I'm up before 2 a.m. checking the pipes. It's -4° this night and the stars stud the country sky with unusual brilliance. When the Canadian cold is deepest, the stars are clearest. And so I check that the pipes still carry liquid water, stand a few minutes at various windows to admire the universe above my head and then crawl back beneath my quilt on the living room floor.
What is there in the human body that keeps time? I have, each night for the past week, set my alarm to wake me every couple of hours. In every case but one, I woke up just in advance of the alarm. Last night I set the alarm for only a single excursion of the Pinehaven Pipe Brigade: 2 a.m. My eyes flew open at 1:57 a.m. I could not quite believe the precision of some hidden clockwork that resides somewhere in the human body.
At 5:15 a.m. I hear Mom's little bed creak and she says to me, across the cool divide of the dark living room, "Come on, it's your turn." She grabs her cane and walks bent over to the kitchen. I get up from the floor, climb into her warm bed and am quickly back to sleep.
When I do arise, at 7:35 a.m., I make the beds (both), folding my covers into a pile that I lay before the television, out of the way and ready for another night on the floor. I am hoping, though, that this one was the last. If the temperatures rise into the upper teens and if the weather service thinks we won't dip below a wind-less 7° tonight, I may climb back into my almost-forgotten blessed bed. The living room floor is close to the action but it is hard.
By 7:45 a.m. I'm just sitting down to breakfast and lifting the first spoonful of cold cereal to my lips when the kitchen goes suddenly dark. "Did we lose power?" Mom asks, as though from a cave. I am sitting in a still-lit dining room so I know we've only blown a fuse.
The basement steps are cold and hard on my stockinged feet. I lift the latch on the breaker box and see a familiar orange flag pointing to the tripped breaker. With the flip of a switch the kitchen reanimates. We tripped the breaker because Mom was making toast (for me), heating a cup of yesterday's cold coffee (for me) and had the drip coffeemaker working on an entire 12-cup pot (for both of us). Of course an electrical space heater is working away on the opposite side of the kitchen but I know from past experience that that's on another circuit.
We're going to have to go to the grocery today. The situation is getting critical. We were initially trapped here by a huge snow drift in front of the garage. Even with that plowed out, the bitterly cold temperatures have kept us home.
I began to worry that two emaciated bodies would be discovered here in the spring. Each day the refrigerator has been looking more bare.
We have beer, some fruit drinks, a bit of cottage cheese, a container of commercial mashed potatoes, butter, mayonnaise, yeast, apple sauce, a partial carton of eggs. There is in the hydrator a stalk or two of celery and part of small Italian tomato. And in the refrigerator's door there's a few slices of cheese and a handful of packets of Taco Bell hot sauces (for what use is a free condiment left behind?).
We might make bread with the yeast except that we're all but out of flour.
Mom's cupboard is equally bare. We have some canned goods and some cereals. But stocked we are not. Surely, anything we become hungry for, we will not have.
So to the grocery we go later today. We'll pick up a few essentials today and then make a more thorough shopping trip to Miamisburg tomorrow. The weather promises to moderate. It's time to stick our nose back out of the winter den and sniff the warming air.