Three hard knocks woke Nicole and Evan. She groaned, and he turned over as three more thuds vibrated through the house. “What the hell is that?” she mumbled.
Evan groaned. “I’ll go check. ”
He got out of bed in his T-shirt and boxer shorts in the grey predawn light.
At the door, he recognized the familiar silhouette of Isaiah, who smiled mischievously at Evan’s sleep-rumpled state and walked in.
“I woulda said whatever happened to calling,” Evan grumbled, “but I remembered the phones are out. ”
“Yeah, all moccasin telegraph all the time these days,” Isaiah replied. Evan was already tired of this joke. Izzy fell into the armchair beside the door without taking off his heavy red parka, grey toque, or boots.
“What’s going on?”
“Terry wants everyone in public works over at the band office right away. He pounded at my door just about fifteen minutes ago. My job was to round you up. ”
“It’s Saturday, damn it!”
“Yeah, well, he says it’s an emergency. He’s talking about firing up the generator. No one knows what’s going on with the hydro. ”
The chief calling an emergency meeting on a Saturday morning was serious. Evan snapped awake. “Alright, lemme go get dressed,” he said. “What’s it like outside?”
“Gettin’ colder. ”
Evan quickly returned to the bedroom, where Nicole lay awake in the warm, uneasy darkness. “What’s Izzy want?”
“Gotta go to work,” he replied, as he picked up the jeans from the floor and pulled them on.
“What’s going on?”
“Not totally sure, but Izzy says Terry wants everyone in public works over at the shop. Guess he wants to turn the generator on. ”
“That’s good. The food in the fridge might start to go bad without the power. ”
“Yeah, and it’d be good to put the kids in front of a movie for a break,” he said with a laugh.
He leaned in to kiss his partner and walked back to the front door, where his outside clothes hung on the hook.
Once he was dressed, Evan and Isaiah stepped outside into the cold. A faint pink glow in the east hinted at the sunrise. I guess it’s not that early, Evan thought.
They climbed into Isaiah’s idling truck, and Evan appreciated the warmth of the cab. Isaiah turned up the country music on his truck’s stereo and backed out onto the road.
“First you wake me up to work on a Saturday, then you make me listen to this shit?” Evan said.
“Shut the hell up,” his friend shot back. “This music is about real pain and struggle. It’s our people’s music. ”
Evan rolled his eyes and looked out the window, willing to let the music be a distraction from his worries. He loved his friend like a brother. They’d been through almost everything together — hunts, hardships, and heartaches — but he couldn’t stand Isaiah’s taste in music.
Each house the truck passed was dark. There wouldn’t be much activity in these homes this early on a Saturday anyway, but every unlit window was hard to ignore.
As the late fall sun began to peek over the horizon, its low angle cast tiny shadows behind the bigger chunks of gravel spread across the route. The shallow streams in the deep ditches on either side were frozen solid.
The truck rolled through the village to the outskirts on the other side of town. Black spruce trees closed in around them as they approached the generating station by the shop. The reverberating echo of a slide guitar faded slowly as Isaiah lined his truck up with the six other pickup trucks in front of the high brick building. He smiled as he parked, no doubt amused that he had made Evan endure another country song.
Terry Meegis, the chief, stood near the green front door with Evan’s father, having a smoke. Evan wasn’t surprised to see Dan there. He was head of the band’s public works department and would be instrumental in any decisions that needed to be made.
Evan and Isaiah got out of the truck and approached the two older men. The huge white diesel tanks that loomed over the shop were stained a deep orange by the rising sun. The sky above was brightening into a more comforting azure.
“Mino gizheb niniwag. Aaniish na?” said Terry.
“Morning,” they replied. Evan noticed dark circles under Terry’s eyes. He was only a couple of years older than Dan, but it was obvious that he wasn’t getting much sleep recently. The chief took a drag from his cigarette and ran a hand through his coarse hair. His short hairstyle caused his wiry hair to puff out around his ears and he looked just as he had for as long as Evan could remember, a reassuring constant in band life.
The chief wasted no time. “We don’t know what’s going on with the power. Or the cellphones or the TV. ” He looked at the two young men. Dan had already been briefed, so he stood slightly out of the circle, looking to the sunrise.
“We have no communication with anyone from Hydro,” he continued. “The satellite phone’s not working, and we can’t pick up anything on the other end of the old shortwave radio. Before people start getting worried or acting crazy, we’re gonna fire up the generators. We’ll at least be able to hold them over through the weekend and into next week if we need to. ”
Evan and Isaiah nodded, then looked at each other cautiously. Terry noticed. “Don’t shit your pants,” he said. “We’ve dealt with this before. These things go out all the time. It’s just been a while since all of them were down at the same time. We’ll get the lights on for the weekend and regroup Monday. ”
Then Dan took over. “Tyler, JC, and a couple of the other boys are in there right now,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder into the building. “They’re getting the generators ready to fire up. We were scheduled to test them next week anyways. This is a good chance to do a run-through. ”
Evan breathed out in relief, a bit embarrassed he’d been so worried.
“Joanne is down at the band office getting ready to print off notices,” Terry continued. Tyler’s mom was one of the band administrators. In a small community, family members worked together all the time. Terry and Dan had been friends since childhood, and JC Meegis, who was inside running tests, was Terry’s son.
“We’re going to tell people that we’ve turned the generators on so no one’s food goes bad and so they can get their houses warm. If the power doesn’t come back over the weekend, we’re gonna have a community meeting Monday afternoon at the band office. I brought you guys here because I thought we needed more maintenance done inside before these machines fire up. But it looks like it’s under control. ”
The loud cranking of an engine echoed off the walls of the shop and one of the generators roared into operation.
“So we just need you two to deliver the flyers,” said Terry.
“Fuck, really?” said Isaiah.
“What’s your problem?”
“I don’t wanna go door to door on a Saturday morning. ”
“You just have to drop them off, dumbass. The power’s gonna be on, so it’s not like anyone will be demanding answers from you. ”
“What’s so funny, Tweedle Dum?” prodded the chief.
“Okay then, get your asses to work! We’ll update you later. ”
Evan looked at his father, and Dan gave him an easy smile back.
The sun was up and shining through the dust on the windshield as they drove back east into the heart of the community to pick up the notices from the band office. Songs of heartache and liquor blared again inside the cab. The fingers of Isaiah’s left hand were curling into different positions as it rested on the steering wheel.
“Don’t tell me you’re actually learning this shit?”
“Huh?” Isaiah looked to Evan then down at his fingers, positioned in a C chord on an air guitar. “Oh, yeah, I was just playing along in my mind. ”
“What happened to your taste, man? You used to play the good stuff. ” Evan shook his head.
Isaiah sang along in a nasally twang, as Evan sat back and thought fondly of the heavy metal they’d listened to as teens.
They rolled to a stop in front of the green single-storey building that housed the band office, the school, and the health centre. Evan stepped out of the truck to run in and get the flyers. He pulled the glass front doors open to find Joanne Birch waiting for him at her desk.
“Hold on, just printing them off now,” she said, without looking up from the computer screen. “I guess everything’s working up there?” Her brown hair fell in two tight braids that draped over her black hoodie emblazoned with the rez logo — an outline of three spruce trees on the white, yellow, red, and black background of the four directions circle.
“Seems to be,” he replied. “Everything here working?”
“The computer and the lights are on. All systems go, I guess. ”
“When’s the last time the lights were on in here on a Saturday?”
“Beats me, I ain’t never worked on a Saturday. It’s the band office!”
They chortled and Evan gazed out over the spacious lobby as he waited. Its walls were lined with local art and a birchbark canoe hung from the beams below the skylight.
“You guys staying warm at home?” Evan asked.
“Yeah, Tyler had the furnace going pretty good. Didn’t even notice the power was off until it was time to make breakfast yesterday. ” Tyler, who worked with Evan and Isaiah, was a few years younger than they and still lived at home.
“Right on. I slacked and let ours burn out. ”
“What kinda Nishnaab are you?”
“I know. The kids didn’t seem to mind though. ”
“Well, good thing you can at least put some videos on the TV now. I bet their patience is wearing thin. You’re lucky you got a good kwe at home to raise them right. ”
Evan nodded. His heart fluttered.
Joanne rolled over to the printer, then back over to him, and handed over the stack of sheets. “Alright, here ya go. Have fun!”
As he stepped outside, Evan looked down at the flyer he was to distribute.
COMMUNITY-WIDE POWER OUTAGE
EMERGENCY POWER GENERATION IN EFFECT UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
PLEASE CONSERVE ENERGY WHERE POSSIBLE
USE WOOD STOVES AND FURNACES AS PRIMARY HEAT SOURCES
SAFELY STORE FOOD
NEXT UPDATE MONDAY
HAVE A GOOD WEEKEND
CHIEF AND COUNCIL