December 21

National Flashlight Day (Winter Solstice, Northern Hemisphere) 


You remember what it used to be like the day before a predicted snowstorm.  People would rush to grocery stores to stock up on essential items:  toilet paper, bottled water, and batteries for flashlights.

And then the storm wouldn’t hit as predicted.  You’d feel foolish with all that extra water and two-ply paper.  Maybe the next time you wouldn’t bother to rush to an over-crowded store, fight strangers for the last $20 snow shove.

Of course, that’s the time when a storm would actually happen.

Maybe it would even be worse than predicted.   Not just snow or ice or gusting wind, but something man-made added to the mix:  an unnatural thunder cleaving the sky, a chemical dust darkening the heavens.

You manage fine without the shovel.  You use a broom and dustbin to push aside the worst of the snow and ash.

Water is plentiful, but it tastes different each time — no matter how much you boil or try to filter the cloudy liquid.

As for toilet paper:  well, the alternatives are uncomfortable, but you’ve learned to lower your expectations for dignity and hygiene.

The batteries are actually what you miss the most.  In your hemisphere, they used to call today “Flashlight Day,” since it was the shortest day of the year — the day when a limited span of sunlight made flashlights and batteries into essential items.

You long for an even light that doesn’t flicker or give off heat.  You also want batteries to power an old-fashioned radio or portable cassette player — to hear musical instruments again, and the sound of human voices following a melody.

Also nice would be the predictable click of your travel alarm clock, the jerking sweep as its second-hand ticks a rhythmic time; or your small desk fan with its plastic blades buzzing a soothing blanket of white noise.

Such sounds would remind you of a simpler time.   Instead, lacking batteries, the rhythmic clicks and buzzes and music create a desperate symphony only in your memory.  From outside, the actual sounds indicate time moving too fast, slipping away as people scream, begging to be let inside as the sky splits open and ash continues to fall in dark, merciless clumps.