“The city’s swimming pools were full again today as we wind up our record-breaking third week of 100-plus-degree days,” the TV weatherman said over images of children splashing around. “My, doesn’t that look nice and cool! They’ll likely be there again tomorrow and the next day as there’s no relief in sight.”
Craig looked up from his tablet and scowled. He picked up the remote and muted the volume. It was bad enough to suffer the heat without listening to some idiot prattle on about it. Almost unheard over the window air conditioner, his children splashed happily in the horse tank he had filled for them to swim in. The nearest town with a swimming pool was ten miles away, and the water was too heavily chlorinated for Kathy to tolerate.
Jane glanced briefly at the now-quiet TV and her husband. She kept working to get the family’s dinner ready. The water for the spaghetti was about to boil. “It’s really too hot for this,” she said to herself. “Can’t live on sandwiches all summer.”
The sun was setting, heating the uninsulated west side of the house and making the kitchen on the east side just dim enough to need a light. That light suddenly went dark with a soft pop.
Jane sighed. “Sure, one more thing to deal with.” Even as she went to the closet to get another bulb, Craig hopped up from his chair.
“Use one of those little curly bulbs,” he said.
Jane turned to give him a hard look. “I’ve told you time and time again the fluorescent bulbs trigger migraines for me.”
“Just don’t look right at it.”
“It doesn’t work that way. Just having that thing on and flickering will do me in.”
“Well, we’re running out of the old incandescents, and they don’t make them any more, you know.”
“I know. The other thing about those curly ones, if you’d try to remember it, is that they have mercury in them.”
“Only a trace amount.”
“What’s a trace amount of mercury multiplied by a landfill full of them?”
“They can be recycled,” he countered.
“Within a hundred miles of here?” she asked, and he just rolled his eyes, the answer being “no.” She reached into the closet and pulled out a cardboard shell.
“Is that –? Did you buy one of those expensive LED bulbs?”
“It’s not like there’s a lot of choice anymore. I’m not about to put in a fluorescent bulb right over my head.”
Craig snatched the package away from her and looked it over. “How much was this thing?”
“It was $39.95.”
“For a light bulb? Good God! Those little curly bulbs are bad enough, but forty bucks for a light bulb?”
“This uses a lot less electricity than the other bulbs, and it’ll last more than 20 years. The kids’ll be married and gone before we have to replace it.”
“That’ll be nice for whoever moves in here after we can’t afford to keep up the payments. Take that damn thing back.”
Jane took the package from him and ripped it apart to get at the bulb. “I can’t. The package is torn up.”
He glared at her. “Well, that was real mature. Just because you don’t want a headache.”
“Craig, try to think of me like you do your tractor: as an important investment that’s worth taking good care of so I’ll last.”
Craig huffed and thought dark thoughts as Jane moved a chair into place under the light fixture. As she stepped up on it, both the TV and the burner light on the stove went dark. The air conditioner groaned to a halt, and the happy children outdoors could be heard loud and clear.
“Now what?” Craig groused. “Those aren’t all on the same circuit.” He went to the mud room and opened the circuit breaker box. “Nothing’s tripped in here.” He walked around, trying other light switches as Jane replaced the burned-out bulb. It didn’t light when she screwed it in.
“Maybe somebody hit a pole down the road,” Jane said.
“Could be.” He walked out into the heat, closing the door quickly to try to hold in what cold air there was. Jane looked at the stove, contemplating another meal of cold cuts if the power didn’t come back on.
After several minutes Craig came back in, wiping his brow. “I don’t see anything, but that doesn’t mean much.” He went back to his chair and picked up his tablet again. A news alert was blinking for attention. He tapped the screen to read it. Jane looked at him and saw his shoulders slump; then he looked like wanted to throw the tablet across the room.
“What is it?”
“The damned heat. The load is too much and some of the electrical substations in the area have shorted out.” He looked straight into her eyes. “They say it’ll be days before some people get power again.” He slumped again. “And living out here, we’re always at the bottom of the list. It’ll be next week.”
Jane sagged against the silent refrigerator for a moment, and something caught her eye. She bent down and picked up the remains of the LED package and threw them in the wastebasket.