Short Story: The Meter Man Cometh

The Meter Man Cometh

It was December, and I knew that the shuffling of debt from one credit card to another was getting out of hand. The pile of refusals from companies not wishing to employ me was reaching epic proportions.

It was a cold winter, colder in fact than any I can remember, and I actually had to slither and slide through various types of snow, slush and ice to my hopeless chain of job interviews in the dreadful grey companies of the science park.

At home, economy, was the mot du jour, and though I wasn’t quite back to my college days of eating only brown rice my diet had certainly taken a turn for the worse since I had received my final unemployment cheque in September.

I sat at the coffee table and, took a deep breath and started to open the day’s letters.

Two refusals and an electricity bill.

The bill was lower than expected, a mere 110 euros, which was a relief. I sighed, made myself a cup of tea and sat back down wondering how long I could wait before paying the bill.

It was, I then noticed, only an estimation. Wondering how much the real bill came to I wandered over to the electricity meter and jotted down the actual figures.

The heat rising from the convector heater on the wall below should have given me a warning of the shock to come, but I merely frowned at the figures and reaching for my calculator returned to the sofa.

Only once I had deducted the estimated figure from the actual did my mouth drop.

1,724 extra units… that sounds like a lot, I thought, flipping the bill to find the unit price. I punched the figures into the calculator. 168 euros…. The estimate for the last two months was 168 euros too low, the real bill was 278!

Sipping my tea I reached over and switched the convector to the right off, waking the cat who had been sleeping in front. She stretched lazily.

The I strode through the apartment flicking off other switches, all switches, and with a feeling of growing sickness sat down to see just how cold the apartment would get.

Within half an hour I had to put on a pullover.

Within two my hands were cold and I was cupping them around a fresh cup of tea to keep them warm.

By eight PM I could see from my quilt-wrapped position that ice was forming on inside of the windows.

The cat, discovering me under the new light as a source of warmth had instantly become friendlier than I ever remember her being.

The next morning I awoke with a sore throat from breathing the icy air.

I felt tired and irritable from the constant awakening the various accidental exposures of a foot here, or a hand there, had caused during the night.

With the quilt still wrapped around me I stood holding the kettle as it boiled, and glaring at the spinning wheel of the meter on the wall to my left, and I started to wonder if there wasn’t some way of stopping the damned thing from turning.

After a brief and economical, shower I dressed warmly in a thick ethnic jumper, jeans and ski-socks and returned to stare at the meter, no fairly whizzing around, presumably heating up fresh water after my shower.

I considered smashing the glass. Accidentally. I could phone the electricity board in march and say, “I threw a plate at my boyfriend, and it smashed the meter.”

“Bet they have a service charge for that..” I thought with a sigh.

The cat sat at my feet and made a strange strangled complaint.

“I know.” I told  her. “I’m working on it.”

I leaned against the front of the meter watching it spin, staring at the mechanism as if willpower could stop it from turning, then I gently started to fiddle with the leaded wire seal.

I discovered that by turning the screw holding the cover very gently as far as the wire would allow I could open it nearly a full turn. This in turn created a gap along the edge of the front cover of about a millimetre.

I started to hunt around the apartment for something to slide through the gap.

Hysterical with joy held the strip of negatives up to the feeble grey light coming from outside. On it a vague black image of a sweep of countryside confused me, aand then I remembered. The baking heat of Arizona. How ironic.

Ironic or not, the negative slid perfectly through the gap, curved perfectly of its own accord along the front edge of the cover, inching its way as I wiggled, down then left then right, then down again towards the spinning wheel of death.

Finally it touched the wheel which paused then continued to turn. I gave it a final wiggle and push and Yes! The wheel had stopped.

It was the warmest winter I can remember.

Not outside where the morning frosts made the streets glisten and where white whistling winds cut into your ears like razor blades, but inside my apartment, in the tropical micro-climate of Flat 3b, 27 Gloucester Avenue.

The cat, stretched out luxuriously across a red cushion said it more eloquently than I ever could.

Sure, still no work. Sure, Still eating crap food. But oh boy were we warm.

From time to time I would open a window and the cat would spring onto the window-sill, sniff at the arctic air which which had a strange metallic smell of snow, then spring back down into our winter cocoon.

Friends who dropped in always remarked how warm it was and though I never told them the secret I came to love opening my front door and welcoming grey faced treckers into my winter wonderland.

One Saturday morning my friend Sylvie had just left when there was a knock on the door.

Glancing around the room to see what she had left behind I bounded across the room and threw the door open.

A man in a blue uniform stood before me.

“Electricity company,” he said.

I stared at him.

“I  need to read your meter.”

My stomach moved up somewhere just below my throat. I swallowed.

I glanced at the open door, pictured the meter behind it, my holiday snaps protruding from the top.

I smiled crisply at the man. “One second.” I said, closing the door.

I  grasped the protruding part of the film strip and pulled but it snagged.

I wiggled and pulled.

It started to rip.

I wiggled and eased and pulled and as it finally sheared into two, the end, three photos of Arizona slipped and slid diagonally across the window of the electricity meter.

Sweat prickled on my forehead.

A knock on the door.

I rubbed a hand across my eyes trying to think of a solution, any solution other than appearing before a judge.

“Hold on, erh we have a problem here.” I shouted stupidly.

“Sorry?” the man replied, shouting throught the door, then knocking again.

I walked away from the door, through to the bedroom.

And then it came to me.

I grinned at the audacity of it, then thought, “It’s that or nothing.”

I started to see her, my imaginary sleazy girlfriend. I could see her tear stained face before me. I started to feel angry.

“That?” I shouted. “Who is that? It’s the fucking electricity man…”

I waited for her reply then added, literally shrieking back towards the kitchen.

“Maybe you’d like to fuck him as well… You want me to let him in, see if you fancy him, huh ? What you gonna do, give him a fucking blow job? Is that it? You fucking slut.”

I crept back to the kitchen and behind the door I could hear the meter man cough, and then scurry away.

Slowly I started to breath again.

I pulled a chair in front of the meter and sat down to stare at it, stare at the strip of film negative blocking the window and wait for inspiration to strike.

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