Power outages are common this time of year. April consists of downpour after downpour, and it’s inevitable that one of the overhead electrical lines will be fried. I don’t know why the engineer designed the lines overhead when this place is flat and bounded by prairie, but I really don’t mind. I almost prefer the darkness in this abandoned house. Whenever a disconnection happens it takes a few days for someone to fix it. Beforehand the dog always knows what’s about to transpire. She can feel the charge in the air and begins squealing hours before the storm. Her warning reminds me to take inventory. If I don’t have enough fish for the week I bike to the lake before the rain can pound hard enough for my tires to resist friction.
I named the dog April. She’s a ninety pound mutt with enough hair to cover a woolly mammoth or two. I found her in winter, alone and carrying pups. She tried her hardest to keep those guys alive.
April hates April. She hates the noise the storms make, the intermittent flashes of light, the prevailing blackness, the way she gets involuntarily wet when she goes outside. Even when the storm ends she spends most of her time beneath the wooden desk in the living room, waiting for the power to come back. Waiting for the familiar sound of the ceiling fan and hum of the radio. I think it’s too quiet for her. Sometimes I strum my guitar and sing just to make noise.
When it’s not raining we’ll walk through the prairie. We usually go when it’s still dark so we can watch the dawn. Visitors say the flat land is mundane, but they haven’t seen the way the sun rises. They haven’t seen the way the moon conceals itself behind a sky so vast it appears infinite. No trees, buildings, or hills to obtrude the vivid orange and magenta that replaces the blackness. The visitors don’t know that when the sun finally peers over the edge of the earth, you can almost see it boiling red. They haven’t seen a world go from black and white to color so precisely.
After the sunrise I let April lead the way. Sometimes she keeps walking through the afternoon until we reach the forest. For hours she hunts squirrels, chipmunks, mice. I usually start a fire and cook April’s kill for a mid-afternoon meal. With the remaining time I fish off a weathered and rotting dock on Silver Lake, collecting for supper and leftovers. When April gets tired of hunting she jumps in the lake and paddles until she’s cool, tearing through the lily pads and discovering twigs to bring to shore. I would jump in with her, but some things are meant to be left alone.
Other days I gather a bouquet of little bluestem and the two of us take a shorter hike to the cemetery. Emily always loved little bluestem. The way its color would contrast against the beige of its surrounding grasses. The way it changed throughout the year—from blue to pink to brown with fuzzy white seeds bursting at the tops. The way people weren’t infatuated with it like they were with the forbs. Emily liked underrated things.
In the evenings I read a library book—sometimes to myself, sometimes out loud to April. I have dozens of library books in this house stacked in piles on the floor. They’re all long overdue and I don’t plan on giving them back. The first thing I ever stole was a book—Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I hated it. Emily loved it, so I tried reading it again. It took four times before it started to resonate with me.
On rare occasions when the sun has long set, I bike into town. April runs along the dirt path for five or six miles before trotting back home. When I finally see the artificial glow of a streetlamp, I park my bike and begin to walk the damp roads. I stroll through the neighborhoods where the houses with square green yards are lined next to each other. Most of the houses are unlit with their residents asleep, but if I’m lucky I hear the occasional human voice. A sharp laugh of a drunk man, a cry of a child who had a nightmare, a whisper from a girl who snuck outside to call her boyfriend.
I always stop outside of Emily’s house to see what has changed. A new family lives there now, but I remember when it was just her brother and her. When I visited the three of us would cook dinner, sing loudly, and dance until the sun came up. Emily had a garden in the backyard. She grew bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, sunflowers, and little bluestem on the perimeter. She never let me help tend the garden—it was her job. Behind her yard was a park with tulip and rose gardens. The trees were mature enough to shade us as we strolled down the brick sidewalk. Emily would point out every bird that she saw.
The second thing I stole was at that park. It was a purse. I didn’t mug a woman or anything. It was just there, left on a bench. If I didn’t do it someone else would. There was only five dollars of cash enclosed, but the success of the endeavor assured me that it was okay. Now there is a bank in place of the park and a playset in place of Emily’s garden, but I can still smell the sunflowers.
I always bike slower on the way home. April greets me in the yard, abundantly more enthusiastic than I am. I know she has been up this whole time, guarding the house and checking for my arrival. She leads me to the shed where I store my bike. The bike was the seventh thing I stole. It had been left on a rack all week, and eventually its abandonment prompted me to cut it free and take it for myself. It gets more use now than it ever would.
After the shed, April dashes into the prairie. Sometimes I follow her and we observe the stars. Their golden hue reflects in April’s eyes and I wonder how they appear so inseparable when in reality they are so isolated.
Emily was the one who showed me Silver Lake. She wanted to swim out to the middle and see the stars. We floated on our backs and stared, and she told me that she loved me. She told me that she wanted me to stop. The stealing prevented us from living a real life with real jobs and a real family. We argued. She got frustrated. She tried to push me, and I pushed back. I didn’t know how strong I was. She was underwater too long before I knew what was happening.
It wasn’t until the eighty-third thing I stole—Emily’s life—that I became forced to establish this lifestyle. A lifestyle of hiding. A lifestyle of running not only as a criminal of the law, but of my own conscience. I force myself to remember Emily every day because it would be unfair if I didn’t.
When a power outage occurs, and April squeals, I light some candles and read Of Mice and Men. If I don’t fall asleep I can read it in one sitting. I think about Lennie, too strong and dumb for his own good. Someone put him out of misery, maybe I need the same remedy. But for now I will watch the sunrise and let April lead the way.