A wet winter’s day, Albury. The sky is dark grey and the rain’s been pounding continually for sixteen hours, but my spirits are bright. I have the house to myself for the first time since January. I’ve bought food to cook, have the movie “50/50” ready to watch and I’ve arranged a Skype call with a friend in LA. It’s going to be the night of nights and I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks. The veggies are chopped and the meat’s marinating. I turn on the TV and sit down with a large glass of red wine, ready for an episode of “Underbelly” before I start cooking dinner. The opening music starts … and the electricity cuts out.
God damn it.
I’m annoyed but there’s no time for self-pity. I have thirty minutes of daylight left before the house will be in darkness. Launching into action, I swiftly search for where my mother would keep candles. Five minutes later I pull out an assortment of mismatched candles, candelabras and a box of matches from a kitchen cupboard. I suspect there’d be a torch in the garage but I’m not venturing down to that spider-infested cave if there’s an alternative.
A large plastic container of not-quite-finished candle-stubs testifies that my mother doesn’t waste anything. Another container of birthday cake candles, party poppers and sparklers testifies that she’s as prepared for an impromptu celebration as she is for a blackout. Or she just likes flammable things.
Long shadows fill the house, reminding me of the deadline driven by the setting sun. I have to keep moving. I place the candles in various holders and begin to position them around the living room when I hear a knock at the front door. I open it and am greeted by a tall middle-aged man. It’s been fifteen minutes since the power cut out.
Man: G’day. I live next door and I was just wondering if your power’s out?
Me: Yep. It’s been out for about ten minutes.
Man: Oh, okay. We weren’t sure if it was just us or if it’s the whole street.
Me: I’d say it’s everyone. I’ve pulled out the candles in case it lasts a while. Do you need any?
Him: No, we’re right. We’ve got loads.
We say goodbye though three more neighbours knock on my door in the next few minutes to have the same conversation. The last one, Amy, also gives me limes from her tree, coriander from her herb garden and asks for a cup of self-raising flour so she can finish making her golden syrup dumplings when the power comes back on. My night isn’t turning out as I’d hoped but it is making me smile.
I close the door to Amy and scan the living room to assess my options for the evening. No TV, no DVD, no oven, no microwave, no kettle, no light and no phone. And of course I’ve not charged my laptop.
Darkness descends and I light a three-pronged silver candelabra. I have a bath and put on a thick dressing-gown and long woollen socks. After making a sandwich, I sit in the rocking chair next to the open fire with my book. Thunder rumbles and a vivid flash of lightning momentarily brightens the room before again leaving it to the warm glow of the fire and candlelight. I feel overwhelmingly serene and content. Nothing can interrupt or distract me. I’m warm, comfortable and about to be entirely absorbed by the spellbinding characters I’ve been following for over 400 pages; I cannot wait to see what happens to them. It may not be the evening I planned, but it couldn’t be more perfect.