Chapter Thirty-Four: The Storm Begins
Everyone awoke late the next morning. The electricity had gone off in the night; the darkness of cloud cover and the sound of the wind and the rain had lulled all of us to deep dreams. Picking up my watch, I saw that it was already nine o'clock. The church service was at ten, so there was a lot of scrambling to be done.
I'd showered late the previous day, so I just washed and brushed my teeth and dressed. As I exited my room, I heard an altercation between Kelsa and Marca, a shouting match regarding vanity versus stupidity. Kelsa lost, naturally, and was in tears because her older sisters had robbed her bathroom of conditioner the previous day, used it up, and thus Kelsa, if she showered, would not even be able get a pick through her tangled frizzy hair.
Downstairs, Michel was griping about his choices for breakfast being cold cereal or bread with cream cheese and jam. Mother's voice: "Oh, don't be such a picky eater. When I was your age I was lucky if I got corn flake cereal and half a banana."
Aunt Sully and John walked down the stairs in front of Grandmother, their arms linked before her, providing her with a safe, slow descent. When they arrived at the bottom of the stair, the maid asked them, "What would you like for breakfast? We have cold cereals and bread, with cream cheese, or peanut butter, and jam."
Grandmother irritably said, "Please bring me bread, and mayonnaise on the side, and some thin -- very thin slices of the chicken from last night. And tongs."
"Tongs?" asked the maid, confused.
Grandmother simply stared at her.
"Tongs, Ma'am," said the maid, and scurried away.
Turning to Aunt Sully, Grandmother said, "Do you think she will bring me Chinatown gang members?" Although it was quite funny, she had no trace of humor in her voice.
"Not in this weather," my aunt replied. "All the most fierce gangs have rain clauses in their manifestos."
"If they don't, they are the most stupid of creatures."
Aunt Sully and I hovered around Grandmother, while John went to find cereal. When the maid returned a placed the tray on the coffee table, Grandmother Claire dismissed her with a wave of her hand; she then spread thinly some mayonnaise on the bread, and with the tongs, held the slice over the flames in the fireplace. She turned it back and forth, then returned it to her plate, put more mayonnaise on it, with slices of chicken. After adding salt and pepper, she ate it.
"May I have some?" asked my aunt. At Grandmother's nod, she repeated the action. "Genius," she said, between mouthfuls.
"Dilettantes," Grandmother rejoined.
We were a little late getting to Mass, so we were only able to claim one pew near the back, instead of the one-and-a-half we usually did. Kelsa sniffled throughout the service about her hair, which had to be contained by elastic bands into a long wad of tangles. Uncle Bodie had been forced to sit between her and Michel, who kept telling her to stop being such a baby. Mother had to move to sit between Oesha and Marca, who kept elbowing each other irritably if their arms touched. Grandmother placed herself between Michel and Marca, hissing periodically for them to be still. I was on the end of the pew nearest the center aisle, and just sent my mind away to keep from being rolled over into insanity by the jostling and jiggling, Oesha fiddling with her purse every few seconds. The fifty-three and a half minutes of the church service seemed to drag for two hours, and when we got back to the house, Grandmother snarled, "I am going to dine and stay in my suite for the rest of the week. I do not want to see any of you unless I am on my deathbed."
Would we be better at worship if we sat apart, and could think about religion, rather than what the rest of the family was doing? I wrote in my journal before lunchtime. From our vantage point near the back of the church, I had been able to observe other families, and they were like us: brothers and sisters picking at each other, whispering to each other, ignoring the ritual while pestering about space, and touching, and pinching.
Like Grandmother, I had retired to my haven in father's office to avoid having to look at anyone else, so as not to continue wondering if any of my siblings had the least bit of restraint that one would expect of a half-trained dog.
Gabe would have been better behaved in church. After about twenty minutes of thought, on how Gabe had been, I wrote:
If only people looked upon the Face of God
As dogs look upon their masters
What prayers might be heard
By that indulgent God?
When I wrote poetry, I always left three or four spaces between lines, so that I could make modifications. I drew an arrow to the word "prayers" out to the margin. Modifier needed. Three syllables.
I heard someone out in the hall say, "Just got back in time!" Tucking the journal away in its hiding place, I abandoned writing for the time being and went to see what was happening.
John, Mother, Uncle Bodie, and both aunts were in the hallway, talking animatedly, their faces lit to orangey portraits by the candle lantern Uncle Bodie held. I slithered next to my aunts, giving each of them one-armed hugs. "I heard voices raised in consternation," I explained.
Aunt Andersol rolled her eyes at my eloquence. "Wind just blew down one of the big oaks along the drive, and at least one of the cottonwoods on the road."
"We have no generator because we haven't used it in so long that there's no gas to fill its tank," my mother said. "I can't remember a time when there was no electricity here. All the lines are underground, so something must have happened at the power station in town."
There in the hallway I could hear a low "Oooooo" sound, rising and falling in pitch. "That's a creepy sound."
"Some window is open a crack, somewhere. We have to check that out, as hard as it's raining."
We all looked at Aunt Sully when she said that, but none of us moved. She turned to my mother. "Do you want me to tell the house staff to go room to room checking for partly open windows?"
Mother looked like someone desperate for escape, her eyes darting to her wing, then down the hall. "Yeah," she said. "I think I need to sit down."
Uncle Bodie supported her to their rooms, his free hand carrying the candle-lamp.
"It's so damned dark," Aunt Andersol observed. "But it's hardly after noon."
"Bitch of a storm. Like when hurricanes come in off the Atlantic."
"Come on, John, let's get some of those flashlights Jesse stowed in the nursery thing. Sully, do you want to tell the staff about checking?"
Without answering, Aunt Sully went down the steps.
I opted to stay with Aunt Andersol and John.
"You doing okay?" John asked her.
"Yeah," she answered. "Freaky, but the turkey sandwiches made me feel like a million dollars. Now I'm just starving. All the time." She laughed. "Just in time for a power outage so they can't cook!"
In the nursery, they began breaking open flashlight packages. They handed five to me. "Get these to your gang," John said. "Check for cracked-open windows and leaking rain."
An hour later we were done with the inspection, giddy with the pounding of the rain on the windows and feeling like we were at the start of a great adventure, cut off from the world by the fury of a storm, made wild and primitive by the loss of electricity. Not only us kids, but also the adults -- excluding the chef, who was furious about the stoves not working, and his kitchen crew, who bore the brunt of his cursing voice. Michel and I hung around the dark corners near the kitchen, entertained by his truly foul language, until Uncle Bodie showed up carrying the two propane stoves that we used to use when we went camping.
"And what am I supposed to do with these toys?" shouted Chef.
"Cook," said Uncle Bodie quietly. "Or if you want to go sulk in your rooms, I can get Sully to cook. She knows how to use them to make some good food."
Chef turned abruptly respectful. "I will do what I can, Sir."
He resumed profanity once Uncle was out of hearing, but in a lower tone of voice.
The windows lit with lightning, and the sound of thunder echoed a few seconds later. "Well, my dear brother, I believe I have heard enough for one language session. Let us take leave of this pungently foreign land and return to our base camp before Kelsa gets there and hogs the front of the fireplace."
Yes, the darkness and the deluge were like an exotic vacation from everyday comfort that Sunday evening. What we didn't realize at the time was how we would feel after seven days of it.