Plato was in Walmart's DIY aisle when it went dark. On top of it being December solstice, the outage layered depth into dismay, a tang of damp pine bloomed in his sinuses. A kid squawked as generators kicked in. Aisles rematerialized from sleepy gray vectors. He resumed looking for a toilet tank fill valve.
Coming into Anchorage, he might run into his ex-wife, Jenna. She'd sport that perfume her Amazon guy liked, and pretend they didn't graduate Chugiak High together.
One aisle over, Jenna meandered through health and beauty. Her shirts were always falling off her shoulder; even now her parka seemed perched. She skirted an end display of memory pillows and absorbed the jolt.
She dryly acknowledged her ex: "Code red, person of Walmart."
Plato was disarmed. Had he willed her into view? He hadn't spoken to anyone yet today and hoped his voice wouldn't crack.
“You're looking fancy as ever.”
It did. Her golden-flecked blues scanned him.
Jenna shrugged her coat square. “Fancy?” She rocked back on her mukluks, her red shopping basket in fig-leaf position. She was calculating why he'd be in Anchorage at this time of day. She raised a cuff to her nose and inhaled, stifling a sneeze or avoiding an odor, without taking her eyes away. "I'm looking for a lint trap."
Not long ago, they lived together in a remote village, Whittier. A one-way tunnel goes in on the hour, out on the half-hour. It's mostly closed. There were 196 permanent residents while the marriage lasted, then 195 when Jenna tunneled out.
“Someone started a fire by failing to empty the dryer filter last visit.” She held up a Ziploc with a plastic remnant inside. She intimated their—his—son was a dummy. Jenna said, “You’re doing that thing I hate.”
“Where you rub your neck.”
“Whatever." Plato stopped rubbing his neck. "Two aisles over."
Jenna shifted her shopping basket to one hand. It contained a sixteen-pack of double-As, forty-dollar wrinkle cream, that root-beer lip balm, and a couple eco-friendly bulbs.
“Well, take it easy,” she said, halfway over her shoulder. “Check’s in the mail?”
Plato imagined her on her way home to Amazon man; his eyes returned to the valve display as he replied, "Yeah, you got it."
She and her toilette contrailed off.
Plato made his way to the register, but kept thinking about Jenna. He checked the time. He got in his truck and idled in the dark, synching his timing to Whittier. He felt in the filmy bag for the soft, waxy tesseract of Starburst. He hoped for strawberry but got orange, then lime, then cherry, finally put his Chevy in gear, got to the tunnel, joined the queue.
Waved through, Plato entered the pipe, cruised through its bands of light and dark. Strawberry at last. One of the Chevy headlights flickered.
Energy efficient light bulbs are sad virtue signals. What are they filled with? Neurotoxins? Copper? Mercury. He'd thought about it a lot, and, really, the enemy of the environment isn’t plastics and lightbulbs. It was us, Plato thought. Always dividing in the dark.
A.E. Weisgerber is from Orange, NJ. She is a 2018 Chesapeake Writer, 2017 Frost Place Scholar, 2014 Reynolds Fellow, and Assistant Series Editor for Wigleaf's Top 50. Recent work in Many Loops, DIAGRAM, Smokelong Quarterly, 3:AM Magazine, and The Alaska Star. On Twitter @aeweisgerber or visit neutralspaces.co/aeweisgerber