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In the path of Irene

This is my contribution to kmessner's "Created in the Path of Irene."

I'm teaching "Writing About Food" this semester, and last night I ditched my plan for the first class, which normally involves tasting and description, in favor of "Cooking when the lights go out."  I scribbled right along with the students and started this story, which I suspect was also inspired by Kate's tweet about hoping that the electricity would not go off before her chicken was cooked.

Bon Appetit!
Lights’ Out Soup
Katherine Quimby
© 2011  All rights reserved

 Mom had just put the chicken in the hot oven when the power went out. “Oh dear. Maybe it will be back soon.”
It wasn’t.

After half an hour, that unmistakable scent of baking chicken pulled me away from the window where I was trying to see across the street. “Smells good, Mom.” Chicken may not be turkey, but it always somehow reminds me a bit of Thanksgiving.

She shook her head. “It’s never going to be done. It wasn’t in there long enough.”

“Nick!” Mom called upstairs to my older brother. “I need you to go out on the deck and move the grill under the eaves and light it.”

Nick plodded down the stairs. His hair was all messed up, the way it usually was when he’d been trying to do something new with his computer. He didn’t even stop for a slicker, but went straight outdoors. I watched from the window as he struggled to pull the grill back under the eaves. It seemed like it had gotten super-heavy.

He raised the lid and then, giving the whole grill a big push, he tipped it. Water poured out.

He shoved it under the eaves and came back inside. “I don’t think it’s going to light, Mom.” Water dripped from his sweatshirt cuffs to the mat. “The ignition is soaked.

Mom sighed. “Oh, dear. I hate to waste good meat.” She made it sound like it was something special. I mean, chicken smells sorta like Thanksgiving, but not really. I didn’t know why she was making such a big deal out of it.

“Robert.” My turn. Only I would put on my slicker.

“Robert, did we sell the campstove in the yard sale? I can’t remember. Would you go down to the basement and look for it?”

I couldn’t remember and it sure beat having to go outside and get soaked. I grabbed the flashlight from the table and headed down. The first thing I found was the can of fuel, which might be useful even if the campstove had been sold (what did I know, I’d never been a Boy Scout). I put the can on the bottom stair.

It’s not easy looking for something in a big plastic tote when you need to have one hand free to hold the flashlight. I went through one of the two we used to take camping, but there was no campstove. The second held an old lighter, so I put that with the fluid.

I was almost back at the tote when I tripped over something and fell into the tote. Getting out was like trying to ooch out of a bucket. In the dark, because I had dropped the flashlight and it had rolled away from me. I was feeling in the dark for something I could brace myself on, push myself up with, when the hand toward the wall rested on something square and cold.

The campstove.

A few more shoves and I was out of the tote. I picked up the flashlight, grabbed the stove, then managed to lug everything upstairs in one trip.

“Oh Robert! What a relief.” Mom took the stove from me and made like she was going to give me a kiss, but I got out of that one because she took one look at me and said—“Robert—your hair, it’s covered in cobwebs! I hope there aren’t any spiders in there.”

She wasn’t the only one who hoped that. I was off to the bathroom to wipe any spiders off not just my head but the face of the earth. (Indiana Jones had snakes. I have spiders, so sue me.)

By the time I got back to the kitchen Mom had cleaned off the campstove and filled the fuel tank.

I may not be a Boy Scout, but I do know some things. “You can’t light that indoors, Mom. It’s not safe.”

“You’re right.” She looked at Nick.

“All right, I can take a hint. I’ll take it outside.” Nick took the stove and the lighter and went outside as soon as he’d put on his slicker.

I went as far as the door, but it was still pounding down pretty hard and I figured there was no point in both of us getting soaked, so I closed the door behind him and watched from my usual post.

“He’s got a flame,” I called to Mom, as soon as I could see the ring of blue.

“Great!” Mom started clattering in the kitchen. Next thing I knew, she was handing me a pot with a lid. “Take this to your brother.”

I should have known I wasn’t going to stay dry forever. But by now it was almost supper time and I was getting hungry, so I did what I had to do. Only unlike Nick, I put on my slicker.

“Mom says to put this on the stove.” I handed it to him.

“What’s in it?”

“I don’t have psychic powers,” I told him. “I can’t see through metal.”

Nick lifted the lid. “Looks like water to me.”

I looked too, but without the flashlight I couldn’t see anything except, yeah, maybe water.

Nick put the lid back on and put the pot over the flame.

“See ya.” I headed in.

“Hey,” Nick said, “it’s your turn. You stay and watch the pot.”

“No, no, not me. I’m not the firemaster.” I had my hand on the doorknob. “Besides, isn’t there something about a watched pot.”

“Yeah.” Nick was right behind me. “We can keep an eye on it from in here.

It wasn’t that easy, though. We had to make a few more trips out to the pot for Mom. She had cut up the partially cooked chicken and some vegetables and they had to go into the pot. She took the rice out herself, after she put on not only her slicker but her rain pants and boots, and she stayed out there, stirring the pot every so often.

After a while, I don’t know how long, she came to the door, asked me to put out the soup bowls. A while after that, my stomach was growling like a bear. Another while later, she carried in the pot, set it on the table and took the lid off.

Thanksgiving was nothing on this, which was thicker than soup but thinner than Mom’s chicken rice casserole, filled with chicken and rice and bits of carrot and green bits that I don’t know what they were but they sure made it taste good.

Next time the power goes out, I guess we won’t starve.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 30th, 2011 01:23 am (UTC)
Fun story--and I think that's an awesome change of lesson plans!
Aug. 30th, 2011 02:26 am (UTC)
Great story, made me smile and hungry.

We spent the day eating and eating and eating out of fear that the power would go out before the next meal. I felt like it was Thanksgiving but not because of a wonderful turkey like smell.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 1st, 2011 12:28 am (UTC)
We're fine. We far enough north that we avoided the worst of things--never lost power, and the flooding was what it was in April, which means the main route is re-routed. The biggest issue is going to be crop loss for the farmers who had crops planted in riverside fields.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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