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Meghan Cox Gurdon: A chatelaine's sang-froid is tested when fridge goes on the fritz

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Local,Meghan Cox Gurdon

"Seriously? Oh, what a pain!"

I had just opened the fridge, and everything was fine. Now, a moment later, the light was out. Maybe it was just that a bulb needed replacing, but the machine felt ominously quiet. I put a hand against the stainless steel door. It was not thrumming, as it should have been.

"Mummy! The power's out!" called a child from the next room.

"This is very odd," I muttered to myself. There had been no wind, no dramatic power surge, no Pepco warnings -- just, pfft, no power. Come to think of it, there hadn't been any pfft, either; just an abrupt disappearance of electricity in the middle of a clear April afternoon.

One of the girls and I went around the ground floor, checking switches, and we discovered something even odder. Some of the lights still worked. It was bewildering.

The teenaged boy sloped into the kitchen. "Guys, what's going on?" he asked, looking asleep and sounding uninterested.

"Something strange and bad," I said, looking harried and sounding frantic. "I'd better check the fuse boxes."

I approached the basement enclosure containing these mysteries with the usual mixture of swagger and apprehension. I knew enough to see whether any of the switches had been bumped out of position, but if they hadn't -- or if all of them had -- what then?

What I saw through the dimness when I swung open the fuse box doors was perplexing to the point of frightening.

Something freaky had swept through the electrical wiring in our house, a force so strong that it had jarred half the switches. It was a crazy pattern: The air conditioning had gone off, so had the kitchen appliances, but the electrical outlets near the stove seemed to be normal.

"Have you figured out the problem?"

It was the teenaged boy, blocking my light. I pushed him back gently and gestured toward the fuse boxes.

"No, I have not," I said. "I don't understand it. Half the fuses have blown."

An image flashed through my mind of an evil foreign power detonating a powerful electromagnetic pulse over the United States, but I shook it away. That was silly; half the lights were still working, after all.

"I wonder what it could be," the boy pursued.

"Well, I --" I was starting to say when it hit me that there was, in his voice, just the tiniest trace of ambiguity.

"Wait a minute, do you -- ?"

"April Fools!" he roared. "Ah, I got you, Mummy! I totally got you!"

It was a matter of minutes before all the electrics were humming again, though I confess it took rather longer for me to regain my sang-froid, my savoir faire, and my je ne sais pas.

That evening my husband and I were having a quiet chat when the 11-year-old came into the room wearing a loving smile and carrying a laden tray. Darling daughter No. 3 had prepared tasty treats!

"I made you a fried egg," she announced, putting the tray down between us. "And I brought you some water with a straw."

"Well, that's sweet of you," said my husband, a little surprised.

"Enjoy!" the child said. She swept out of the room with a giggle and the faintest hint of a snigger.

My husband leaned down and sipped unsuccessfully at the straw. It was blocked. We both regarded the egg. It did not look fried, exactly. It looked like a raw yolk cunningly placed on a pool of yogurt so as to resemble a fried egg. We were living in a fool's paradise, a specific type of fool's paradise. It was the paradise of the --

"April Fool!" The girl leapt back into the room, thrilled with her prank. "Oh, I totally got you!"

Meghan Cox Gurdon's column appears on Sunday and Thursday. She can be contacted at mgurdon@washingtonexaminer.com.

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