Bout 6 o'clock tonight, I was sitting at the sewing machine, Scott was standing with the remote in his hand, programming the CD player to my direction. "Where'd you get this compilation?" he asks. "I had Tony make it for me," I said. "I asked him for some Gordon Lightfoot, and he--"
The power goes out, abruptly and completely, as if a switch had been flicked. I gasped as the room went dark, and distinctly heard a high-pitched voice squeal from the back yard, "It went off! Go, go!"
I leapt for the patio door, wrenched it open, and got out on the balcony in time to see three pre-teen girls leaping across the drainage ditch and running all-out across the vacant lot for the cul-de-sac behind us. Pink coat, gray sweatshirt, dark skin on the middle one. "Son of a bitch!" I exclaimed, incredulous. I grabbed my sweatshirt, stepped into my shoes, telling him what I'd seen and heard. "Call the rental office, now," I said, and dashed out the door, down to the ground floor and around back.
By the time I get down there, there's nothing to see except a couple of small footprints, in the mud next to the bushes. They're twisted on the balls of the feet, as if the feet had pivoted to run. I wedged in between the bushes and found the fuse box, with the main toggle switch for our building. None of the meters are running. I flipped up the breaker-cover: no lock or anything, heavily coated with cobwebs that had been recently disturbed. It was too dark to read the labels.
Scott's out on the balcony with a flashlight. "I called the office," he said. "They're calling KCP&L. You see anything?" "Drop me the flashlight," I told him.
He did, and I went back to the breaker-box, saw that yes, the switch had been flipped down from ON to OFF. I swept off the cobwebs and shoved it back up. Pop! Electricity makes such a hum, but you don't notice it until it's gone. The heat pump comes back on, and the lights upstairs.
"Holly," Scott calls, low, and I emerge from the bushes. He points. "Is that them?"
I peer through the bare trees and scrub brush. The girls are loitering down the hill, between two houses. I watch them walk up to the side of the duplex, behind the air conditioner, but one of them says something and they run away.
"Go catch 'em," Scott says.
"And do what?" I say. Not that I'm averse to the idea. I once shook the living daylights out of a twelve-year-old skater punk who thought it was cute to bounce herself off the hood of my car, in the movie theater parking lot.
"Tell 'em you've seen 'em. Scare 'em a bit."
Sounded good to me. I put up the hood of my sweatshirt and took off across the ditch, down the hill. I trotted around the side of the house to come on them at an angle. Sure enough, they emerged around the side of the house just as I was approaching it. They startled, but not guiltily. I am a smallish, nice-looking woman, after all. Not threatening.
"Which one of you is Maria?" I said, to get their attention.
They look at each other, confused. "None of us," the littlest one says, after a pause. She's maybe eight, Mediterranian-looking. The ten-year-old is black. The oldest is maybe twelve, with straight brown hair.
"Don't--" I say, and hold up the flashlight. They look at it, nervously. "--mess with the breaker boxes." Their faces slacken with surprise. "I saw you running away. I've seen your faces. I know where you live. If it happens again, I will send the police to find you." I make deliberate eye contact with each of them. Their eyes are looking misty and scared, none of the defiance I expected. "Do you understand?"
"Yes," they answer in unison.
"Now go home," I say, and stalk off up the hill.
I found out, shortly, that they'd turned off the power in at least three buildings. Pat the maintenance man came around not long after, and turned on the building next to us. I gave him a good scare when he saw me emerging out of the dusk. I told him what had happened, then repeated the story thirty minutes later when the P&L guy showed up.
It's kind of funny, now. I mean I can see how a kid would find it funny. Basically a harmless joke, just alarming. But it still disturbs me. Why do that to people you don't even know, just to cause trouble? I've always found that discourtesy, that disregard for other people's feelings, alarming. It's the root of all the world's problems, really.
But I did enjoy throwing my weight around. I was always in awe of the way my father could terrify the neighborhood kids without raising his voice. Apparently I inherited his technique.
Dang kids. I guess this means I am officially a grown-up, now.