me that the storm created a sinkhole on their street that swallowed the front of a firetruck. It is small consolation that, given that the storm is still in force, it has drown much of the summer heat and has left behind a comfortably autumnal coolness.
So much of my relationship with Amber has taken place with ready access to electronic entertainment that, for a moment, I blink at her, not quite certain what excuse we will make to cuddle when we cannot watch a NetFlix or play a video game. Granted, we do not need an excuse to cuddle, but we have always had one before and have taken these for granted. I sneaked glances at her face as she watched television, I succumbed to how I felt about her while watching a movie and caressing her stomach, I distracted myself from wanting to push too far too soon as we played Katamari Damacy. On the other hand, I intentionally stranded Amber at my apartment so that I would not have to weather the storm alone and because I imagined this very experience would be a sort of fun. Who wouldn't want a hand to hold as the world is washed away?
After a cold breakfast, we play a few games of chess, since she refuses to indulge in decisiveness by selecting another activity. I am surprised to beat her once, as I was playing largely defensively and assumed she was seconds from conquering my defenses. She is much more of a strategic thinker than I am, which ranks as one of the reasons I love her (I could make up stories full of pathos and humor for each of the fallen pieces, but I cannot keep them from being trounced). It delights me to guess at the workings of her mind, as she is still given to quietness in my company, even if she rubs her forehead against mine in an effort to steal my thoughts.
We next play a card game, Killer Bunnies, she had been trying to get me to play almost since the beginning of our relationship. Melanie hated card and board games, crediting her Attention Deficit Disorder or innate competitiveness, so I had come to unconsciously associate these games with her irritation. In lieu of any other entertainment I would describe in writing, I let Amber teach me the basics of using bunnies and strange weapons to amass carrots in hopes one will be magic, and it does not even involve hallucinogens. She manages to win, though partly because the end of the game involves the element of chance. Even though this is my first time touching the cards and despite the fact that I keep showing her my weapon cards so she can explain how I attack her, I am capable of keeping up with her.
The day edges toward twilight and Amber suggests she is hungry.
"I could make us... um... salad? Or sandwiches?"
"What kind of sandwiches?"
I take mental stock of my steadily warming refrigerator. "Turkey or peanut butter and jelly."
"No, we need hot food," she says, not unreasonably.
"The oven requires electricity," I reply.
"Then we will find another way."
I call around to local restaurants, all of whom do not answer and I assume to be closed. Wendy's, whom I call out of sheer desperation, answers only to tell me that they are of course closed. I am startled that they would bother to have someone at the store for this purpose. As a last ditch effort, I call my younger brother Bryan, who presently works at Wal-Mart, and beg him to tell me what hot food they have. He says there might be roasted chicken, but he can make no promises.
Soon after, sensing we will not be getting chicken, Amber and I have rigged together a pot on top of a cooling rack, under which I placed a pillar candle. She tests the soup with a finger after a few minutes. "No, this will never work. The air cools the soup more quickly than the candle can heat it. What we need are many smaller candles..."
"Darling, I'm a Pagan. I have candles."
I retrieve a few dozen tea lights from a fixture on the wall, candles that are dusty and unused. Once lit, they heat the soup past boiling in under a minute. I make a salad for us to share, figuring that soup and a salad almost makes an actual meal. At that moment, Bryan knocks on the door and delivers to us a hot chicken.
In my life, I have had many thousands of meals, but this one seems to rank on the top fifty. Amber and I act as though we have not seen food in days, devouring our slices of chicken and our soup with gusto. We are fully present with our food and the other's company, not distracted by some glowing box.
Fortified by our meal, we decide to venture outside the apartment and examine the town. A large tree has fallen over the power lines on my driveway, blocking vehicular exit and certainly causing a localized power outage. As we leave the property, Amber points out the lights in every house. This is not to say that they are without damage. A home across the street now has a three foot lake where once they had a lawn, but at least they have electricity enough to blog about their misfortune and submit a claim to their insurance.
The rest of the town is even better. Though most businesses are not open, they are whole and undamaged. Cars blithely drive by and people wander around with purpose. Amber and I cannot help but feel a bit let down by the lack of carnage. In penance, I offer to buy Amber ice cream from Friendly's and am startled to see how busy it is. We wait at the pick-up window for twenty minutes before being handed cones.
When we return to the apartment, I light as many candles as I can find. Sensing the mood, Amber asks me to read her scary stories, but I can't find anything short enough on my shelves. Instead, I read her Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rain" as she dozes on my lap. Midway through Jack London's "To Build a Fire", I hear the air conditioner kick on.
"We have power. Do you want me to-"
She nestles back into my lap, fluttering her eyelashes open only long enough to focus on my face. "Keep reading."
Soon in Xenology: Companions.