All the Electric Things by Francine Witte

1973, the year Dad tries to give up electricity. The toaster, Mom’s iron, Sissy’s fancy blow dryer. Dad says we’re soft, like butter. Mom says if we’re butter, we’d stain the upholstery. Dad doesn’t laugh. Sissy is upset about the blow dryer. She has class pictures the next day. Mom leans over and whispers she can use it when Dad isn’t home.

We spend hours watching the TV without the TV on. Dad tells us stories about the depression. Sissy says, “yeah, you were all depressed because you didn’t have TV.” Mom wants to smile but says, don’t sass your father and lights the evening candles. “Isn’t this nice now,” Dad says. “All of us in this cozy glow? Don’t we feel like pioneers?” Sissy points out the pioneers are dead and can she go to her room? She says she’s going to send smoke signals to Chad, her new boyfriend and stomps upstairs. Dad moves to get up to go after her. “Give her time,” Mom says, pulling him back.

The next week, Sissy leaves us forever. Only 16, a runaway, but Mom doesn’t call the cops. “No need to get her a record,” she says, “and you just need to give her time. She’ll miss us, the dinners, the evening chats.” Then she tells Dad that we will need at least an hour a day of electricity. She needs to make sure Dad has presentable shirts. That she’s tired of handwashing them in the bathtub and the wrinkles don’t fade by themselves. Dad says it’s all okay, his clothes look fine. Of course, Mom doesn’t tell him about the washing machine she runs while he’s out. It’s important, Dad says that we have to try to be better and Mom agrees but when Sissy sends us a postcard with only the word FREEDOM scrawled across the back, I swear I see a flick of electric passing through my mother’s eyes.

Francine Witte’s books include The Way of the Wind, a novella in flash, Dressed All Wrong for This, and The Theory of Flesh. She lives in NYC.