Friday, January 8, 2010

Gas Bill



Peter Howard

The fire in Max Henderson’s back yard was thriving and had obviously been doing so for days. The fuel for a backwoods heating system was tough to burn and hard to come by, even in ideal conditions. The work took practice and even a certain amount of skill.

Martin Freedman adjusted his tie and examined the roaring mass. His host leaned on the shovel he seemed to carry everywhere he went and smiled distantly at his own handiwork. A smile seemed constantly stapled to his face in some fashion or another, this time it appeared to resemble a faded fridge magnet.

The grass around the burn pile was blackened by the prolonged heat and a foot long circle of charred earth stood between the nearest blade of glass and the edge of the fire.

‘What’s the point of having a fire on your lawn,’ Martin asked Max.

‘Keeps the gas bill down, isn’t that what you lot keep telling me to do?’

Yes, was the simple answer, but no was more accurate. The company was done sending Max Henderson bills. It had become clear that they were never going to be paid. They’d be happy to just call things even if they could only figure out how Max kept using gas no matter how many times they cut his service off.

The company simply wanted Mr. Henderson to stop, and go away.

‘I think it might work better,’ said Martin letting out the long, hard sigh of a man who explained basic math to people who flunked shoelaces 101, ‘if you put the fire inside the house.’

‘Can’t do that,’ said Max, ‘it would ruin the carpet.’

‘Fireplace?’ suggested Martin.

‘On the fire,’ said Max.

‘How did you burn a fire place?’

‘Haven’t yet, but I’m working on it. You can see it, behind that black lump on the left. It was a beautiful mantel, but it’ll burn.’

Martin rubbed the sides of his head and tried not to insult the man holding a shovel.

‘What else have you put on the fire, Mr. Henderson?’

‘Most things burn,’ said Max.

‘Yes, but something’s are more useful if they don’t!’

‘Well I was doing alright until they stopped sending bills,’ said Max looking hurt, ‘big, thick things they were, good for burning.’

‘Well, we’re not sending you anymore bills,’ said Martin.

‘The lawsuit did for a little while.’

‘Yes,’ said Martin remembering the stacks of legal briefs he had waded through on behalf of the company, ‘I bet it did.’

They watched the fire for a while, each man thinking his own private thoughts.

‘Look, Max, your going to have to find a way of getting that fire,’ he said pointing at the blaze, ‘in there,’ he pointed to the house. Since this didn’t seem to excite Max’s imagination Martin decided to take a different path, ‘they’re talking about further legal action,’ said Martin, ‘stealing gas is a serious crime you know.’

To his surprise this made Max smile broaden.

‘That’s good,’ said Max, ‘I’m running out of fuel.’

Once again Martin decided to play along. A few minutes of conversation with Max Henderson did this to people.

‘A lawsuit it wouldn’t last long enough,’ he said, ‘what you need is a fuel you can readily replace, something useless, something that doesn’t serve a purpose. Not something that might help you out in the long run!’

‘Like the fire place?’

‘Yes, that would be an example of something useful.’

‘And all those bills’ said Max who honestly seemed to be getting the message this time, ‘before they started sending boys like you that is?’

Martin hesitated, ‘I suppose, yes, the bills were worth burning, to you anyway,’ he added.

While Max leaned on his shovel and reflected on this idea, Martin examined the tip of his finger, which had been singed when he pointed at the fire. It was hard to believe a burn pile could get hot enough to singe a fingertip this far away.

‘How do you get it that hot, anyway?’ Martin said trying to wipe away the tingling sensation the heat had left.

‘Practice,’ was Max’s reply as watched the flames lick and spit over the dwindling fuel on the pile. To himself he repeated, ‘something useless, like a gas bill.'

‘I’d estimate that you owed over 12,000 on the meter by now,’ said Martin trying to fill in the silence, ‘you’ve really got to find another way of staying warm.’

Max smiled, ‘You know,’ he said looking Martin up and down with a practiced eye, ‘I think you’re right.’

Fuel for a backwoods heating system is tough to burn and hard to come by. The work took practice and even, some might say, a certain amount of skill. But Max was up to a challenge. He picked up his shovel.


Peter Howard

"I live in Kentucky with my wife, son and a backyard full of animals that aren't mine but won't leave. I have recently had a humor story accepted by The Short Humor Site and even though I am originally from England."

'I wasn't born in the south, but I got here as soon as I could.'