SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 19: In Which We Turn On The Heat

By Liz McLeod
Still Your House Manager
“OW!” I yelped, as the greasy piece of metal sliced into the palm of my hand, and threw the screwdriver across the room to punctuate my statement.
Miss Carol T. Cat, alerted by my sudden outburst, thumped off her comfortable roost on the ragged old living room chair, where she’d spent the afternoon coiled in quiet contemplation of the eternal majesty of the universe and the virtues of Friskies Turkey With Giblet Gravy, and ambled into the kitchen. Her furry face crinkled into a frown of deep, deep, disapproval.
“What is the meaning of this?” she demanded with a yawn. “If you have injured yourself, see to medical treatment at once. I observe that your wounded hand is the one required for opening cans. There must be no interruption in its availability for this essential purpose.”
“Ahhhh, nertz,” I grumbled, winding my hand in the tail of my sweater to stanch the bleeding. Paper towel’s hard to get these days.  I kicked at the piece of metal in helpless fury, missed, and stumbled  against the kitchen wall, upending a garbage barrel filled with empty bottles, which spewed out on the floor all around me. They say primates are the only creatures capable of laughter, but I swear I saw Miss Carol snicker.
“You appear at poor advantage,” she snorted. “I advise that you ‘pull yourself together’ at once. Wacky slapstick antics are in poor taste in the current environment of global crisis.”
“I’m tryin’ to fix the stove!” I blurted, struggling to hoist my unwanted extra weight to its feet.
“Such tasks are best left to trained professionals,” replied Miss Carol, turning to nip at a gob of dust my fall had sent drifting onto her fur.

“Do I look like somebody who can afford to hire a trained professional for anything right now?” I snapped back. “Besides, the last time I had a repair guy in here he asked if my TV set came from Civil War times.  I don’t need to pay these characters to come in here and make fun of me. I got you for that.”
“I am pleased to be of service,” she snarked, walking over to the dismantled pile of corroded metal that, until an hour ago, was my kitchen stove. “Perhaps if you had not attempted to take it apart,” she suggested, “the stove would not require repair. Possibly you have, once more, served as the architect of your own demise.”
“I didn’t break it,” I fired back. “Well, I did, but not like that. See, there’s this thing inside the oven that senses the temperature, an’ I was tryin’ to cook a pizza in there an’ I knocked it off the hook that it’s ‘sposed to hang on, an’ when I tried to hang it back up, I bent the wire too much an’ it broke off. So th’ thermostat wouldn’t work, an’ when y’turn on th’ oven, it goes up to like 550 degrees.”
“At last,” exulted Miss Carol. “Sufficient warmth! It will make life in this draft-ridden shanty somewhat more bearable.”
“Yeah, well, it’s not so good for cookin’. An’ it turns out to fix it, you gotta buy a whole new thermostat. But before you can order one, you gotta get the part number. An’ before you can do that, you gotta take the stupid stove apart to take the old thermostat out!”
“It is infinitely easier to destroy the works of man,” observed Miss Carol, “than to create them.”
“What?” I muttered, as I applied a tourniquet made from a torn dish towel to my bleeding hand.
“I quote from the works of Will Irwin, muckraking journalist of the early twentieth century,” Miss Carol added with satisfaction. “No doubt you are unfamiliar with his philosophy, given that it rarely appeared on ‘Dubble Bubble’ gum wrappers. In any event, you have obviously succeeded in reducing your kitchen range to scrap metal, which may bring a small sum on the secondary market. Perhaps with the proceeds you might make a down payment on a newer, more efficient food-preparation device. AS you know, I am fond of roast turkey, but the small size of your present oven has for too long precluded the appropriate preparation of such a feast.”
“Oh no,” I declared. “Money’s tight right now. No way I’m gonna go further into debt just so you can eat all the white meat and leave me with the thighs and the neck. I ain’t that dumb.”
“With further effort, I assure you that the goal is within sight.”
“Look, it’s gonna cost me two hundred berries just to get the thermostat for this thing, an’ then I’m gonna have to go thru all the work of puttin’ it in. I don’t need any lip from you. I just sent away for the thermostat on eBay, an’ we’re just gonna sit tight till it gets here.”
“Perhaps,” conceded Miss Carol, “I have been too harsh. I realize that tempers and nerves have worn thin due to the isolation prescribed under the current conditions of pandemic. As a sign of my goodwill, I suggest that perhaps a bracing cup of tea would restore your inner being and fortify you for the challenges ahead. Perhaps you should put the kettle on.”
“Yeah!” I enthused, as my bleeding hand slowed to a weak trickle. “A cuppa tea, that’s the ticket.” I filled the kettle and turned to place it upon the – dismantled and thoroughly pile of scrap metal sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor.
Miss Carol looked up at me with a slow blink of her bright green eyes, turned, and slowly walked away. I could swear I heard her chortle.
I tossed the kettle over my shoulder and heard it crash against a stack of unwashed dishes, and sank muttering into a corner of the pantry.
“Ridiculous fat barrel cat.”
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