That’s what this is, Dad keeps saying, a whole day full of it. Today is special, we knew it even before we got out of bed. We feel excitement like magnets under our tongues, safety pins in our sides. There’s a birthday today, it’s someone’s birthday, Mom says. Whose birthday is it?
Dad is toasting the last two waffles for us; they come out of the freezer covered in ice. They’re no good, Mom says, but how can they be bad when they’re sparkling like diamonds? We’re supposed to go somewhere, says Mom, and we don’t have a present. She goes to look in the hallway closet where things are packed so tightly something might fall on your head if you’re not careful.
How are those waffles, kids? Dad says, and we nod and smile even though they’re cold inside, because they’re also sweet and covered in syrup. Oh geez, says Mom, when she comes back from the hallway, it’s nobody’s birthday, there’s no party. But we kids know it could be anybody’s birthday today. It could be your birthday, I whisper to Benny. It could be mine.
How could I be so stupid, Mom says. We’re not going anywhere. We can’t go anywhere. But nothing will ruin this feeling for us; today anything is possible, there’s magic in the air. Dad feels it, too: he’s humming to himself, he’s singing to Mom, he doesn’t have a care in the world, and Mom puts us in front of the tv and the adults disappear like a trick. We’re happy because we get to watch so many shows, we’re happy even when we hear a big zizz of a noise and the tv turns black and everything in the house goes quiet and Mom and Dad come out of their bedroom.
The lights are out! Dad says. The lights are out! Mom says, but in a funny voice. The lights are out, I say to Benny, but it’s like we’re camping inside and we can light the stove with a lighter and make chili and s’mores and pitch tents in our bedrooms and make animal shadow shapes with the flashlights and this is probably the best day of our lives even though there’s no more tv. Mom wants to know why there is no electricity and does Dad know something about this, does he want to tell her something, but he does not. Benny and I run to get our stuffies, because they would also like to have a camping party and drink cocoa and we can stay up all night, Benny says, and we can tell ghost stories, I say, which makes Benny look worried, but he says he’s not scared.
We ask Mom to make food for our camping party, but she shakes her head. We look in the cupboards where there’s only cans of tomatoes and chicken broth and sardines. I don’t want this, I say, I want cocoa and chili and chips. You don’t always get what you want, says Mom, and Dad says that’s a negative way of looking at things, this is fun, right, kids? Wholesome family fun. We can start a fire, we can order a pizza, Dad says, but what if all the lights are out, says Mom, what if all the lights are out everywhere, and Benny starts to cry, because he thinks he hears something, and maybe I hear it too, which makes him cry harder, because maybe it’s the monster in the closet. Dad says there are no monsters, the lights are on somewhere, this is fine we’re all fine, let’s order something. But none of the phones or computers work, and he starts going through the cupboards even though we tell him there’s only gross stuff in there. Benny is still crying because it’s too scary in the dark, and I know I should be nice to him, but I’m hungry and the adults are mad and it’s getting cold and Dad says, I know just the thing and throws a bunch of stuff in our fireplace, old newspapers and bills and magazines and lights them on fire. We’ll see how long that lasts, says Mom, and at first it’s great and Benny calms down and it’s warm and we can see the room and our parents’ awful faces in the flickers of light, but the magazines are smoking and Benny is coughing and crying again and who can blame him and when are we going to eat, I say, and do you kids ever stop talking, says Dad, and what are you going to feed your children, says Mom, and Benny says the monster is getting closer. Then the lights come back on as sudden as a slap, and it’s just us. It’s only us, and it’s nobody’s birthday.