Snow stories: Waiting for PEPCOT
From a Washington Post editor and writer whose suburban home went without power from Saturday afternoon through to mid-afternoon Tuesday, an existential journey into the seemingly eternal wait for the utility to reconnect a family. At the low point, the temperature in Steven Levingston's house dropped to 37 degrees.
WAITING FOR PEPCOT
By Steven Levingston
(with apologies to Samuel Beckett)
Steven and Suzanne seated on the floor of darkened family room in front of dying embers in the fireplace. Steven is trying to take off his boot covered in snow. He pulls at it with both hands, panting. He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again.
STEVEN: Nothing to be done.
SUZANNE: I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying, Suzanne, be reasonable, you haven’t tried everything. And I resumed the struggle.
STEVEN: You’re sure it was this evening?
SUZANNE: (Distracted by a chill) What?
STEVEN: The power.
SUZANNE: He said Saturday. (Pause.) I think.
STEVEN: You think.
SUZANNE: I must have made a note of it. (She fumbles in her pockets, bursting with miscellaneous notes.)
STEVEN: But what Saturday? And is this Saturday? Is it not Sunday? (Pause.) Or Monday? (Pause.) Or Thursday?
STEVEN: Let’s go.
SUZANNE: We can’t.
STEVEN: Why not? (Pause.)
SUZANNE: We’re waiting.
STEVEN: What? (Pause.)
SUZANNE: We’re waiting for Pepcot.
STEVEN: You’re sure he’s coming?
SUZANNE: He didn’t say for sure.
STEVEN: And if he doesn’t come?
SUZANNE: We’ll wait until tomorrow.
STEVEN: And then possibly the day after tomorrow.
STEVEN: And so on.
SUZANNE: The point is –
STEVEN: Until he comes. (Pause. Points.) There’s an icicle. There. In the corner. (Pause.) Let’s go.
SUZANNE: We can’t go.
STEVEN: Why not?
SUZANNE: We’re waiting for Pepcot. My breath. (Pause.) You can see my breath.
(The story continues after the jump.)
STEVEN: What did we ask him for?
SUZANNE: Didn’t you hear?
STEVEN: I wasn’t listening.
SUZANNE: I asked for a prayer.
SUZANNE: To pray for power. (Pause.) For heat. Not much. Just a little heat.
STEVEN: And what did he reply?
SUZANNE: That he’d see.
STEVEN: That he couldn’t promise anything.
SUZANNE: That’d he’d have to think it over.
STEVEN: In the warmth of his home.
SUZANNE: Consult his associates.
STEVEN: His crews.
SUZANNE: His supervisors.
STEVEN: His CEO.
SUZANNE: His bank account.
STEVEN: Before taking a decision.
SUZANNE: It’s the normal thing.
STEVEN: Is it not?
SUZANNE: I think it is. (Shivers.)
STEVEN: I think so too. (Pause.) And we?
SUZANNE: I beg your pardon?
STEVEN: I said, And we?
SUZANNE: I don’t understand.
STEVEN: Where do we come in?
SUZANNE: Come in? (Pause.) Come in? On our hands and knees.
STEVEN: As bad as that?
SUZANNE: Hsst! (They huddle together listening.) I thought it was him!
STEVEN: Just the wind. (Pause.) And the snow.
SUZANNE: And the snow. (Pause.) And the wind. (Pause.)
The lights flicker. A phone answering machine beeps. The lights come up. STEVEN and SUZANNE stare at each other for a moment, then leap into each other’s arms, cheering. They race about, feeling heating vents, flipping on light switches, then bump into POZZO and LUCKY who have appeared on stage. POZZO leads LUCKY, who has a rope round his neck.
STEVEN: (To SUZANNE) Is that him?
POZZO: I present myself: Pozzo.
STEVEN: He said Pepcot.
SUZANNE: You’re not Pepcot?
STEVEN: But we have light!
POZZO: I am Pozzo!
STEVEN: Bozzo … Bozzo …
SUZANNE: Is it Pozzo, or Bozzo, or Pepcot?
POZZO: Who is Pepcot?
POZZO: You took me for Pepcot?
STEVEN: Oh no, not for an instant. (Pause.) But look – (waves hand around room) light.
SUZANNE: (Her hand at the vent.) And heat.
STEVEN: Who needs Pepcot?
SUZANNE: Shh… (Pause.) Nonetheless, our hope – our greatest hope … (Touches vent.) Heat.
STEVEN: (wave of hand around room) And light.
The lights go out. The heating stops. The room falls silent.
POZZO: All subsides. A great calm descends. Listen!
STEVEN: (His head sinks to his shoulders.) We must go on.
SUZANNE: Waiting for Pepcot.
POZZO: Why, it’s very natural, very natural. (Waves his hand around room, indicating the silence.) I myself in your situation, if I had an appointment with Pepkin … Pepket … Pepcot …. anyhow you see who I mean, I’d wait till it was black night before I gave up.
POZZO and LUCKY wander off the stage.
STEVEN: Well, that passed the time.
SUZANNE: It would have passed in any case.
STEVEN: Yes, but not so rapidly. (Pause.) What do we do now?
SUZANNE: I don’t know.
STEVEN: (He slurs his words.) It’s not so bad. (Pause.) Did I slur my words?
SUZANNE: Did you what?
STEVEN: Slur my words.
SUZANNE: Yes. (Pause.)
STEVEN: Hypothermia. It’s a sign. (Pause.) But I’m happy. (Slurring) You must be happy, too, deep down, if only you knew it.
SUZANNE: Happy about what?
STEVEN: Say you are, even it it’s not true.
SUZANNE: What am I to say?
STEVEN: (Slurring) Say, I am happy.
SUZANNE: I am happy.
STEVEN: So am I.
SUZANNE: So am I.
STEVEN: We are happy.
SUZANNE: We are happy. (Silence.) What do we do now, now that we are happy?
STEVEN: Wait for Pepcot.
SUZANNE: So long as one knows.
STEVEN: One can bide one’s time.
SUZANNE: One knows what to expect.
STEVEN: No further need to worry.
SUZANNE: Simply wait.
STEVEN: We’re used to it.
SUZANNE: What are we doing here?
STEVEN: You don’t remember?
STEVEN: No memory?
STEVEN: Hypothermia. It’s a sign. (Pause.) What are we doing here? That is the question. And we are blessed in this – that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Pepcot to come --
SUZANNE: Ah! (Pause.) He didn’t come?
STEVEN: No. (Pause.) But we’re happy.
SUZANNE: I am happy.
STEVEN: I am happy, too. (Shivers.) We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow. (Pause.) Unless Pepcot comes.
SUZANNE: And if he comes?
STEVEN: We’ll be saved. (Pause.) Well, shall we go?
SUZANNE: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.
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| February 11, 2010; 9:42 AM ET
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