Nothing like being woken up in the wee hours of morning by the phone. It's been almost a week since the Wally world incident and Cal really hasn't been home to do much more than shower and change clothes. I asked him flat out if he was moonlighting again and all he gave me was a succinct “no” that didn’t invite further conversation. He would let me shove a cooler of food in his hands but that was all before he was gone again. But this morning was different.
The phone rang and I looked at the caller ID and the clock as I was answering it. "Cal? Is everything ..."
In a deadly serious voice Cal cut me off. "Aria, I need you to listen. There has been some kind of incident at the mouth of the Bay between Anna Maria and Ft. DeSoto. It sounds like it involves something pretty big; they aren't releasing any details yet but I do know I can't get home. The military has everything locked down tight; absolutely no traffic on the roads. The military Aria, do you understand what I’m trying to say?”
“I think so,” I told him immediately remembering some of the conversations we had after the hurricane hit. After the hurricane hit was a vulnerable time and as much misery as our own government has us experiencing, there are still plenty of foreign ones that would like to heap another helping of it on us.
“Good. I want you to stay sharp. You have the go bags we put together in the closet. I don’t want you running into the night – I don’t think you could anyway with as tight and as hard as they are slamming things into place – but if you have to you know what we agreed to.”
“I know.” I was to get to Dorrie’s place and hunker down with them; all pre-arranged at Dorrie’s father’s insistence.
“Good. I’ll …” Then the line went dead.
I stood paralyzed for just a moment, just staring at the phone like it had done it on purpose. I was alone and on my own, and in a way truly for the first time. Someone had always been there to prop me up. Even if they hadn’t been there to hold my hand I knew that they weren’t far away; Daddy, Papa, social services, Daniel, Cal. But Cal’s few words of warning was as good as I was going to get this time and I decided to use the time wisely in case something did happen.
I turned the radio on only to be startled by an emergency broadcast announcement. Instead of “this is a test, this is only a test, if this was blah, blah, blah” they were telling everyone to stay off the roads, to not leave their current shelter, that the public would be informed when the danger had passed. Not very comforting and I wondered how many people were awake at 3 am to hear it.
I turned on the lights and went downstairs to the coat closet and pulled out the back packs that Cal had insisted we put together after the burning of the porch. He called them “go bags” that were in case we had to leave the house really fast for some reason … fire, storm, riot, or just whatever. They were as complete as we could make them. His was much larger and heavier than mine and though I could carry it, I wouldn’t make it far. I had a smaller one, plus an extra baby sling to help carry Feena on my hip, as well as another bag that I could fit around the middle of my front that held a few items just for her. I was already potty training her and she stayed pretty dry during the day but at night time or when she was particularly cranky she continued to need a diaper.
I went to the kitchen and looked to see what would spoil if we lost power or I had to leave it for any length of time. Most of it was fruit and a few things from the garden. There was not much I could do about that but I vowed in the future not to put off any kind of food prep if I could help it. I could make sure that the go canteens were filled and slid into the pocket they belonged in and I also packed a few things that didn’t require cooking that would serve for Feena and I … peanut butter sandwiches, crackers, dried fruit and a few canned meats. And of course I packed two bags of “mushmells.”
I wondered what to do next when I looked down and realized I was still in my night clothes. Up the stairs I went. I changed, grabbed Feena a couple of outfits, got our shoes and socks out and then sat the extra things in or by the go-bags as made the most sense.
I went around the house doing small chores here and there … candles handy, checking to make sure matches and lighters were where they were supposed to be (and fire extinguishers too), checking the batteries on the flashlights, putting heirlooms and/or breakables back into the locking butler’s pantry where our family had always put such things when we went on vacation, trying not to think about everything I would have to leave behind if I had to run. Then the first bit of dawn broke in the eastern sky and I looked out and realized that it was hazy.
I wasn’t sure whether Cal would want me to but since Cal wasn’t here I had to think for myself. I opened the door followed more cautiously by the shutter and stepped outside. It didn’t take but a second to realize that the haze wasn’t haze but smoke; it smelled like a large wildfire but because of the winds were out of the south I wasn’t sure how far away it. It was too coincidental not to have been connected to what Cal had called me about. Then I spied my potted plants and trees.
Feena wouldn’t wake up for another hour. I had my cell phone and I had my little radio. I doubted a wildfire would jump the river but embers could still hurt the tender greenery. I decided to move what I could to the Florida room. The dolly and wheelbarrow went a long way towards speeding up the process but it still took a while. I finished just in time to get some oatmeal and fruit ready for breakfast. Personally I didn’t feel like eating but I forced myself to since I didn’t know when, what, or if I’d be eating later.
On the off chance that we would be without power again I filled all the available containers. The storage batteries that Cal has been bringing home or trading for were fully charged; but to avoid drawing them down any I made sure to use the municipal electrical system that was mercifully still on. I also filled the shower bags that were part of Cal’s camping gear – he’d used them in the travel trailer – and set the bags on the porch to warm.
After I did that – and without any more information coming in about the situation – I tried to imagine what I would need if I were permanently on my own. I was amazed that Cal had actually made it fairly easy on me, on us, and what I need isn’t necessarily anything that I can’t get for myself, at least for the next little while.
It is early November, the weather has cooled off, but is not anywhere approaching cold. That could change at the drop of a hat or go the other way and we could be roasting like it was summer once again. I’ve got a lot of ways to deal with either of those temperature extremes but my primary one is propane. The propane tank is almost eighty percent full because I’ve been drying more produce than canning it as I have been running out of jars. If something happens to the propane – I’m not thinking what could happen just that something could – I can cook on the fireplace inside or on an open fire outside. The multiple fireplaces would also be a way to warm the house. To run the fireplaces I have wood from cleaning up after the hurricane. God had some purpose for those trees after all. Some of the wood is still kind of green but beggars can be choosers.
Water comes from the well. If the utilities go down my first line of defense would be the solar set up. I would have to be careful not to draw any attention but I think I can build something around the well to deaden the noise the pump motor makes. If for some reason the solar doesn’t work then I’ve got the river to pull from for everything but drinking water and even then I know Cal has a few books around the house that talk about how to filter water and then process it to make it potable. I wrote that on my list and I need to make it a priority to figure that part out.
Food I have in plenty for a while. But what if someone tries to take it from us? Or does take it from us? Using an upstairs bedroom isn’t going to be sufficient protection. I remember Papa telling me stories of how people used to hide valuables in their walls and floors or in pits out in the woods. We already hide Cal’s fuel so maybe I could do something similar for some food. I wrote down a note to try and dig a hole in the barn to see how hard it would be to make a little cellar. It couldn’t be deep because of the high water table but if I could get it deep enough, and fix the bottom in some way to keep damp from seeping up, to hold at least a single layer of jars that would be something better than nothing just in case. I need more ideas though, certainly I have to make sure whatever way I store food that it is animal proof.
I continued to go through the list. There were some areas I was weak in – hygiene for myself was a big one as I had been primarily focused on Feena – but if things got so bad as I was imagining personal hygiene might not be at the top of my priority list. In fact, bad hygiene might make me look like every other miserable person out there or keep some types of people at bay. Then again I need to weigh that against how important hygiene is to personal health. It is a lot to think about.
Midmorning the smoke was very heavy, so heavy it was uncomfortable to be outside. And I could tell it wasn’t just greenery burning but also had that acrid back taste of burning tires. By lunch it wasn’t quite as bad and by mid-day, though it was still pretty bad, it wasn’t the black to dark gray smoke, heavy and dirty, but closer to a light gray smoke to a heavy haze whose color is barely definable. It did make dusk appear to come early and I was forced to use a lamp earlier than I had since the winter solstice.
I still have not heard from Cal. I try not to worry and be upset, instead I’m trying to use it as a lesson as to what to do if … more likely when … he isn’t around any longer. Hard way to learn the lesson though.
I wasn’t … and am not … really afraid. I’m more frustrated. There’s been no news and no explanation. All of the radio stations are playing soothing music except when the emergency broadcast noise comes on with the same old message – stay off the street, stay inside, we’ll let you know something when we feel like it. The TV stations are off … or perhaps I should say that satellite and cable TV is off and since it is off it has taken the local stations with it. I have an old TV with “rabbit ears” but it doesn’t pick up anything. I feel like I’m deaf … and alone except for my daughter who is completely dependent on me.
And here it is dark once again. I’m exhausted. I’ve catnapped a few times but now that the light has completely gone from the day it is getting harder and harder to keep my eyes open. Perhaps I’m being foolish but I’ve brought the go-bags up to my room and drug them into the closet. I’ve also brought some water and food up here. I’ve locked and bolted all I could on the house, even the shutters on the upstairs windows that I normally leave open to catch a breeze; I had to do it early in the day anyway to keep the worst of the smoke out of the house. And I’ve also locked and bolted my bedroom door. As soon as I finish this and tuck it away behind the loose floor board in my closet I’m going to join Feena in the closet where she is already asleep on the floor on the pile of blankets I made for her. Then I’m going to close and bolt that door as well. I just need a few hours of sleep then I’ll get up again … just a few hours, that’s all I need.