Outage [Flash Fiction]

The heat was really too unbearable. Everyone knew that there were going to be power outages during the summer, but that didn’t make them any less inconvenient when they did come. Nadia and her parents had read about the planned blackouts in the papers, back in June, but they thought it wouldn’t happen this far north in the country, where the houses weren’t as dense as down by the coast and the weather wasn’t as hot as in the desert.

Just an hour ago, Nadia had turned down an invitation from her friends, one of whom was rich and had both her driver’s licence and a brand new hybrid car that was much too big and awkward for her, to go and see a movie in the city. She didn’t really like her friends that summer. They struck her as dull, when she didn’t see them at school every day. They had nothing interesting to say, and she didn’t have anything interesting to tell them. Nothing ever happened to anyone here.

But now that the electricity was off and the air conditioning wasn’t blasting out its lovely spurts of cool air, now that the windows were thrown open wide to the summer insects, now that Nadia was lying on her bed and feeling her limbs fusing to the bed-sheets with the sticky sweat slowly seeping out of her pores, now she wished she’d gone with her friends. She could have been sitting in a dark, air conditioned movie theater now, watching either Spiderman or Batman – she couldn’t remember which film they’d gone to see – take on formidable enemies.

She lifted her arms experimentally, wondering whether they would feel better or worse when pried away from the bed. There was a moment of relief as the sweat cooled in the breath of wind caused by her arms’ own movement, but after that – nothing. The air was eerily still. Not for the first time, she tried to see the reasoning for her parents’ decision to move here, to this godforsaken and god-beloved country.

Staring at the ceiling, letting her arms thump down heavily beside her, Nadia marveled at her capacity for doing nothing. She was usually a pretty busy person – she was part of a girl’s basketball team during the school year, even though nobody really took it that seriously, and she had Scouts meetings twice a week with her friends, even though she hated how wide the uniform made her hips look. She usually went out drinking on the weekends, where her friends and classmates admired her for her constitution and strong stomach; she would always smile at them, pull at her hair and say modestly, “Genes.”

Over the long summer months, though, these activities dwindled and, finally, disappeared. Scouts ended after the big camping event in early July, basketball had finished a month before that, and everybody who drank together had gotten so bored with each other that they’d found pretenses for fighting with one another and creating Drama that would be smoothed over at the start of the school year, when they all had to get along again in the classroom.

At first, Nadia had tried to keep herself busy, meeting friends as often as she could. When she’d gotten sick of them, she tried rediscovering her parents, remembering how, when she was a little girl, she’d been content to spend hours doing what they were doing, following them around like a little duckling. That didn’t work anymore, though. For one thing, it drove her crazy how often they spoke Russian with one another.

They’d never bothered teaching it to her, thinking that it was no good for her to learn the language of the Old Country. She learned, haltingly from them and then fluidly in kindergarten, how to speak the language of their adoptive home. She toyed with the idea of learning Russian now and reading the fat classics by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky that her father lovingly dusted off every week, but she gave it up when she realized how hard it would be and how vulnerable it would make her to her mother’s braying laughter.

Soon enough, she’d given up on being busy and took to her room, where she discovered her incredible powers for thinking, for hours at a time, about everything. She thought about her body – listened to the blood in her veins and her ears and learned to feel it pumping in between her toes. She thought about her soul and decided that if she had one, it was wound up tightly, like a ball of thick yarn, and that every time she fell in love it would unwind and give a bit of itself to the person she fell in love with. She thought about poor people and sick people and sad people and then stopped because it made tears leak out of her eyes unexpectedly. She thought about what would happen if she could walk on the ceiling or turn into liquid and crawl under doors.

A loud hum announced the power coming back and the printer in the other room made a loud sound as it turned itself on, creaking and groaning. Nadia didn’t move. She waited for the cold air to chill her sweat so that she could think about how that felt for a while.


One thought on “Outage [Flash Fiction]

  1. Erin M says:

    I really, *really* liked this piece, Ilana. I always marvel at how realistic you make your stories. You have a real gift for capturing details of day-to-day life and for conveying people’s thoughts and emotions.

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