*I don't think this story actually fits any of these categories very neatly....but apparently they can't just be "general fiction" so...*
The Thunderstorm had long since subsided, but the power remained obstinately off as it often did at the McKenzie household, nestled in a quiet valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Monika sat at the kitchen table with a headlamp strapped to her head and her toddler son, Milo, in her lap. Bowls containing the residue of their cereal dinner sat on the table in front of them, pushed toward the center, and the little boy was now drawing with crayons in the glow of his mother’s headlamp, explaining what he was drawing as he went. Monika’s husband, Liam, returned inside with their three dogs: An Irish setter, a vizsla, and a black lab.
“It’s a gorgeous night out there,” Liam announced, wiping his boots on the mat. The dogs clamored into the kitchen, uncertain about the darkness.
“Is it?” Monika asked.
“Yeah. Cleared right up. Nice and cool, beautiful stars. You wouldn’t know a storm’d come through a’tall,” Liam said.
“This headlamp makes me wish we were spelunking,” Monika said, tapping her headlamp.
“Me and all,” Liam laughed, squatting down to rub the black lab’s belly.
“Maybe we should camp out for the night,” Monika suggested, her eyes brightening and posture straightening at her own suggestion. “Might as well, given the circumstances.”
“See, normal folks would say, ‘I wish the power were on, but at least I’ve got me cozy bed,” Liam said as he stood back to his full height.
“Yes, what sad, unimaginative lives normal people must lead,” Monika smiled up at Liam, who stooped over her chair to kiss her.
“Camping?” Milo piped up. His parents chuckled, and Liam said,
“Right, his lordship has spoken. I’ll fetch the tent, you round up the sleeping bags and the offspring.”
“What about snacks?”
“Surely we can come back in here for snacks?”
“I don’t think so. Either we’re camping or we’re staying in here.”
“Oh, I see. It’s all or naught with you, eh?”
“That’s right,” Monika smiled.
“Right, then, you can pick out whatever suits your fancy. Oh, and I’ll grab a book for our Milo,” Liam tousled his son’s hair before bounding up to the attic in search of camping gear. Monika set Milo back in his seat while she cleared the dishes, then she gathered together a tote bag full of chips and snack bars, apples and bananas, a bottle of apple juice for Milo, a bottle of formula for baby Stella, and two Sierra Nevada beers for Liam and herself.
Liam set up the tent while Monika got a fire going in their fire pit, Milo on her knees and baby Stella swaddled in a sling on her chest.
“I’m weirdly excited about this,” Monika said, poking the logs until the flames grew. “It feels like we’re actually on a trip someplace.”
“It’s great, innit? I mean, just look at the sky! I can’t remember the last time it were so clear. And this weather!” Liam spread out his arms. “I can feel the autumn coming, and I am dead excited,” Liam rubbed his hands together and sat on the log next to Monika, taking Milo onto his lap and handing the toddler a marshmallow. He cracked open a beer, took a long gulp, and let out a satisfied sigh.
“We should get out there soon. For real, I mean,” Monika said.
“None of this waiting ‘til the kids get older nonsense. I know we had talked about that, but we’ll always be waiting, then, won’t we? We’ll take ‘em with us, or we’ll leave ‘em with my parents. I mean, they of all people would understand. They used to lug my siblings and me all over kingdom come. I want our kids to grow up in the outdoors, the way we did.”
“Yeah, me and all,” Liam said, smiling to himself. He sipped his beer then said, “Blimey. Didn’t realize power outages brought out the philosopher in ya.”
“Yeah, well,” Monika sighed. “It’s the first time in ages I’ve been away from everything for more than five minutes. And by ‘everything,’ I mainly mean my phone. I left it in the house, you know,” Monika leaned in to Liam and spoke in a whisper, as though divulging a deep secret. Liam drew back and gasped in mock shock.
“Did you hear that, Milo? Mum’s left her phone in the house! Jesus wept!”
“Hey, watch your language around the kiddos,” Monika said.
“Oh, it’s harmless,” Liam said. Milo stood up on Liam’s thighs, steadying himself by clutching his dad’s shirt, giggling as he did so. He stuffed his fist in his mouth and proudly announced,
“Right, okay, that’s my bad,” Liam said to Monika, who was regarding him with raised eyebrows and a cocked head. She laughed and shook her head.
“I’m serious, though. I don’t realize how sucked in I get to social media and all that until I’m forced away from it. Out here I finally had the chance to think,” Monika said. She stuck a marshmallow on the end of a stick and held it over the fire.
“I have to say, I am happy I got to have a childhood without all that. Social media and whatnot,” Liam said.
“You’re hardly addicted now, you luddite,” Monika playfully tapped Liam’s knee with her own. He chuckled, hugging Milo to his chest and resting his chin atop the boy’s head. The embers of the fire illuminated Liam’s face, shadows dancing on his blue eyes, giving his face an otherworldly glow that would always remind Monika of the carefree days of their early courtship, spent on trails, mountains, streams, and valleys, spelunking in caves deep below the earth, or traveling high into the sky in hot air balloons. Adventure in the outdoors was what brought them together, tied up with hot summer nights spent to the soundtrack of a crackling fire and the steady ebb and flow of cicadas singing in the trees. Their first “date” was a drawn-out affair in which they trained for and ran the Marine Corps Marathon together; the marriage proposal came when they summited Mount Kilimanjaro after a five-day trek, Liam worried all the time that he may have misplaced the ring; and the honeymoon involved a cycling trip through Scotland and Liam’s native England. Then the babies came, and all the responsibilities that came along with them, and their adventurous life teetered dangerously close to becoming a thing of the past. As though reading her thoughts, Liam said,
“It is nice to get away, though, innit? Even if it is just the backyard. It’s been a while.”
“It is,” Monika nodded.
She took pleasure in knowing that she didn’t know where her cell phone was at that moment. It was in the house somewhere, and as far as she was concerned, the house may as well have been on another planet. No one could reach her, and the world would keep on spinning. She wouldn’t share this on social media. No status updates, no selfies, no gratuitous and self-serving posts about how she and her family cleverly dealt with the power outage, how wonderful her relationship with her husband was, or how cute and perfect her children were. No one needed to know, any more than they needed to know about the times when Monika dealt with situations poorly, when she and Liam were at each other’s throats, or when her kids were screaming and crying for no reason, and she couldn’t make them happy no matter how hard she tried. It seemed like a no-brainer to keep the negative aspects of their lives private. Once upon a time, it had been a no-brainer to keep the positives private, too. This night was for her little troop, this memory theirs alone. It would not become bait for likes and comments--that would cheapen it all, in a way. Sometimes it seemed to Monika that everyone lived out their lives on the internet, each convinced that he or she deserved a spotlight on them at all times. Self-importance, the need to be seen and heard, the sad reality that most people in the Western World didn’t even make it to their first birthday without their picture winding up on the internet. Babies these days--Monika’s own little ones included--were so accustomed to seeing phones in their parents’ hands, that they probably imagined it was some important part of the adult anatomy.
“We should do this every Friday,” Monika said.
“What, cut the power? I could just not pay the bills if you’d like,” Liam said.
“You’re hilarious,” Monika rolled her eyes. “No, I mean, we should disconnect more often. You know? It’s nice, just the four of us, out here enjoying one another’s company. We should have a screen-free day every week. We could do this, or have a game night, or anything like that.”
“Sounds brilliant,” Liam smiled. Then, noticing that baby Stella was awake, he bent over to plant raspberry kisses on her belly, causing the infant to giggle with delight as her tiny, chubby fingers reached up to grasp her father’s black hair. Monika’s heart swelled, and the privacy of the memory was that much sweeter. All the tensions and frustrations of the past week faded away, locked safely in the background until Monday. For now, this moment was all that existed.
As they snacked on marshmallows and sipped their beer, Monika and Liam discussed potential outings they could take in the near future. Inspired by Monika’s weekly screen-free day, Liam suggested they try to take a trip or an outing at least once a year.
“We’re right spoiled living here, anyway,” he said, nodding at the mountains that surrounded him. “It’s dead easy to go on a hike. Not much in the way of planning would need to be done.”
“True. Hey, maybe tomorrow we can look at the calendar, pick a date that works for both of us, and plan a decent hike. If we find a willing sitter, maybe we could do a few days’ backpacking,” Monika suggested.
“That’d be perfect,” Liam said. They spent a couple of hours discussing some of their favorite hikes, laughing about past experiences, and enjoying one another’s company in a way they hadn’t been able to do in a long time. When the children fell asleep and the fire died out, Monika and Liam went into the tent for the night. Monika knew that, come Monday, the peacefulness of this moment would vanish as though it had never existed. From the moment her alarm would call her forth from slumber at an ungodly hour, she would be swamped with client calls and meetings, law suits and settlements. Then, at home, dishes wouldn't be done, the house would be the special level of messy that only toddlers can achieve, and Liam would say or do something that would inevitably set her off. She promised herself, though, that she would remember the calm of the weekend and, more importantly, she would stick to her promise to do something similar every week, and to escape to the wilderness with Liam for a few days, nothing but backpacks full of essentials.
Snuggled in her sleeping bag, with her two little ones wedged between herself and her husband, she closed her eyes with a smile on her face, thanking the universe for power outages, and for getting back to the basics.