The Futility Company

by a contributor

Michael Chaney

They rode out star shine early, a flashing yellow fist of power trucks, taking the fight to a warming planet. No batteries in the store, no gas at the station, and downed lines snapping the dance electric on flooded roads.

“They say the rain’s going to sleet up,” said Ray rubbing his hands like a fly.

Mailboxes up to their chins in water spied on them as Timothy shifted into third. This was supposed to be his dream job, what Charlotte demanded for the mouths they had and the one on the way. Coffee seared his lip styrofoam stiff. Charlotte’s scowl from that morning strobed in the lemony afterglow of the hazards. He had nagged her about fumes from the genny.

“We’re gonna be popsicles by the time we get there,” Ray shouted over the engine. Ray’s breath was smoke from a muzzle in the cold, dark cab, driving the main road, searching the horizon for overloads. This was the dream job he kept waking up for beside Charlotte’s dawn-cracking scowl—due penalty for the hope that shimmered his soul to mote the eye of every passing storm.

The world was weather weary and dazed. Tsunamis had tossed the Ohio Valley’s frozen leaves and served them up with stewed tornadoes on the side. Things could not have looked more dire from the cab of a power truck, but all that devastation was going to get what for from Timothy yet on the line, still listening for god’s whisper in those arcing wires and waiting for the sun.

The target repair lay smack in the middle of the red circle of the supervisor’s map—a country road alive with rippers. When they pulled up and saw the electric mayhem with their own eyes, Ray whistled long and slow. Timothy thought of Medusa’s hair. The line cursed them for the halftree that split it, making it flash whip the road. More cursing came from a gaunt man in front of a slanted porch spilling trash.

“You assholes gonna fix it or just fucking stand there making time and a half?”

Ray stepped forward, but Timothy intercepted. “We’ll secure it, sir. Please remain thirty feet away at least for your own safety.”

The man vented more. In the back of the truck by the lift, Ray filled a belt with tools. “Two words,” he muttered to Timothy: “Ram shackle.”

Timothy put on the belt and his rubber gloves. The bucket raised him as slowly as the wizard left Oz. With hot gloves on the line and the pole purring, he could see the flooded banks of the Tuscarawas beyond the bluff, women and children tripping over defeated sandbags risking their crowns to fetch a pail of water.

Ray worked the comms with another crew at the power station. By the time they had exorcised the demon snake out of the line, a woman with an orange five-gallon bucket on her head and four dirt-faced children at her hip had made her way up the bluff. The bucket lift whirred Timothy down to greet her.

“I see you got rid a’that hotwire,” she said.

Timothy nodded. “You folks should be safe now.”

A lanky girl with dyed black hair and a pout to match came for her mother’s bucket of water.

The gaunt man spat on the road near Timothy’s rubber boot. “Power back on?”

“No sir,” said Ray, taking his turn to intercept. “Two kinds a crews out this morning. One for emergencies and one for repairs. We’re the emergency crew.”

“Fuck that. You’re gonna turn my lights back on.”

“Easy does it,” said Timothy. “The repair crew will be here soon.”

“You wanna leave in one piece, you’re gonna turn my goddamn lights back on!”

“Get in the house before you get arrested,” chided the woman.

“This is bullshit,” he growled.

“We’re only following procedures,” Timothy told the woman, her eyes familiar. “We’ll restore power as soon as possible, ma’am.”

The man kicked the dirt. “Procedures, my ass. High and mighty with your jobs. I got procedures, too. Wanna see my procedures?”

Children gathered on the porch.

“I wanna see’em!” Ray barked.

“No we don’t sir, now I suggest you get back in your house. We will restore the power. Please try to remain calm until we do.”

“Let’s get outta here,” said Ray boarding the driver’s side of the cab.

The woman fingered the plaits of her hair. “I can’t stand that man,” she said to Timothy, pausing to let her eyes say something more. “I wish I had—”

Ray tapped the horn.

“I know,” Timothy said to her. “I promise you’ll get power soon.”

Her smile was pretty. He lingered long enough to think so openly, in front of her, and then mounted the cab. In the sentimental projection screen of the side mirror, the happily ever after of their gaze became smaller than frozen orbules of silver rain.

“Serves him right,” Ray said. “These fuckers are so far downgrid they won’t get power for days.”

Timothy sipped cold coffee, picturing Charlotte checking the genny for fumes. The image blurred into the woman back there in the slanted house looking for him sometimes up in the line.

Michael Chaney teaches in the English department at Dartmouth College. He is the author of Fugitive Vision (Indiana Univ. Press, 2008) and the editor of Graphic Subjects: Critical Essays on Autobiography and Graphic Novels (Wisconsin, 2010). His writings have appeared in Molotov Cocktail, Hobo Pancakes, Not One of Us, Gone Lawn and elsewhere. He is currently working on a novel about the absurdities of the pharmaceutical industry.

See Michael’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.