In a hurricane, when you are supposed to keep the bathtub full, when the power is out. You need to bathe as late as possible: what if you're evacuated to the shelter in the high school, have to sleep on the gym floor for four days? What if a main is severed, and even though you're home you cannot bathe for a week? This is not inconceivable. You need to save the bathwater to flush the toilet; you save the flat of bottled water to drink. Your bathtub is full.

At the last possible second -- who knows if the water will go out, or when, or how long it will be until you get anything more thorough than a washcloth -- you get into the shower stall in the other bathroom. It is dark even through the bubbled glass door. The wind whips up outside like a sail, snapping free from one corner. The trees are beginning to bend.

The water heater is winding down. No power means no heat, but it is late August, and North Carolina sustains its own humidity months into the fall. The rain outside is cooling things down, but you are still sweating, a little dazed with the last two days of preparation: constant weather screening, re-stocking emergency supplies at Sam's Club, blocks of ice in the refrigerator, plywood over windows reading "MY BONNIE LIES OVER THE OCEAN" in whorls of black spraypaint.

Hurricane Bonnie. She hit us in 1998.

In the shower, late afternoon, the water starts out tepid. The bathroom blinds are open, for maximum vision; you stand in a strange grey storm-light, vision blurring in layers of water and window and water and wind. You are salty; you have spent the last day racing back and forth, not quite sure if the storm was going to hit, then not sure when. You can smell the salt come off your skin. Your pores are open.

Downstairs, they have finished pulling in the last of the lawn furniture. You can hear them talking about water levels rising in the backyard.

The water runs cooler and cooler; a bolt of lightning flashes in the mirror. You count time until the thunder. It is coming. You watch the cloud reflections chasing themselves, darker and darker. Hurry. Hurry. You have barely rinsed the shampoo out of your hair when the water jumps suddenly, ice cold.

Outside, the sky turns black.

When you have the choice to turn out the light, step into the dark shower of your own volition, it is very different.

Long dark showers with the bathroom window standing open. You can look out at the July outside, that tangible shade of dark blue it gets sometimes, falling soft and warm at nine pm. Maybe there are crickets or cicadas humming; there is always air rushing into the room with you, cooler than the water, but not too cool on your skin. The trees sending in their full green scent, rustling in the breeze. Everything is quiet and calm; you are slow and deliberate, under the layered water. It seems that only the air is moving.

It is night, and you stay underwater as long as possible.

Even an ordinary power outage is different. In a summer thunderstorm, when the lights flicker and the air through the windows is suddenly wet and dense, and the sky rushes sideways in the wind. You light a candle or two, set them on the windowsill. They hover like small warm ghosts through the opaque curtain.

The pitch black shower. No windows, no candles. Nothing but the dark and the water. The dark and the water and various wet hands and skin, because this is the best shower to take with someone else. You are silent; any voice will echo in the closed room. All you want is patter. You are gentle and hesitant, tracing unseen lines. You find each other by each other's warmth.

The loss of sight points you to your other senses. You are a radiant spray of nerve endings, always working. There is always the feeling of water spattering your eyelids in the shower, always the soap sliding its way down your arms, always the clear grapefruit or mint or chamomile scent of your shampoo. In the dark you just notice them more. It is not morning; you do not have to leap forward to get to work on time. You can just feel the water drum into your scalp, feel your hair be swept torrential down your back, feel the knots in your shoulders slowly begin to relax.

Close your eyes. Now open them.

They're really quite a pleasant experience all around, especially if the lights are out due to the electricity cutting out during a winter storm--this means that the house or apartment will very likely get very cold very soon, and there you are with no way to warm up your icy toes. Oh, very well, a fireplace may work if you have the luxury of owning one, but don't tell me that you actually have put wood aside in the case that something like this can happen. Candles and matches are about where people's thinking ends as far as outages are concerned, unless you're one of those depressing survivalists, in which case you really don't need to be reading this anyway, and isn't there some food you need to be out preserving or canning or something?

So. It's past ten in the evening and I'm alone, depressingly and miserably alone, in a rapidly-chilling house with nary a significant other or faithful pet to thoughtfully provide me with body heat. As I begin to think that I can feel my blood congealing in my veins, it hits me--the hot water tank in the basement is gas-powered, right? Before the thought finishes forming in my mind, I'm stripping and tripping as I run up the stairs in the dark and developing goosebumps in more places than I cared to count. Hopping into the shower and closing the door against the faint moonlight that seeps in through the frosted-glass window, I turn on the tap and am rewarded with a bone-chilling blast of ice-water--the other tap is the hot one, idiot--which eventually turns into a downpour of nearly pure steam as I tweak the taps by trial-and-error to my favorite temperature.

Having sight, the sense upon which I most rely, removed from me without being able to regain it at will, but knowing that it will certainly come back soon, makes an ordinary experience exhilarating. I cannot see the soap, but I can certainly smell it and feel it under my hand and sliding slickly over my belly; I become acutely aware of the way my skin is beginning to heat up once again and how the shower stream strikes my skin and, broken apart, turns into a cloud of vapor that insulates me. I close my eyes, even though doing this makes little difference to what I can see, and let the drumming of water on my head peel away the dirt until I forget why time is so important and my fingertips wrinkle with joy.

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