The Power Cord by Elaine Ford | music: Insomnia by Madeleine Cocolas

The Power Cord

The first thing Jim Dickert remembers in the morning is that the power cord that came with his new computer is defective. He has to replace it before he can get on the Internet. 

Through the window in the kitchenette he sees it’s a dim day, sky like a dirty blackboard. He can almost feel the tickle of chalk dust in his nose. Chance of rain, the weatherman said yesterday.

Jim swallows his pills a couple at a time with a glass of water. Vitamin E—two gelatin capsules. 1000 milligrams of C in one white tablet. B-Complex—one yellow capsule—it doesn’t say on the label the number of milligrams. Garlic pills to ward off high blood pressure. Denise believes in drinking seven full glasses of water every day. Denise is his wife. He turns on the cold tap and fills the glass and drinks it all without stopping for breath.

He needs bagels, but it’s only Tuesday. His best friend Rog takes him shopping on the weekends now that Jim’s not driving.

From the cupboard next to the sink Jim pulls down a box of shredded wheat with bran. He fills a bowl with the cereal and adds milk. Bran is good for you, high fiber so you won’t get colon cancer. He’d rather have a bagel, but that’s life.

You shouldn’t bolt your food that way, Jim. People who live alone fall into bad habits. I’m surprised you don’t have indigestion all the time. And for heaven’s sake take your elbows off the table. 

When he’s done eating, Jim rolls the liner bag in the cereal box tightly closed and returns the box to the cupboard shelf, rinses the bowl and spoon and puts them in the dishwasher. Since it’s Tuesday, he doesn’t run the machine. He does that on Fridays.

In the living area Jim presses the power button on his new computer. Two weeks ago he pried the components from Styrofoam and assembled them himself. The computer is silent, not even a peep. The monitor’s face stares blankly at the sofa across the room.

He’s certain he followed the instructions in the manual to the letter. Troubleshooting:  Check that the power cord is plugged in and firmly connected to the computer and that the electrical outlet has power. Check that the monitor is turned on. Check the screen’s brightness control and adjust if necessary. He’s done all that, a hundred times. He tried calling the 800 number on the warranty card, but they must take the phone off the hook. Anyway, he’s sure it’s the power cord. What else could it be? 

You’re not concentrating, Jim. It’s not that hard.

Jim’s father took off his glasses and rubbed them with his pocket handkerchief. They were sitting at the dining table in the house on Glenwood Avenue. His father put the glasses back on his face, picked up the pencil and added more figures to those already on the lined yellow pad. 

1+ x + x   + x   + x   . . . 

Numbers and letters fluttered in and out of Jim’s focus. His father handed him the pencil. Jim felt very tired. All he wanted was sleep. What ‘s the matter with you, Jim? His father got purplish in the face, especially his nose, which had giant pores like drill punctures. The algebra book slid off the table and crashed to the floor.

Nine years ago his father put on his checked wool jacket, went into the garage, rolled the door down behind him, started the car engine running. After the next-door neighbor phoned, worried, Jim drove over to Glenwood Avenue and found his father. Dead. All over the house, even in Jim’s old bedroom, were cat feces on the rugs. In the kitchen, stinking bowls of desiccated cat food. Stubborn old man couldn’t cope anymore. Jim dragged the cat by the scruff of its neck out from under his father’s bed and took it yowling to the vet and had it put down.

At the living room window Jim opens the mini-blinds that came with the condo. Dust collects relentlessly on the frail plastic slats. When you try to wipe it off it jumps back on. Static electricity. Wall-to-wall carpeting means static electricity, no way around it.

In the window of the condo across from his is a For Sale sign, been there for more than a year. It’s a two-bedroom unit, though. Harder to re-sell than a one-bedroom like this one.  Jim could get one seventy-five thou tomorrow if he decided to put his place on the market.

No rain yet.

The computer store is out on Route 9. Buses don’t run directly from here to there, you have to change three or four times. He could put the power cord on American Express, but he doesn’t have enough cash to pay for a taxi. 

You can’t drive anymore, Mr. Dickert. Do you understand? The state has suspended your license. You could have killed somebody.

He didn’t go through a red light. It was green. He was trying to find the ATM machine. They’d moved it and made the access road one-way the wrong way. He tried to explain to the judge but the words wouldn’t come out right. She turned away from him and started shuffling through a pile of papers. 

Mommy tied him to the outside faucet with a clothesline.

You kept running into the street, Jim. Mom didn’t want you to get killed.

His sister doesn’t know. She never paid attention. It was a punishment. He was only three. Mean to punish a child that way. He wasn’t a dog.

What are you talking about, Jim? Nobody treated you like a dog. 

Mom couldn’t be bothered to go to Madison Square Garden when he ran there with the team.

She didn’t realize it was that important to you, Jim.

On top of the TV is an old photo of Mom, taken a few months before she died, which he had enlarged. Made the frame himself out of wood he sawed, sanded, stained maple, and polyurethaned. Something is wrong with the glue they sell at Home Depot, though. A corner of the frame keeps splitting open. Again and again he re-glues it and clamps it. Now he sees that another corner has sprung apart. That makes him feel bad. A little sick, almost, like something he ate isn’t agreeing with him.

Denise never had to call a plumber or an electrician. He was able to fix anything that went on the fritz. Anything. She depended on him. You know what? You should have been an engineer, Rog is always saying. The math. He failed Algebra II. That’s why he didn’t become an engineer.

Maybe Rog could take the morning off and drive him to Route 9 to buy a new power cord. On the way back they might pick up some bagels, a box of spaghetti, just a few things to tide him over. He’ll give Rog a call, maybe he hasn’t left for work yet.

You’ve got to stop mooching off people, Jim. Why can’t you make your pension check last all month? You expect Roger to go on furnishing your groceries indefinitely?

Mortgage payment, credit cards, finance charges, maintenance fee, electricity, gas, cable, telephone. Something else. Something big. He can’t recall at the moment exactly what. 

He picks up the telephone receiver from the side table by the sofa.

Sorry, I’m not available to take your call right now. Please leave a message after the beep.

Carefully, so as not to pinch the tricky nerve at the base of his skull, Jim eases into his chair. The leather cushion squeals under him, air trying to escape. When she told him he had to move out of the house, Denise let him take the chair and the matching leather-and-chrome footstool. She redecorated in French Provincial. That’s the reason she gave him the chair. 

He leans back, his hands resting on the utility pouch attached to his belt, his feet on the footstool. He closes his eyes.

They caught you sleeping on the job? How could you screw up that way? What’s the matter with you?

But it wasn’t like that. He had a new supervisor, a woman. For some reason she took a dislike to him, had it in for him. What’s the problem, Mr. Dickert? Shrill, that’s what she was. He started wearing earplugs. After a while he could tune her out even without earplugs. 

This is your third unsatisfactory rating, Mr. Dickert. I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go.

He got a smart lawyer, somebody Rog knew. The bitch had to retire him instead. That fixed her, all right. Pension’s small, but he can live on it. 

What are you going to do about your debts, Jim? What have you decided to do about your debts?

He’s not going to worry about his debts, that’s what he’s decided. His nosy sister can just shut her mouth.

Suddenly it’s afternoon. He can tell by the yammer of the soap opera in the adjoining condo. The walls here are thin. 

It’s the thin walls that let in the grit, the dust and hair that snarl around table legs. Dead leaves and bits of dried mud get tracked in by some kind of inspector who enters the condo when he’s not home. Jim doesn’t like to open the windows on account of the filth that sifts through the screen. Gnats, also. Spider eggs. Spiders hatch out and lurk in the shower stall.

His watch tells him he has missed his favorite program on the Discovery channel. 

You forgot to lock the door. Keep your wits about you.

You left a burner on. You could have burned the building down. You could have killed somebody. 

Shut up. Just shut the hell up.

He lifts himself from the chair and presses the power button on the computer. Of course it won’t work with a defective power cord, but might as well give it one more try. 

In the kitchenette all four burner knobs are safely in the vertical position. Rain is trickling down the window glass.

He unzips his utility pouch, which he ordered from the Brookstone catalog a few years ago. The pouch is black leather, like his chair. Inside, as always, are his Swiss Army knife, miniature emergency tool set, eyeglass cleaner solution, insect repellent, an extra key to the condo. And his wallet. He zips up the pouch and takes his waterproof jacket from the closet by the front door. Then he picks up his car keys from the side table. It’s not going to hurt anybody if he uses the car for this one short trip.


Elaine Ford’s five novels include Ivory Bright and Monkey Bay. Her story collection The American Wife won the 2007 Michigan Literary Fiction Award and was published by University of Michigan Press. New work appears in Chariton Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, and Family Chronicle and is forthcoming in Arkansas Review. Her current project is God’s Red Clay, a novel set in 19th-century Alabama and Mississippi. 

Learn more at


Madeleine Cocolas is an Australian-born, Seattle-based, classically trained composer and musician. She holds a Masters of Music Composition and has been commissioned to write music for dance, film and site-specific works for various galleries. 

During the years 2013 and 2014, Madeleine embarked on her critically acclaimed project ‘Fifty Two Weeks,’ whereby she set out to write a piece of music every week for a year. The piece “Insomnia” was written as her Week Thirty Eight Project. 

 Seattle’s The Stranger has said of her Fifty Two Weeks Project: 

“Straddling the amorphous border between classical, ambient, minimal, and drone music, Cocolas’s 52 pieces offer an amazingly diverse, panoramic trip through sonic realms both welcoming and disorienting …. Chiming bells rub up against oceanic bass drones, skittering drums dance over protean synth washes. Though a sort of beatific, ethereal vibe ties the project together, the pieces run an astounding range of emotions and palettes given the condensed work period.”

Madeleine has released music through the London-based label Bigo & Twigetti and is currently working on her debut album.  For more information, please visit: