It is a cold and blustery morning in early March as I sit at the kitchen table reading the help wanted ads in the local week end paper. Wrapped in my warmest pajamas, slippers and bathrobe I am still chilled to the very center of my bones. The furnace is out, again. Thank God the girls are away for the weekend, one at an all weekend sleep over, and the other on a school-debating trip, at least they are warm.
Another bill to face, but it can't be avoided. The Service Company has been called and they assure me that, while the regular staff is off for the weekend, they have a part time person on call that they will dispatch as soon as they can reach him. As I look out the kitchen window at the frozen landscape I marvel at how closely it matches my feelings deep in my soul. Barren, lonely and desolate just about covers it.
Sitting back down at the kitchen table and idly reaching for another Marlboro, I begin to again look through the columns of ads for semi skilled and unskilled workers. There has to be sometime, anything that could help augment my income and make ends meet. In many ways I am lucky, two good kids, (about the only good thing that bastard left me) a home, a car, and a job that at least let's me keep close to even. A few extra dollars each month would help though, even if it were just to pay my internet service provider for the cost of connection to my only real world in cyber space.
As I muse, I hear the doorbell of the service entrance off the kitchen. Padding to the door, I find the service technician patiently waiting there with his billed hat in one hand and his toolbox in the other. His clean pressed twill uniform had his company's name neatly embroidered over the left-hand pocket and his name stitched under it, "Donald."
"Is this the residence of a Ms. Denise Maori," he politely asks.
I nod and stand aside so that he can step in out of the cold. As I close the door behind him I hear him say, "I understand that you are having some kind of problem with your central heating unit."
"Yes," I answer, "but I have no idea what the problem is. All I know is that I am frozen."
He reaches down to his feet and takes off his oily boots and stands them neatly by the door in the boot tray and says, "well then, Let's take a look at it, shall we?"
I take him through the kitchen and down the stairs to where the unit is located.
He puts his toolbox on the floor and neatly lays out what he needs and goes to work. I stand in the background and silently fret, wondering how much this is going to cost, and how the Service Company is going to react, in light of the fact that I am already 1 month behind in my account.
After a few minutes he looks up and says, "Ah! Here is the problem, the rheostat is bad."
"How much do they cost?" I blurt out without thinking, the anxiety evident in my voice.
"About $380.00 plus tax and installation, he responds, but before we do that let's see what I can do"? "I just happen to have a broken one in my tool box and I have yours which is not functioning.
I watch as his hands fly. Units are disassembled in a matter of minutes, parts are interchanged, put back together, and a gizmo, is stuck back in the furnace. He presses a button and the furnace starts to hum smoothly.
I have never seen anything like that before. Wait, yes I did, once I was lonely and bored one night and I was flipping through the channels on the cable and I caught a demonstration of soldiers disassembling and assembling their guns blindfolded, in a contest of speed. That is the only comparison I can make.
"Good as new he says" as he puts the furnace back together and his tools back in the box.
I lead him back up the stairs to the kitchen and goe to the counter to get my purse and checkbook.
"How much do I owe you?" I ask with a heavy heart.
"No Charge" is his cherry response.
I am dumbfounded and he immediately sees it in my face.
"Really, no charge. The service call is covered under your basic policy and I was able to make one good part out of two broken parts. I can't charge you for that. Let's call it my own little re-cycling program."
As he begins to put his boots back on at the door she, in a rush of gratitude, blurts out "I don't suppose you would like a cup of coffee, would you?"
He turns to look at me and I sense that he is going to refuse but I blunder on, "Really, it is no problem I'm just going to make my self another cup of instant."
He agrees saying "that is indeed very kind of you, I left home to do this service call with out eating my breakfast and a cup of coffee would be very nice."
As I prepare the coffee he sits at the table letting his eyes wander the room taking everything in.
When I place it in front of him in a chipped mug he is grateful and cradles it in both hands. I notice that they are slim, soft and very, very clean. The nails are manicured and have been buffed. They are not the hands of a burner technician, they are of the hands of, I simply don't know.
"Sugar... Cream?" I ask.
"A little artificial sweetener if you have it, just this way if you don't."
"Sorry," I answer my head dropping a little in embarrassment.
"It's alright," he smiles at my forehead.
For the first time I examine this technician in front of me at the table. He is tall, close to 6 feet, soft gray brush cut hair, gold spectacles, fairly slim build, definitely not skinny, but no extra fat. A wedding ring and an expensive Seiko Gold watch are the only jewelry.
As I sit and casually chat I am amazed at his command of the English language and his knowledge of any and all things. We talk of the weather, sports, local, regional and national, and the local school system. The current job market is covered when he notices to where the paper is opened. We even talk about state politics, of which he seems to have a very strong grasp. They talk of the upcoming election campaign and the chance that the current governor, who has raised many contentious issues, can get reelected. Two hours pass and neither of us has even noticed a minute of it. He has not moved a muscle sitting there with his hands folded, his knees crossed, and looking into her face talking to her.
Finally, he looks at the clock on the wall and says, "This has been very pleasant but I have an important 3 P.M. commitment that I must keep."
I blush and apologize for delaying him and escort him once again to the door, and, as he puts on his boots, he looks up and says, "I couldn't help but notice the fridge, I see that you have children."
"Yes, two girls who are away for the week end." I respond with the pride evident in my tone.
"You're not wearing a wedding ring?" He responds, "but I suppose a lot of ladies don't wear them today."
"No, I am a divorced woman, just trying to make it on my own." I answer with no infliction whatsoever in my voice.
"Ah, I know this will seem out of place but I have enjoyed our conversation and I think you have too. I was wondering, would you consider joining me on an excursion I have planned this afternoon"
I stutter and stammer and immediately he senses that he has made a misstep.
"I am sorry, I really shouldn't have asked, it was very forward of me."
Jesus Christ, my mind screams at mer, where did this guy come from. No man today talks like that. 'Very forward, Good God'. The standard retort to-day is, 'to bad baby don't know what you're missing, more fish in the sea, see ya.'
In a flash of daring that I didn't know I had, I blurts out, "I would love to. When should I be ready and what should I wear."
"Two O'clock would be fine and warm casual clothes would be most appropriate." He waves timidly as he proceeds to his service truck.
As I close the door the misgivings and doubts begin to set in. 'Most appropriate', Jesus Christ, who talks like that to day? I realize that all I know is his first name.
In a brief burst of insight I call the Service Company and ask them if the service man had been dispatched and, when they confirm it, I ask for a brief description. They give it and there is no doubt that it is the same man who just left the house. By this time the company is concerned and adds that he is their most reliable casual worker and they are sure that I will be more than satisfied with him when he arrives.
Well, I think, in for a penny in for a pound, I don't know his last name so I can't even call him to cancel.
As it is already after twelve I tidy the house, have a shower, do my hair and nails and dress. Hiking boots, warm socks, heavy jeans, light blouse and heavy winter sweater go on and 'completing the laying out' I line up Columbia jacket and a matching tam and scarf.
It is the best I can do given the circumstances. At precisely two P.M. the doorbell rings and I answer. There stands Donald or, at least, it should be Donald.
The gentleman is immaculately groomed. Like me, hiking boots, expensive corduroy trousers, a soft green winter sweater over a white turtleneck, a Columbia Jacket that matches the sweater and pants, an a jaunty LL. Bean gentleman's walking hat. No Service uniform is evident.
I smile and turn and lock the door and he gently escorts me down the walk and assists me into the passenger side of an older model expensive luxury sedan. As he proceeds to get in I notice that, while old, it is immaculate and in excellent repair. He starts the car and carefully proceeds down the street and on to the interstate.
.... There is more of this story ...