OPINION: Puffft. There it went. The fifth lightbulb in a row, in a single afternoon. I sighed and mentally listed a six-pack of lightbulbs on my imaginary shopping list.
Then, whurrrrr . . . pop. Off went the washing machine. Beep beep went the microwave. I twirled in confusion. What the heck was going on?
'Good morning New Zealand,' Leighton Smith said on the radio. 'There's plenty in the news to talk about today. I'd like to suggest we start with . . .'
A short squeal, a cackle of static and the man with the smooth moves was off the air for good.
In the silence, I stood. My brow furrowed.
The cats looked up at me expectantly, waiting for some "Shetland pony" from the plastic tub of fresh catfood in the fridge. I heard the Samsung stainless steel ice-maker rattle and wheeze, jangle loudly and breathe out like an asthmatic chimney sweep.
Was it the end of the world, like the kids who've watched that stupid apocalypse movie warned us adults about, I wondered. Was it a gremlin in the electrics? Had there been a fault in the street?
I leaned my head out the window to check the neighbours. George Bush from next door waved at me from the comfort of his veranda and sipped his obviously steaming cup of tea. His wife pegged the freshly laundered washing on the line, the cool breeze whipping her floral sundress around her legs and wrapping the bright sheets she was securing around the branches of a budding wisteria.
In the other direction, Sue from down the back sang a song of prayer and opened her electrical garage door ready for the journey to her favourite supermarket. Her husband revved his powertool somewhere in their rambling garden, working hard on some outdoor art he was designing.
Flame-haired Amber on the other side (who hates curtains and blinds, hence we're able to look straight into her house from our deck) chased her cheeky toddler around their sundrenched lounge, both screaming like billy-o. I could hear the Rolling Stones crooning to Angie above the shrieks.
It was obvious that none were concerned about dicky appliances, naughty poltergeists, approaching Armageddon situations or an isolated power shutdown. Then the oven clock flashed twice and fizzled out. I felt pure fear skittle down my spine.
It was time, I thought, priming my quivering fingers. Time to let my fingers do the walking and ring "Him". He'd know what to do. He'd come riding on his white steed and save me from oblivion. He'd fix everything so I didn't need to worry again.
He'd done it before and he'd do it again. I reached for the phone.
Half an hour later, "He" turned into my drive in his white Ford pick-up truck. His name was Scratchy, his body grizzled from more than 40 years' hard labour and his long white beard begging for a trim. He was local, he was available on-call, he was our regular electrician of choice and he was my hero.
When I outlined the problem at hand, Scratchy breathed out a long hissing breath and then pursed his lips. 'I don't need to tell you what those things might mean,' he drawled dramatically as he unloaded his ladder, pausing to clip his toolbelt around his narrow hips.
'It could be something simple, or it could be something bad. That's basically the two scenarios you'll have, ma'am. Sit down in the lounge for your own safety while I check everything out properly.
'Just be prepared for some harrowing news.'
I know what you're wondering. Why would a mature man of at least 60 be called Scratchy? I asked him once and, scratching his beard, he said if he told me, he'd have to kill me afterwards. At the time I wondered whether it was wise to entrust my entire electrical circuitry to him, but he's cheap and character-filled and that's what matters in the end.
I could hear him clucking his way around the house, prodding, poking, adjusting and wiggling. Every now and again he'd say "oh golly" under his breath, or sigh "Jesus Christ" when he had his head engulfed within a cupboard or under the stairs. There was even a "Hail Mary, Mother of Christ" when he checked out my daughter's bedroom light switch.
The rasp of his thick builder's pencil against the dog-eared notebook kept in his breast pocket was audible from the lounge where I sat, hugging my knees to my chest at the prospect of what sounded like some very bad - and very expensive - news.
'Well,' he said rawly when he finally emerged, 'I'm not going to try and explain what's happened, ma'am, suffice it to say that whoever wired your house originally should be lined up against a wall and shot. I can fix most things today, so you're very lucky I got here quickly. But I suggest you give this place a lick of paint and get rid of it ASAP. Preferably sooner.'
I opened my mouth to defend what the real estate agent described (accurately, as it turned out) as "an absolute nightmare", when he earnestly shushed me to silence. 'Will you promise me one thing, ma'am?' At the nod of my head, he said something that will live with me forever.
'Don't ever buy those bloody 'greenie' lightbulbs from the supermarket,' he growled. 'They're shite.'
Three hours later, the washing machine beeped that it was back onboard, primed for eco-wash and keen to readjust for a cold water wash of delicates. The oven clock flashed its re-emergence in the kitchen, and Leighton Smith's finale music filled the air. 'See you tomorrow, and take care,' he farewelled, as always each weekday lunchtime.
I walked around the house turning the lights on and off, and Scratchy took a deep breath. 'You've beaten a bullet this time, ma'am, ' he said, handing me several of his business cards, 'but that luck won't last forever. I'd suggest you put me on speed dial, coz I reckon you might be calling me again soon'.
Then off he roared into the midday sun, on his white steed to rescue some other suburban middle-aged woman from her domestic electrical nightmare. My hero.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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