Power Failure

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5

Power Failure graphic

Hazel waddled toward the counter and hoisted herself up on a stool.  Dan sat down next to her.  There were no other customers at the counter, and only one couple occupied one of the booths along the window side of the shop.  A blonde woman was seated with her back toward Dan, and a tall, gawky man sat across from her, facing Dan.  The man spoke animatedly to the woman, his impossibly long arms gesturing every which way, at times almost colliding with the woman’s face, and her head bobbed and weaved as if she were a boxer dodging a series of jabs.

“What’ll it be, folks?” a waitress asked, interrupting Dan as he observed the incongruous couple.

“Just coffee,” said Dan.  One of Hazel’s short arms darted out and picked off a menu leaning against a napkin holder.  Her rapid movements surprised him.

She hemmed and hawed and said finally, “Just coffee,” and then just as quickly snapped the menu back in place.

Then she turned to Dan and said, “That tall, slim, handsome man sitting across from that tart looks like Rafer Riley, the man I’m supposed to meet from the Internet.”

Dan took another look at the couple.  It occurred to him that the woman could be Gloria.  She was blonde, too.  But what was she doing with that man?  And handsome?  The guy was weird looking, his face very long and narrow, like a horse, and his eyes were set too wide apart.  His hair grew in splotches, as if he’d had a bad transplant job.  And his thin, curled lips revealed a set of tobacco-stained teeth with unsightly gaps between them.  What would Gloria be doing with that man?

“I’m going to get a closer look at that hunk,” Hazel said, as if reading Dan’s mind.  “He sure looks like Rafer from here.”  She slid off the stool and wobbled down the aisle, paused at the table for a moment, then passed by.  The couple in the booth paid no attention to her.  Hazel then returned to her seat at the counter.

“Nope,” she said, sighing heavily.  “I don’t think it’s him.”

But Dan wasn’t listening.  He studied the couple, trying to imagine how Gloria looked from the rear, when suddenly they both rose from their seats and stepped away from their booth.  The blonde woman turned around, facing Dan.  He gasped in surprise.  It was Gloria!  But she ignored him, after casting a cursory glance his way.  She stared straight ahead and marched down the aisle with the tall, gangly man, matching his awkward stride, right past Dan and Hazel, out of the coffee shop and into the still busy mall.  She looked like an automaton, Dan thought.  Why hadn’t she recognized him?  She was supposed to meet him, not that freakish guy she left with.

“I guess he stood me up,” Hazel said.

Dan nodded absently.  “Me, too,” he said mechanically, still hoping that it hadn’t been Gloria.

“What should we do now, then?” Hazel asked.

“I’m going home,” Dan said, thoroughly deflated.  He reached for his wallet, plucked out a five and placed it on top of the check which the waitress had left on the counter.  “On me,” he said, twisting around on the stool and standing up.  He started toward the door.

“Wait,” Hazel said.  “I can’t walk as fast as you.”

Dan stopped short in surprise, as Hazel hobbled after him.

“Whew,” she said, when she drew abreast, staring at his belly.  “That’s better.”

She had virtually no neck.  No wonder she couldn’t look up and meet his gaze.  He didn’t know what to say.  What did she want?

“Where are you parked?” she asked, catching her breath.  “I hope it’s not too far.”

“Not too far,” Dan said, puzzled.  “Where is your car?”

“I got a ride from my friend,” she said.  “She’ll check back much later, in case I got stood up.”

They passed through the glass doors out into the cold, darkened parking lot.  “Well, I go this way,” Dan said, relieved to be rid of her finally.  “It was nice —”

“If it’s all right with you, I’ll wait here.  I can’t keep up with you,” Hazel said.

What?  Was she expecting a ride from him?  Didn’t she say her friend was coming back?  He must have misunderstood.  Damn, he couldn’t abandon her here.  “All right,” he said.  “I’ll only be a minute or two.”

“Jesus,” he muttered, as he set off for his car.

A minute later he drove up to the entrance and tapped the horn.  Hazel wobbled toward him and opened the front passenger door.  She struggled up onto the seat, groaning and wheezing under the effort.  “Whew!” she said.  “I thought you’d never get here.  So where are we going?”  She slammed the door.

“Er, I’m taking you home,” Dan replied.

“Oh, fine.  I guess it is kind of late.”

Dan waited expectantly, but Hazel said nothing more.  “Um, where do you live?” he asked at last.  He noticed that her legs were so short that her shoes stuck out only inches beyond the edge of the seat.

“Farmer’s Road,” she said, pointing ambiguously this way and that.

“Um, I mean how do we get there?” Dan asked, beginning to lose patience.  He needed to get home, contact Gloria, find out what happened to her.  He still couldn’t believe she was the blonde woman with Ichabod Crane in the coffee shop.

“Oh,” Hazel said.  “Directions.  I get it.”


Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5


Russell H. Krauss served as an actuary for a national life insurance company, the last thirteen years as senior vice president and chief actuary, and then established his own software and actuarial consulting practice. He is now retired and lives in Nampa, Idaho, and maintains a second home in the mountain resort town of McCall, Idaho. He keeps busy writing software, fiction, and commentary.