You find condom wrappers in the couch while we wait for the power to come back on. It is an old couch, covered in torn, brown faux leather. A drooping, discolored middle section. Pull-out recliners on each end. We purchased it second-hand months earlier and only thought to wipe it down with Clorox, altogether forgetting about the hidden spaces between the cushions and the wooden scaffolding that held it all together.
There were three discarded wrappers altogether, which you tossed onto the floor one by one using plastic gloves, while I kept the dog away, watching through the dim, flickering candlelight.
You were cleaning because you always got in the mood to clean when you felt anxious, even while the winds outside neared 120 miles per hour and all the grocery stores had cleared their shelves of canned food and water jugs over the last few days. A key signal of catastrophe.
“At least they’re only wrappers. Not actually used condoms,” I say.
You use a flashlight to investigate the couch further, but I quietly hope you will stop, wait until later, because I forgot to buy batteries, and the candles would not be much help if the flashlight died and if an emergency required us to manage our way through the wet darkness.
“It is disgusting in here?” you say, irritated that you cannot plug in the vacuum cleaner.
“Where’s the dog?” I ask.
“Right there, next to your feet.”
“Speak,” I tell the dog, to make sure it can hear me.
The dog speaks.
You sit down, push the wrappers away with your sock, and sigh. From the living room, we can hear trees shaking in the wind outside, can hear the bowling-alley crackling of thunder, the heavy smacks of rainfall against the rooftiles and windows. We boarded up as much as we could and decided to avoid the places in the house where we could not.
The news said the flooding would be the most dangerous part of the night, but our area was managing okay. I only realized the presence of the hurricane when we lost power and everything shut off—the TV dangling over a never-used fireplace, then the lights, the air conditioning suddenly holding its breath, and finally the invisible humming drawl of electricity clicking out. But we had stored away some water, some candles, some snacks, and food—everything but the extra batteries that I forgot. Maybe there were more in one of the kitchen drawers. I could check, once you finish with the flashlight.
Periodically, we take turns letting the dog outside to pee, and the weather seems fine under the awning. The wind almost feels good, a refreshing break from the stuffy living room. The dog does not go far, just a few feet into the nearest patch of mud, then stumbles back inside to let one of us rub her paws dry before curling into a ball next to the coffee table.
“Do you think they’ll have to postpone?” you ask.
“Who, the hospital?”
You adjust your cushions again as though searching for more condom wrappers.
“The hurricane. If the hospital gets damaged or if people get hurt, it’ll get too busy for that kind of treatment.”
“The infusion center’s separate from the ER.”
“I know. Unless it floods. I hope it floods.”
“That’s a little harsh.”
“I don’t care. I hope it floods,” you say. “All of it—the hallways and linoleum and dirty bathrooms, too, and the overpriced parking lot and supply closets and security guard stations and elevators and pharmacy shelves and pill bottles and coffee dispensers and waiting rooms and x-rays and blanket ovens and infusion rooms and phlebotomists. I hope it all floods.”
“Maybe we can play a game or something.”
You stop digging through the couch. A scratching noise starts in the corner of the room. I immediately think of ghosts. Ghosts scratching, ghosts whispering, ghosts moving across and between the walls. We had mice at one point, and they also sounded like ghosts. Mouse ghosts, eating crumbs in the carpet, leaving ghost droppings in the pantry.
“Is that a ghost?” I ask for no reason.
“It’s the dog,” you say, “wanting to go outside again.”
I only then notice that the dog had moved positions in the room, left her spot beneath the coffee table by my foot. It is my turn, so I let her outside.
Then, “Is there anything left in that bottle?” you ask.
“Yeah, another glass worth at least.”
You grab it, pour one, and kick out the legs of the couch end.
The world outside begins to grumble, and then it splits. The sound of rain used to calm me, as did the gentleness of thunder in the distance or up the freeway. Now, it irks me, like an engine rattling or a dripping faucet. A nagging feeling that something is going wrong, and you have no way to figure out what in time.
“Are you sure it’s still out there?” I ask when I return to my seat.
“No, she just sat down by your feet again.”
“Not the dog, the world I mean.”
“You’re tipsy,” you say.
“Are you sure?”
“The world, still outside? Yes,” you say, but then you think for a second and go to check, but we had already boarded up the windows, so when you pull the curtain, nothing is there.
You find this extremely funny.
“What?” I say.
“You’re right, look.”
I look. Nothing. You laugh. So I laugh. We sip at the wine, and then fall asleep on the mattress that we’d pulled into the living room, which felt like the safest, least vulnerable place in the house. The next morning, we throw out the condom wrappers that we forgot about the night before. The sun rises, like always, and the wind dies down, and only a few trees fell over on our street. It feels like a victory. One victory before the next.