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SHORT FICTION

SHORT FICTION

ALL LINES DOWN

The lights just went off on my island.

The chill marks each empty home’s boarded windows. We are winter people in a summer house. Each breath becomes more visible as our outlines, in the 3pm darkness, become less visible; our silhouettes shifting to strange organic blobs of sweaters and hats and gloves and scarves and socks and blankets on couches with knees curled in tight.

There are four of us, including the fish.

The storm shelter is only 500 feet down the road.

The Betta Fish requires a water temperature between 76 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. When water is not properly maintained, typically with an electric heater, The Betta Fish will stop eating. As its oxygen supply depletes, The Fish will become lethargic and will sink near the bottom of the tank, trying to find warmth. The Fish may develop exophtahlmia, or Popeye Disease, a life-threatening condition that causes the eyes to bulge out of the head due to pressure build up.

Eyes may decay and fall out.

The lights went off on my island hours ago. None of us knows what time it is. When you live this far east, sunset and bedtime are early, the time between, long and drift less, even on a day with lightbulbs and computers and refrigerators and electric stoves and cell service.

We eat peanut butter by the spoonful and take turns crying about big small things, made dire by our ennui.

The storm shelter is only 500 feet down the road.

So we shovel ourselves out of the door and into the profound darkness of a powerless 20 by 9 mile island on a March night, headlamps flickering over the space that, under the snow, is the memory a road.

A standard 5 Gallon tank for a Betta Fish, when full, weighs approximately 62 pounds. We take turns, gripping the glass edges of the freezing tank as more and more water splashes over our icy fingers, walking with knees bent, trying to move as smoothly as possible to keep waves of tank water from splashing over the rim. A Betta Fish, when jostled to excess, will become stressed and will die.

When we reach the storm shelter, there is light and heat and stove and a power outlet for Fish. Giddy with delight, we, as if we are alone in the world, play music, fry eggs, pour whiskey, and heat beans.

Police arrive with an old man they have rescued from his frozen home and we are reminded that this is not our big storm in our little world, but that there is a whole coastline cold and dark.

The Man is disoriented and embarrassed and salty from 87 years of life alone, eating shellfish on sea rocks, salt that is in his DNA through generations of lives lived alone, eating shellfish on sea rocks. He is what is left of a once powerful body, he has survived this long. But the Average American Male requires a body temperature between 97 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit. When the body temperature falls below 95 degrees, the heart and respiratory system will eventually fail and the Man will die.

The signs and symptoms of hypothermia are remarkably similar to the signs and symptoms of dementia and may include:
Slurred speech or mumbling
Slow, shallow breathing
Weak pulse
Clumsiness or lack of coordination
Drowsiness or very low energy
Confusion or memory loss
Loss of consciousness
Bright red, cold skin
Someone with hypothermia usually isn't aware of their condition because the symptoms often begin gradually. The confused thinking associated with hypothermia prevents self-awareness and can lead to risk-taking behavior. People with dementia may not dress appropriately for the weather, may wander from home or get lost easily, making them more likely to be stranded outside in cold or wet weather.

 

We watch as the police set up a cot and blankets for the man. We no longer know where exactly to put our confused joy or what to do with our hands.

The Fish bubbles in its tank.

The Man snores softly and wetly.

They did not die today.

The lights outside this building and this building’s emergency generator are still off.

 

We slink back to my house, warmed-up and better fed, for cold beds and dark corners. In the morning, someone has cleared the roads. In the morning, a crew comes to cut apart the tree that has fallen onto my house. In the morning, we go back to the shelter to make coffee. The Man has left. The Fish is still there, bubbling wetly.

Leah Crosby is a Seattle-based dancer/choreographer/Kindergarten teacher whose talents include speed-knitting, playing violin, and volunteering for too many things. She has the blessing of the Royal Thai Ministry of Education to practice the sacred art of Thai Massage. Sometimes, she writes things, but not that often. You can see some of her work at www.landformsdance.com