by Matthew Sanborn Smith
The candle blew and Jeff was pissed. More cheap crap that Myrna bought at the discount store. Sure they had to save a buck, but come on. Wouldn’t they save more in the long run by buying better quality stuff? It was one of those forever arguments and it came up so regularly it defined them as a couple.
He scraped out the socket with an old screwdriver. Every time he went through this ritual he thought about his cousin Darren who got killed at six years old when he stuck a piece of wood in the socket. Even protected by metal, Jeff always got a little nervous screwing around with something so deadly.
He popped open the blisterpack and grabbed yet another cheapo candle from the package. “Why bother?” he thought, but did it anyway. He was probably going to have to replace this one in another week. He’d like to go out by himself and buy the good stuff but he couldn’t spare the money from his meager allowance and Myrna held the rest of the money. The cheap-ass candle didn’t even screw into quite right and wax shavings ribboned out from the edges of the socket as if it was a pencil sharpener.
Jeff flicked the switch on the wall and the wick caught, fire throwing a little light on the living room furniture. That was better, even though it wasn’t bright enough to read by. At least Myrna had paid the fire bill this month. Those times when the plasma company lost their patience and cut off flame to the house stuck in his head as the lowest of their many lows. They’d have to run the hot plate on half-used butane batteries, boil a little water and mix it with the tap to bathe. It was like living in the dark ages.
He wanted to run the fireplace to read and warm the place up but figured he’d better save energy. Hell, he could read by the Nelson’s outdoor fire next door. Frickin’ Nelson had a good job, and his wife liked to flaunt it at every turn. Look at the light out there! The damned kids were roasting marshmallows! Next they’d be swilling champagne. Christ, he could run his car for a week on what they were burning out there.
When was Myrna getting home? He went out front and looked up and down the quiet road for her headlights burning orange in the night. She never watched her power indicator and twice last month he had to fill a gallon tank full of fire and bring it to where she was. Irresponsible is what it was. They wasted twice the flame that way. Jeff promised himself that he’d hook the fire hose to the fuel tank just as soon as she got home. Someone had to act like an adult.
He turned back toward the house and his gut went cold. The house was on fire and it was going up fast. Those shitty, cheap candles! Jeff couldn’t bring himself to scream. He clenched his fists and tried to take a deep breath, but the smoke started a coughing fit in him. Stupid show off Nelson ran up with his new cell phone in hand. The can was so small you would hardly notice it if it weren’t for the white string that stretched off seemingly forever, connected to some tower somewhere. It had to be expensive. Nelson was trying to pull the line taught while he yelled Jeff’s address into the can.
“Plasma company’s on it’s way, Jeff. No need to thank me.” Jeff didn’t. Instead he hoped that Myrna wouldn’t come home now. He didn’t want her to see this. She’d blame him, too. They stared at the inferno for a good long while and Nelson clapped him on the back.
“Christ, Jeff,” he said. “Look at the size of those flames! You’re gonna have one hell of bill next month.”