By Fannie H. Gray
Most mornings, I awaken sweat-soaked and coverless. A lumpen heap of pillows and blankets amasses in the vacancy where Patrick, my husband, used to sleep.
I go to the kitchen, followed by a menagerie of animals I began accumulating shortly after the quarantine began, a few days after Patrick’s death. The thought of being alone has always terrified me. Asked the ubiquitous question as a little girl, what do you want to be when you grow up? I always answered, married. Perhaps I was a halved zygote and have yearned a lifetime to feel complete.
Three once feral cats, a possum recovering from a head wound, and a one-eyed dog follow me into the kitchen. I fill five bowls with Kibble and then sit contentedly amongst the animals, drinking coffee that I boil on the range. When the animals are done, Walt, our dog, follows me into the pantry, and we discuss which pasta we should have today. Penne? Walt barks. Excellent choice, I tell him. Soon, the wine berries on the back fence will be ripe. Fresh fruit pleases everyone. Occasionally, Walt gets wild hair and eats grass, but he always regrets it.
Later, I open the wooden front door, and we six sit behind the glass stormer to watch for any weary souls who might venture out. We wave at the masked citizens who look up while plodding along. There have been fewer coming out. Last week, an angry mask-less young man gave us the middle finger and grabbed his crotch. He took a menacing step onto the front walk, but Walt bared his raggedy teeth. The possum and I laughed as the miscreant ran away.
Sometimes, the power sputters on for a few minutes. Lights and fans, blinking clocks, once the blender I forgot I was using, roar to life. We rejoice, run around the house, turning lamps off or on. Music for the masses, I will yell, and we gather in the study to dance to Lucinda Williams.
Not long ago, perhaps on a Tuesday, there was rain. A menacing sky lowered to the lawn, and Walt refused to go out and relieve himself. The possum and the cats morphed into a fuzzy ball on the sofa. I stood alone at the bay window and watched the rain wash down the abandoned street. A single child–size shoe sailed down the gutter. I suppose that is when I got the idea.
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Before Patrick died, before anyone was sick, when power was a given and socializing was normal, we had electric outlets installed on the façade of the house so we could light it up at Halloween and Christmas. Our house was a beacon for trick-or-treaters and carolers.
So, the day after the rain, I find every power strip we own. I plug outdoor extension cords into the exterior outlets. Then, I gather the lamps and the portable fans, the digital clocks. I pick up the blender and the food processor and set both to On. Walt, the only family member, allowed outdoors, follows me into the yard. The cats and the possum watch dutifully from the storm door. Walt chases his own tail as I plug the appliances in, but I know he keeps his eye wary for any strangers. When I am finished, I sit on the front stoop as Walt rolls on the walkway and survey my handiwork. We have a veritable barricade of electronics ready for our defence. I ask Walt to come inside, and then I let the gang know about my surprise. The animals wait politely at the door as I run down to the basement. He is a little unwieldy, but I manage to get Santa up the stairs. Patrick, who dabbled in welding, made him a few years ago from chicken wire. I painted him and wove the fairy lights into his form. For good measure, I grab a Santa stocking cap Patrick used to wear on Christmas and mash it down over Santa’s chicken wire hat. The animals step aside, and I muscle Santa onto the front porch, where I plug him in. There, I say to my assembled furry family: Walt barks and the possum smiles. The cats never really have much to say, but one weaves in between my legs, so I interpret that as applause.
It is while Walt and I are picking wine berries and gathering dandelion leaves in the backyard that we hear the ruckus. The possum, which we have decided to call Elmo, is scratching at the screen door, smiling at us. Walt and I enter the kitchen, following Elmo, who makes his crooked little way to the front of the house. All three cats are poised on the back of the sofa, fixated on the scene in the front yard.
Every fan, lamp and clock has roared to life. The blender, in a buzz of activity, has fallen onto its side. Santa is divine. Even in the bright, hard light of the midday sun in summer, sheltered as he is between the rhododendrons which flank the front porch, Santa is alive in his electric glory.
Here is the interesting thing, though; if I had thought I was constructing a barricade, I was indeed quite wrong. It turns out our assemblage of appliances has beckoned our dormant neighbours. Little clusters, pods of families and friends who hunkered down together, have gathered in the street. Walt makes happy yelps, and Elmo and I wave as everyone marvels at our display. Most wave back. A few brave children break away from scolding parents and run up to Santa, tap him to make sure he is not an apparition, I suppose.
After 30 minutes, most of the groups have dispersed. It seems the power is back on for good. I turn off all my toys, unplug them and bring them in except for Santa. Walt and Elmo agree; Santa should remain to remind everyone that faith and love are electric.
Fannie H. Gray lives in Montclair, NJ with her husband, two children, Mac the Boston Terrier, and Neo the Tuxedo. Her poem The Trick was included in Beltway Poetry Quarterly’s Langston Hughes Tribute Issue. Her fiction can be found in The Tatterhood Review, Sledgehammer Lit, Sad Girls Club and K’in. She prefers coffee with chicory and a damn fine Rob Roy.