He opened the mailbox and smiled. The cardboard box had arrived. He sprinted to the house in a moment. He pulled the drawer open and rattled around the junk drawer looking for scissors. He slammed the drawer shut and looked both ways. She wasn't around. Steve abandoned his search and instead removed a knife from the knife display that hung alongside the sink. He grabbed the biggest, sharpest knife and sliced the box right down the middle. The popping sounds of the packing tape filled the room. He quickly looked to see if anyone heard. He let the magnet reclaim its grasp on the knife as he replaced it.
He opened the box, removed the bubble wrap, the plastic coating and the multitudes of packing beans. There it was: a small solar panel. It only had two panes that were maybe 4 by 8 inches surrounded by black canvas material. Steve dug deep in the box looking for the cord. He plugged the cord into the bottom of the solar panel. Now to find his phone. He slapped his pockets. Nope. Where had he left it? He went room to room. How could he lose something he always had in his hand? It ended up being in the kitchen hidden under the abundance of packing materials. Amazon would always be there to leave a bigger carbon footprint than he could combat using his new solar charger, but he was going to try.
The cord fit perfectly in his phone. He smiled. He was going to change the world one charge at a time. He slid the screen door open and stepped outside. Before his second foot could touch the grass his phone made that beeping sound announcing it was charging. Charging from the sun — not from the local power company.
“Hot damn,” Steve said. “It's working already.” No more contributing to global warming for him. He looked for the perfect spot to set it. By the swing? No. The flowers? No, not direct enough. He saw the bottom of the twenty-foot tree. The sun was pounding that stump. He set the panel down and tilted it directly into the sun. He tucked his phone behind the canvas. He looked at the panel and up to the sun. His eyes instinctively closed. He walked back into the house half-blind, but his spirits lifted. He was not going to be a part of the problem anymore.
He went inside, got on the computer and started checking emails. This meant he ended up checking Facebook. A minute led to an hour while he scanned pointless posts when he found himself squinting. The sun had started to shine through the bay window. When he sat down it wasn't bothering him. You would think the fact that the Earth rotates around the sun would be proof enough that science is real. This made him think he better check something.
He slid the screen door open and walked to the base of the tree. He looked up to the sun, he wasn't blinded. The sun had moved. He looked over to the flower bed. It was their turn to bask in the sunlight. He picked up the panel and started to walk over to the flowers. He forgot his phone was attached to the cord and he pulled his iPhone along the mulch until the cord gave way and unplugged itself from the panel. He didn't notice this until he reached the flower bed. He set down the panel, walked back to the tree, picked up the phone by the cord and walked back to the bed, plugged in the cord, set the phone behind the panel and looked upwards. Blinded by the light. Perfect. He started back toward the house.
It was faint, but he heard the refrains of Fleetwood Mac's “Don't Stop” playing as he stepped away. It was his ringtone. He walked back to the flower bed, pushed the panel aside, grabbed his phone and said, “Hello,” as quickly as possible. The cord stretched as far as it could, but he had to bend over uncomfortably to hear. The phone screen touched his cheek and burned his face.
“Yeow,” he said as he dropped the phone.
The computerized voice continued to talk. “. . . and with your donation we can help bring . . .” He gingerly touched his phone trying to hit the hang-up button with his index finger so as not to burn it as well. After three times, the phone hung up.
He flicked the phone under the panel, positioned everything just right and went inside. He walked up to the bathroom to grab a towel. This time he forgot to look around.
“What are you doing with that?” his wife asked.
“I need to wrap my phone in it. I'm charging it with my new panel, but it's getting really hot. Look at my cheek.”
“Not with that towel you aren't. That's my good towel.”
“This towel? Is your good towel? I have never even seen this towel.” Steve said.
“That is because it isn't for you. It's for when I have book club,” she said like this explained everything.
“We have book club towels?” Had he been younger or in a marriage that was on the newer side, he would have continued this discussion. Instead he looked around the linen closet and found a towel that looked like it had been in there so long that people actually had brought real-life books instead of Kindles to book club.
“Can I use this green one?” he asked.
“The teal one? Yes, and throw it away when you are done. It's hideous.”
“Yes, dear,” he said.
“Now, before you do that, help me load the car with all the recyclables. I want to get those boxes in the Prius” she said.
After his chores, he slid the screen door open and went back to the flower bed. He moved the panel aside and grabbed his phone. It wasn't hot. It also hadn't charged much. He looked up to the sky. That rascal of a sun had moved again. He now looked to the swing. The swing reflected so much light it shined like a mirror. He picked up the panel, the cord, the phone and walked over to the swing. He set down the panel, the cord and the phone in place. He also had to tip the phone up on its side a bit to prop up the panel in just the right way.
And so this became his new daily routine. Wake up, put the panel at the stump. Then move it to the flower bed, then the swing, next align it alongside the garage door, then move it to the brick edge of the bay window and finally bring it inside. He also had to continually go outside to see if he had any missed calls or texts. For Father's Day, his kids gave him a rechargeable battery so that his phone wouldn't have to be outside all day. He still wrapped the battery in the old green or teal towel, depending on if you are a man or a woman. It took dedication, but it worked. He didn't have to charge his phone using electricity for more than a year. Sure it rained now and then, but the battery helped with all that. It was a way to assist the environment. It was a way to believe in the future. It was a small way to help.
When he went to bed that Tuesday night, he was worried, but not overly so. When you live in a bubble, you believe your bubble. He woke up Wednesday morning and turned on the television. There he saw it. A television reality host was actually chosen to be President of the United States. He won Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. He won all the swing states. It was there on the news for the entire world to see. It was real. His bubble burst. He got up and walked to the screen door, sliding it open. He held his panel in one hand with his cord drooping down, flapping along the grass. His other hand was a fist. He walked passed the tree, the flower bed and the swing. He knew exactly where his destination was. He opened the lid of the trashcan and threw the panel in it. The country had spoken. He crumpled the old towel up and tossed it in the can as well. What was the point? He chucked the battery in last and threw it with the most force. His battery just couldn't take any more charge. It was dead. He quit.
Scott Ryan is a writer living in Ohio.