A Short Fiction
I didn’t find the disconnection notice until I stopped at the mailbox on my way to work. The return address tucked into the top corner was for our local electric co-op. My name appeared in the clear plastic window on the envelope, but a yellow forwarding notice covered the old address. Puzzled, I tore into the letter.
“What the crap!”
The bill had way too many digits for the cost at my 500 square foot efficiency. The account listed my name, but it wasn’t my home anymore. I recognized the service address all right, it belonged to my ex-husband, Jerry Delain. I tossed the envelope onto the floorboard of the car and tried to dial Jerry’s number while I steered around potholes and prayed a squirrel wouldn’t jump out in front of my car.
“Jerry!” I yelled into the phone, “call me.” I hung up, fuming, and made the twenty- minute drive to Sam’s Shop ‘N Drop, the convenience store where I worked, in less than fifteen minutes.
“You won’t believe what Jerry’s done now,” I said to Trinity, my teenage coworker at the store. Trinity shook her head and the neon pink and electric blue feathers in her earrings fluttered across her cheek. The earrings looked like they could have been either repurposed fishing lures or roach clips.
“What’s up?” Trinity asked.
“He put their electricity in my name. He probably had Brandi call and impersonate me.”
Brandi with an ‘i’ was Jerry’s girlfriend. She signed her name with a smiley face above the i at the end, and her bottle blond hair had roots as dark as her soul.
“I’m gonna run out there on my break, can you handle the register?” I asked.
For answer Trinity propped herself up onto the padded stool behind the counter and took out her phone. I hoped she wasn’t texting her friends to come by and pick up free beer.
I pulled up in front of the mobile home that had been my home two years ago, while I still went by May Delain. Jerry and I were on friendly terms most of the time. I’d moved on and Brandi moved in right after we split up. The house was dark and I didn’t see Jerry’s work truck or Brandi’s Jeep in the drive. The closest street light was fifty feet away, on the corner near Little Debbie and Ed’s place. The hum from an overworked air conditioner called to me from the back of the home. I wondered how they’d come up with the money to get the power turned back on, and whose name would be on the bill.
I aimed the flashlight on my phone toward the electric meter on the back corner of the mobile home. The front of the meter was pried off and someone had wrapped coated wires around the metal posts inside. Another larger wire ran off the meter and to a small wooden shed at the back of the acre lot. When I walked over and put my ear to the door of the shed I heard a faint buzzing sound, as though the space were filled with sleepy bees. I wondered but didn’t want to know what they had in there.
“Dammit Jerry,” I said, staring at the contraption at the meter. I’m no electrician, but the evidence pointed to theft. And my name was on the bill. I slipped my phone into my back pocket, hoping the neighbors hadn’t spotted me poking around. I kicked around in the back yard, trying to locate something I could use to knock out the wires while avoiding electrocution. A half- rotted fence panel came off with a little persuasion, and I stood there a moment, figuring the best angle to whack at the meter. I reared back, winding up and slinging the thing at the wires, releasing it to spin end over end. I jumped back when the board made contact and a fountain of sparks jetted out as the wires popped loose. The line attached to the shed waved back and forth then hung limp, attached by one bare copper thread. I hotfooted to my car and spun out on the gravel as I backed out and headed to the Shop ‘N Drop.
“Any customers while I was gone?” I asked Trinity.
“Nope,” she said, scrolling through her phone screen.
I glanced at the clock behind the register — 10:15 p.m. We’d lock the doors at eleven so I told Trinity to check the restrooms while I cleaned up the roller grill. We might get a last-minute beer run, but if anyone came in looking for a snack this late they’d most likely be stoned and I could convince them to settle for chips or a Ding Dong.
About thirty minutes later Trinity strolled out of the ladies’ room, mop slung over her shoulder, and halted in front of the glass at the front of the store.
“Is that a fire truck?” She pointed with the mop to the black top farm to market road outside, where I spotted flashing red lights about a mile off.
“Either that or an ambulance,” I said as the fire truck, for that’s what it was, blasted the siren while it took the curve in front of the Shop ‘N Drop. Right after that the blue and red strobe of a police car flashed past, accompanied by the “whew whew” of its siren.
“Huh.” I grabbed my keys and told Trinity to take off. I had a bad feeling about that fire truck.
When I got to Jerry’s it looked like the neighborhood had gathered for a fall bonfire in the middle of August. The wooden shed blazed merrily along, puffing out clouds of foul smoke blacker than the night. I sidled up next to Jerry’s neighbor and my friend, Little Debbie.
“What happened?” I asked her. Little Debbie hopped and waved her hands, excited as a kid on the Fourth of July. Her pupils were so dilated she looked like a Japanese Anime character. A loud pop and a gust of hot orange flame shot from the roof of the shed. The volunteer fire department rolled out a thick canvas hose, then discovered the hydrant across the street didn’t work.
“Brandi got home and saw the shed was on fire!” Debbie said. She pointed to a knot of people milling around in the driveway. There was Jerry having a serious conversation with a police officer. Brandi turned and spotted me, standing in the firelit glow of their burning shed. She frowned and I gave her a little wave to be neighborly.
The water truck arrived and Debbie and I moved over to the road to give the firemen room to run up to the truck with the firehose. Besides, the heat from the fire felt like it might raise blisters on my face if I kept standing so close. I stretched and tried to get a glimpse of the inside of the shed as the roof caved in and the sides collapsed with a muffled plop and a bright burst.
“I bet Jerry had that thing stuffed full of empty paint cans and oil rags,” I said as another loud pop sounded from the fire.
“And that ain’t all he had in there!” Debbie laughed and nudged me with her elbow.
I squinted toward the shed. The fire department continued to blast the smoldering pile with water from the hose. I sniffed and caught a hint of melted plastic, charred wood, a caustic chemical smell, and a faint scent like a combination of skunk and swamp water.
“No!” I said, laughing. “No wonder everybody here seems so mellow.”
“You bring any of those hot dogs from the roller grill?” Debbie asked and covered her mouth as she laughed.
The cop and Jerry walked over to the shed and stood there while the firemen raked the charred mess and occasionally dribbled more water on top. At least the fire would have destroyed the evidence of what they had growing in there. I’d hit Jerry up later for the money to cover that electric bill and straighten it out with the co-op. Brandi glared at me and I wanted to tell her it could have been worse for them.
But I bet it really chapped her ass to have to call 911 because their jumped-up electric meter caught their pot shed on fire.