Rhineberry

CHAPTER FOUR

Sandra Holmes woke early, the air around her head and face clear, frigid. Her husband, Eliot, had burrowed deeply into his bedcovers beside her. She listened carefully, holding her breath. She could not hear the furnace below her. It was neither running nor making an effort. “Swell,” she whispered, sitting up finally, putting her feet into her bedroom slippers. “Whoa!” she said aloud. It was cold.

Wrapping a heavy terrycloth robe around her shoulders, Sandra slipped off the side of the bed and went to look into the bedroom of her children. She had to smile. Not one of the three was visible. All had hidden beneath their blankets and seemed still to sleep. Just as well, she thought.

She eased her way quietly down the steps to the kitchen, avoiding the few treads she knew were musically alert. She opened a cabinet and withdrew a flashlight. She carefully made her way down the steep basement steps. She stood a moment before the inert machine and pressed the reset button. There was no audible report of a job well done.

Back in her kitchen, her L.L.Bean thermometer told her that outside the temperature was twenty degrees. Inside it was forty-seven. Thank heavens she had talked Eliot into buying a new gas range. At least its burners would operate.

She stood at a counter and picked up a telephone, punching only one number. She waited, knowing that when the utility company answered, everything would be automated. All she had to do was report clearly.

Which she did. The response, also automated, thanked her for reporting the outage, said that the company was aware of some problems in the area, and that their hope was that power would be restored before noon.

She made coffee, knowing that the water that came from the tap was probably the last in that line. Ever hopeful, she managed to fill a small pot for poaching eggs before the water began its trickle to cessation. Had she been on town water rather than the owner of a well, she wouldn’t have worried so much.

She turned on her portable radio. Static.

She was impressed.

Her telephone rang. Good. That would get the kids up, although there was no school, nor a school bus, nor lunches to prepare.

“Sandra? Do you have power?”

“No, Ma. Not yet. How about you?”

“Damnedest thing,” said her mother from twenty miles away. “No winds, no rain, no fallen trees. Nothing in the forecast that could have caused this.”

“Probably just an old oak giving up the ghost.”

“Or someone crashing into a utility pole.”

“Probably. You and Daddy O.K.?”

“Colder than hell, but surviving.”

“Power may be on by noon, Ma.”

“I’ll believe that when it happens.”

“Good thing it’s a holiday,” Sandra said.

“Maybe,” agreed her mother. “Glad I don’t have three little ones to entertain all day. You going into the Cobble?”

“Got lucky and drew the holiday. In a couple of hours, I may wish I were there.”

“At least you’d be busy.”

“You never know. By the way, Ma, thanks again for the splendid feast. Take care.”

Good thing one phone was hard-wired to the phone company’s pole.

Without thinking she put her hand on the handle to the refrigerator. Then she remembered. She would wait. Try to go in infrequently, and go easy on the freezer, too. You never knew how long these things could last.

Eliot was off today. That made the prospect of dealing with the children a little more pleasant.

She punched on the small television set near the microwave. Nothing, not even snow.

She almost smiled. This was no fallen tree. This one, she imagined, insofar as the set was turned to a network, must be big.

She shivered, happy to know she and hers were not the only people in the neighborhood facing a dismal Thanksgiving weekend.

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