Here’s the first installment of my own NaNoWriMo; although, I’m changing it to GaBloWriMo (Gabriel’s Blog Writing Month). I can’t help feeling that this is really rough (as it should be since I just wrote it today) and a bit sentimental….or something. The end, most definitely, sucks. But hey, fiction’s not my thing. At least, it never was. And yet, that seems to be what comes out lately. Go figure. Have no fear, I have no intention of writing a short story every day. It just so happens that I woke up to the not-so-happy news that my propane tank was empty and I will, therefore, be very cold for the next couple of days. How that little event sparked this story, I’ll leave you to figure out.
Sara had never been in charge of the propane before. So, it came as a surprise when she woke up to find the thermostat sitting at a cool 54 degrees. What the hell, she thought. She poked the little arrowed button to see what it was set at. 71. She poked it a few more times to bring it up to 73 – nothing. The frost had settled in the middle of the night and Sara looked out her bedroom window at the sparkling whiteness covering the crab apple trees. She reached for a sweater, threw on an old pair of men’s work boots and walked outside to the propane tank.
The frozen grass crunched under her heels and Sara shivered. The propane tank was a hundred feet behind the house and, beyond that, the pond lay rippling gently in the frigid breeze. There were several knobs and a metal line running to the top of the tank. On the very top and in the center was a hinged dome. Sara lifted it and found the gauge. The tank was empty. Shit. She made a mental note of the phone number on the side of the tank and hurried back inside. The woman on the other end of the line didn’t seem amused with Sara’s request to have the tank filled today.
“Unless you’ve already placed an order,” she said, her voice rough and scratchy with too many years of smoking non-filtered Camels, “you’re gonna have to wait.”
“A day, maybe two. And since you let the tank empty out, there’s an additional charge for a leak test.”
“I don’t care, I just need heat out here.”
“Alright,” the woman sighed. “We’ll call you when we can get out there. It’s gonna be six hundred and forty two bucks.”
Sara winced as she hung up the phone. She didn’t know where she was going to find six hundred and forty two dollars. And the Colonel had a vet appointment in an hour. That would cost her at least a hundred. Sara stood silent, the phone still in her hand, looking off into space. Things had been hard lately, and they were getting harder. Mr. Hays at the factory had nearly cried when he told her that things were bad. The economy had hit them hard. People just weren’t buying prefabricated shelves. Sara had worked on the line at Eastern Assembly for three years. Six days a week she stood on her feet for ten hours a day, sliding little plastic bags filled with screws and bolts and nuts – twelve screws, four bolts, four nuts – under the press. She pulled a metal lever sometimes eight or nine hundred times a day, sealing the bags and moving them down the line to be packaged with the pressboard shelves. She learned after a couple of months to wear ear plugs, the hum and clank of the machines, the air compressors sounding off in two minute intervals, was deafening. In three years, she hadn’t made one friend at Eastern Assembly. The noise in the factory was too loud for even casual conversation. And you had to keep a close eye on what you were doing. The pieces had to be counted, the bag had to be properly sealed, the line had to keep moving.
Sara had been out of work for six months. The unemployment checks were barely enough to cover the mortgage and she had borrowed about as much money as she could stand. Those calls to her mother were hard. Sara knew her mother didn’t have the money she gave her every month. She wondered where it came from. And now, the propane. The Colonel nudged Sara’s hand to let her know he needed to go outside. She opened the door, letting more cold air into the already cold house and then headed to the bathroom to take a shower. Sara turned the knobs on the faucet to let the water heat up and turned around to look in the mirror. The years had been good to her, despite the heartache and tragedy that seemed to follow her around like an imprinting baby duck. Her family had been cursed, it had seemed, during most of 1990s with a string of tragic deaths. First her mother’s brother died suddenly and unexpectedly from causes unknown. He’d been a bit of a shady character and, when the coroner came to collect the body and the officials began trying to figure out who he was, the fact that he had seven different aliases tied up getting his body shipped across the country so he could be buried in the family plot. Sara’s mother had had to travel to California and had discovered eighteen shaving kit bags filled with cash in the rafters of his garage. A year later, Sara’s aunt died of breast cancer, another year later and her grandfather died. And then there was the accident.
Sara placed her hand under the tap and felt the cutting sting of the ice cold water slice through her hand. Shit. She’d forgotten that the water heater also ran on propane. She cursed under her breath while she jerked the knobs closed, stomped into the bedroom and braced herself against the cold while she stripped out of her sweatpants and nightshirt and quickly threw on jeans and a sweater. The Colonel’s appointment was in thirty minutes.
The Colonel was a Bloodhound Labrador mix Sara had found wandering on the side of the highway five years ago. He was matted and starving, his ribcage and hipbones protruding unnaturally from his long, lanky body. But even then he was commanding. She had pulled over on impulse, not because she was especially fond of animals or even wanted a dog, but because the Colonel was standing there, regal. His long nose was pointed into the air, his shoulders were broad and firm. He couldn’t have demanded more that she stop if he had been a squadron of Marines in full battle gear blocking the road. When she got out, he came to her immediately, sniffed her over and then hopped past the car’s open door and into the back seat. What choice did she have? She had tried to find a home for him, but no one wanted a starving, full-grown, 140 pound beast. Besides, the Colonel had clearly found his home and didn’t appear to be leaving any time soon.
Sara went outside to start the truck. It was an ’84 GMC pickup on its very last legs and would need a good ten minutes of idle time before it would even consider moving. The Colonel sauntered up and waited patiently for Sara to let the tail gate down. She knew he wouldn’t let her rest until he was in the bed, so she dropped the gate and then hopped into the driver’s seat, praying the truck would start. Sara gave the gas three good pumps before turning the key. The engine sputtered. Sara held the key firmly in place and continued pumping the gas. Slowly, and with extreme trepidation, the engine roared to life. Thank you, Jesus!, Sara shouted at no one in particular. She left the Colonel and the truck idling while she went back inside to finish getting ready.
As Sara packed her purse with her wallet and sunglasses, scrounging around in the bottom of the bag for a pack of cigarettes that wasn’t empty, she glanced over at her desk and noticed the date on the calendar. She stood stock still for just a moment, her gaze fixed on the calendar, not breathing. She had forgotten. Then, just as suddenly as she had been shocked into stillness, Sara startled back, grabbing her purse and a scarf, and lumbering through the door into the cold where the Colonel was waiting for her.
The truck was warm, though sputtering. Sara sat there for a moment, her hands on the wheel. Then she put the truck in reverse and backed out of the driveway. The pine trees lined the road, shimmering in the morning light. Sara stopped where her road met the highway and then crept slowly into the first two lanes. No one was coming. This is where everything happens, she thought. Sara closed her eyes and put the truck in park, straddling two lanes of the highway. She knew the Colonel would understand. Her whole life had been leading up to this moment. She could feel the wide expanse of concrete underneath her, spreading out on both sides like a hard, dark ocean. The wind whipped through Sara’s cracked window. Sara held her arms out, lifted her face to the sun streaming through the windshield and imagined a father building a snowman with his son. The little boy laughs and runs from his father who chases him with a snowball. The little boy laughs and runs into the open and waiting arms of his mother.