Hurricane Charley had ripped over their house almost a week ago, blowing transformers and turning power lines in to fettucini. By now they were well-versed the ice-melting rates of their various coolers and how to spend mid-August afternoons without becoming pork rinds.
The utility company had blessed a neighborhood a few blocks away with electricity and a friend offered the salvation of air conditioning to them. He declined, wanting to stay with his house just in case the power came back on, regardless of the hour. She decided to stay with him. They'd stuck it out together this long, they'd see it through the end.
Their boys had momentary pangs of guilt. "We want you guys to have a good sleep too," said the middle one, the most savvy.
"Don't worry," she said. "We'll be fine. We should have power tomorrow. Have fun."
"Sure you won't join us?" the offering mother said. "We've got plenty of room."
"Positive," he said. "Thanks."
They waved goodbye to the kids as they drove off in the minivan. "They'll forget about us as soon as they turn the corner," she said.
Except for a generator coughing its incessant death rattle one street over and several houses down, an oppressive cast-iron stillness weighed upon the area. Theirs was the only occupied home on the block, the others having having been abandoned for hotels, friends with electricity or impromptu vacations. A dying western light draped broken trees in black, and a few stars shone sheepishly.
"You know, we do have a phone and gas in the car," he said. "You could call and take them up on the invitation."
"And miss out on sweating off a few pounds? Not a chance."
"Like you need to lose anything."
"Oh please." As she walked past, she delivered a backhanded slap to his chest. "I'm going to go read my book."
Whereas outside hinted at oppression, inside smacked them with a wooolen fist of coal-fired staleness, like walking through damp cotton, breathing through a moldy sock. They had learned to move as little as possible once the front door closed. He peeled to his boxers and grabbed a water bottle from the freshly-iced cooler. She shimmied herself down to a sports bra and panties, walking as she did so and took a Diet Coke.
With his monster Mag Light he found the battery-powered TV, propped himself on the couch so that the least amount of skin touched the fabric, balanced the TV on his stomach and watched a fuzzy image of the Olympics. Below the track and field highlights ran a crawler providing updates on when certain areas would regain power and advising people to boil water.
She took her own mini-Mag and after lighting one candle in their bathroom and one in their bedroom, as much for the vanilla scent as the light, arranged herself in bed like a sail next to an open window, her skin ready for any misfit wind. The light balanced across her shoulder and collarbone as she read, and the soda can's cooling sweat warmed as she turned the pages. Breathing as little as possible, she realized with some amusement that she had learned to become a lizard.
Eventually the thick night heat and pervasive exhaustion that defined these days crept up to her, and after the book slapped her in the face a few times, she decided to turn off the light and try to sleep, however fitfully. When she sat up, the sweat that had collected and pooled along her throat, between her breasts, at her elbows and hips released, sending a tiny flood across her skin and on to the sheets.
"Damn." I can't sleep like this.
She got up, went to the bathroom, and turned on the shower. It'll be cold as hell, but I might cool off enough to sleep.
He woke from a slight doze when the TV slipped off his perspiring belly and tumbled toward the tile floor. Only a catlike twist to snatch the antenna saved it. Once he found the channel again, he saw that the Olympians had headed home for the night and talking heads in an air-conditioned studio continued to gab about boil water alerts, chainsaw shortages, free ice stations and utility updates. After learning he'd be without power for another two days at least, he grabbed his flashlight, got up, shuffled outside, stripped, and took a moderately refreshing dip in his overly chlorinated pool, diving to the bottom to feel the cooler water the lack of circulation permitted.
A few lackluster laps later, he admitted his grinding fatigue and got out. Naked by the pool, he let the air dry him enough to go inside without puddling the floor, but remain damp enough to hasten sleep. That lone generator drone had become the theme song for the week. He couldn't wait for it to end. With his skin wet but not dripping, he went inside.
She turned the water off, yanked back the shower curtain and reached for a towel. Holding it, still folded and warm, she realized just how severely the hurricane had taken not only power, but sound from them. No music except their voices. No soothing rush of air through the vents. No microwave reminding them to remove the popcorn. Silence. Except for that damn generator. The towel fell open, and she patted her skin.
He walked in to their bedroom and saw her in the bathroom from across the bed, bent over, working the towel over her thick, ropelike hair. Still, after the years, seeing her cartwheeled his heart, prompting his second and fourth chakras to hum a duet. As she stood, her full, pendulous breasts swung and bounced. The candlelight reflected from the bathroom mirror painted her in shades of amber. Clinging mother-of-pearl droplets glistened where her one-piece swimsuit blocked the sun, across her belly, on her raspberry nipples, along the horizon of her hip. Teak oceans lapped against tanlines, fading to mahogany in the shadows. With just a wink from her he would eat lava and conquer rain. She let the towel fall and studied him.
Scarves of tossed light floated across his chest, shoulders, smooth stomach. He stood with his hip cocked, one hand resting lightly on an outstretched leg, the other arm tucked behind his back on the shelf of his buttock. To her, a David with meat. To him, she knew, a measure of weakness, a visual reminder of after-work swims and weekend morning runs bumped to a siding in the switching yard of their family. More a rhino now than a quarter horse, but she preferred his mass in bed on the weekends, his chest against her back, heavy arm around her waist, feeling him grow against her ass. At least until the kids came in and wondered what was for breakfast.
"Well, when was the last time this happened?" she said. Years at least, she thought -- how old is our youngest one?
"You mean a hurricane knocking out power for a week?"
"I think you know what I meant."
"Oh. You mean when was the last time we were alone in a dark house and sweating and naked." When dinosaurs roamed the earth, he thought.
She stepped in to the bedroom and put her knee on the mattress. "I just took a shower to try to sleep." Now I wish you had been there with me.
.... There is more of this story ...