“Oh, my Remy,” she said. “Only you understand.”
I knew what she meant, and yet I didn’t. I was a lot like my mother, but not in ways I was proud of. If my parents had stayed together and grown to be old hippies singing protest songs as they washed dishes after dinner, maybe I would have been different. If I’d ever seen what love really could do, or was, maybe I’d have believed in it from the start. But too much of my life had been spent watching marriages come together and then fall apart. So I understood, yes. But sometimes, like lately, I wished that I didn’t, not at all.
“But it’s filling up.”
“Filling up but not full.” I took the Tide from him and unscrewed the cap. “It has to be full.”
“I always put the soap in right when it starts,” he said.
“Which is why,” I said, pouring a bit of detergent in as the water level rose, “your clothes don’t ever get truly clean. There is a chemistry involved here, Dexter.”
“It’s laundry,” he said.
He sighed. “You know,” he said as I poured in the rest of the Tide and eased the lid shut, “the rest of the guys are even worse. They hardly ever even do laundry, much less separate their colors and brights.”
“Colors and whites,” I corrected him. “Colors and brights go together.”
“Are you this anal about everything?”
“Do you want everything to be pink again?”
That shut him up. Our little laundry lesson this evening had been precipitated by his throwing a new red shirt into the hot water cycle, which left everything he’d been wearing lately with a rosy tinge. Since the plastic ware incident I’d been doing all I could to be the very opposite of domestic, but I couldn’t abide a pink boyfriend. So here I was, in the laundry room of the yellow house, a place I normally steadfastedly avoided because of the enormous pile of unwashed underwear, socks, and various T-shirts that dwelled there, often spilling out into the hallway. Which was not surprising, considering that hardly anyone ever bought detergent. Just last week, John Miller had apparently washed all his jeans in Palmolive.
Once the cycle started, I stepped carefully over a pile of nasty socks, back out into the hallway, and eased the door shut as far as it would go. Then I followed Dexter into the kitchen, where Lucas was sitting at the table, eating a tangerine.
“You doing laundry?” he asked Dexter.
Dexter nodded. “I’m bleaching out my whites.”
Lucas looked impressed. But then, he was wearing a shirt with a ketchup stain on the collar. “Wow,” he said. “That’s-”
And then, suddenly, it was dark. Totally dark. All the lights cut off, the refrigerator whirred to a stop, the swishing of the washing machine went quiet. The only brightness anywhere left that I could see was the porch light of the house next door.
“Hey!” John Miller yelled from the living room, where he was absorbed, as usual about this time each night, in Wheel of Fortune. “I was just about to solve the puzzle, man!”
“Shut up,” Lucas said, standing and walking over to the light switch, which he flipped on and off a couple of times, click-clack-click. “Must be a blown fuse.”
“It’s the whole house,” Dexter said.
“So, if it was just one fuse something would still be on.” Dexter picked up a lighter from the middle of the table and flicked it. “Must be a power outage. Probably the whole grid’s out.”
“Oh.” Lucas sat back down. In the living room, there was a crash as John Miller attemped to navigate the darkness.
This wasn’t my problem. Surely it wasn’t. Still, I couldn’t help but point out, “Um, the lights are on next door.”
Dexter leaned back in his chair, glancing out the window to verify this. “So they are,” he said. “In-teresting.”
Lucas started to peel another tangerine as John Miller appeared in the kitchen doorway. His pale skin seemed even brighter in the dark. “Lights are out,” he said, as if we were blind and needed to be told this.
“Thank you, Einstein,” Lucas grumbled.
“It’s a circuitry problem,” Dexter decided. “Bad wiring, maybe.”
John Miller came into the room and flopped down on the couch. For a minute, no one said anything, and it became clear to me that this, to them, wasn’t really that big a problem. Lights, schmights.
“Did you not pay your bill?” I asked Dexter, finally.
“Bill?” he repeated.
“The power bill.”
Silence. Then, from Lucas, “Oh, man. The freaking power bill.”
“But we paid that,” John Miller said. “It was right there on the counter, I saw it yesterday.”
Dexter looked at him. “You saw it, or we paid it?”
“Both?” John Miller said, and Lucas sighed, impatiently.
“Where was it?” I asked John Miller, standing up. Someone had to do something, clearly. “Which counter?”
“There,” he said, pointing, but it was dark and I couldn’t see where. “In that drawer where we keep the important stuff.”
Dexter picked up a lighter and lit a candle, then turned to the drawer and began to dig around, sorting through what, to the guys, was deemed Important. Apparently, this included soy sauce packets, a plastic hula girl toy, and matchbooks from what looked like every convenience store and bar in town.
Oh, and a few pieces of paper, one of which Dexter seized and held aloft. “Is this it?”
I took it from him, squinting down at the writing. “No,” I said, slowly, “this is a notice saying if you didn’t pay your bill by-let’s see- yesterday, they were going to cut the power off.”
“Wow,” John Miller said. “How did that slip past us?”
I turned it over: stuck to the back was a set of pizza coupons with one ripped off, all of those left still a little greasy. “No idea,” I said.
“Yesterday,” Lucas said thoughtfully. “Wow, so they gave us, like, a half day over that. That’s mighty generous of them.”
I just looked at him.
“Okay,” Dexter said cheerfully, “so whose job was it to pay the power bill?”
Another silence. Then John Miller said, “Ted?”
“Ted,” Lucas echoed.
“Ted,” Dexter said, reaching over to the phone and yanking it off the hook. He dialed a number, then sat there, drumming his fingers on the table. “Hi, hey, Ted. Dexter. Guess where I am?” He listened for a second. “Nope. The dark. I’m in the dark. Weren’t you supposed to pay the power bill?”