TITLE: The Old Man and The Furnace
By lauren finchum
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House sitting didn’t seem that bad of an idea when Charlie asked me to “watch” his for a week. With his cozy stone front house that graced three acres of snow-covered property, it actually sounded very charming.
A foot and a half of snowfall had made the Oklahoma landscape like a fairyland dusted with confectioner’s sugar, and the clean smell of snow and fireplace smoke was delightful. It even made wheedling a snow shovel on the sidewalk enjoyable.
With the last scoop of wet powder I consented to calling it a day; it was almost dark, and very cold.
I walked back up the freshly cleared walk to a Kelly green front door sporting and holly and red berry wreath. The doorframe was aglow, rimmed with happy colored lights.
I stomped my boots to knock off the snow caked in the treads, and I admired the decorations. I was very glad that Charlie decorated for Christmas early, the lights really set off the snowy night.
Upon entering the foyer, Flippers, Charlie’s Jack Rustle terrier yapped at me as I came in and shook the snow off my coat. I’d never shoveled such a long walk in my life; long driveways and sidewalks seemed to be stables in the country.
The spunky, little dog preformed a back flip—the action that was his namesake—then commenced running around in a circle.
Charlie had told me that when every Flippers was excited he did this ritual, but I have to say, I never believed the dog did it every time . . . ’til now.
“Ok, boy, I know.” I said, rubbing the dog’s tiny head with the hand I ‘d just freed form its mitten.
I laughed as Flipppers share the affection by licking my cheek with his warm tongue. Sad to say I was so cold that this was not just cute, but the warmth was welcoming.
I walk across the shiny Teakwood floor, scattered with woven throw rugs to the kitchen for some food—I was tired and hungry from shoveling all that white stuff.
Charlie’s kitchen was a nice size for a bachelor, and—like most bachelor homes—didn’t quite match the rest of the house. The house was rustic in a debonair way. Like Ernest Hemmingway meets John Denver.
But the kitchen was chrome and faux marble—007 all the way. Charlie even has a rack of martini glasses, even though he didn’t drink martinis. He used them to “add interest” to other drinks he made.
Like his Christmas cranberry fizz. A tangy-sweet and bubbly mix of cranberrie juise and club soda, plus another juice he wouldn’t reveal because it was his “secret”. I figured out a while ago that his secret was a little pomegranate juice and a splash of 7-Up, but haven’t told a soul. Charlie would be devastated if everyone knew his “secret”.
Flippers pleaded to be feed with whimpers and sad looks. With his doggie anime eyes, you’d thought Flippers hadn’t eaten in a week. In reality it had only been an hour.
“Ok, ok.” I laughed, and scooped some kibble in his bowl.
Flippers thanked me by performing a back-flip-with-a-twist combo then going at the food at break neck speed.
While Flippers ate, pushing his bowl around the kitchen with his snout as he gobbled beefy bits, I got out a frying pan and some bacon. Nothing soothed more on a winter night like breakfast for dinner.
But before I could start the bacon frying, there was a knock at the door. I pranced sock footed to the door.
Charlie still hadn’t put in the peephole he bought, so I had to look through the window. I saw a skinny frame, dimly lit by the holiday lights.
I open the door to see that this thin figure was an old man of at least 85 in a wool coat and jeans, but no gloves or hat.
I smiled at him, “Yes?”
“I’m so sorry to bother you on a night like this, but I need some help.” He says, “I live about a mile down the road and my furnace has done broke. Would you happen to know how to fix an old furnace.”
He chuckled, “About 1903. It’s old, but it in good condition . . .well, except right know it won’t work.”
Now, I’m no Ms. Fix-it, but having a childhood home that was restorated Victorian home with original heating, I knew how to fix an archaic heater.
My stomach growled with hunger, but I knew I couldn’t not help the man. He’d walk all this way in the freezing cold.
I smiled, “Well it just so happens you’re in luck. I’m an expert at fixing old furnaces. Just let me get my boots, a hat, and some gloves.” I pulled on my boots, mittens, hat, and coat.
“Here.” I said, handing the old man some of Charlie’s extra gloves and hat, “We don’t want you to catch cold.” I say.
The walk over to the old man’s house was long since he walked so slowly. I couldn’t believe he’d come all this way in the dark cold. When we reached the house I saw why he’d walked. There was no car in sight.
“Do you have a car?” I ask, hoping this man had more winter transportation that just his feet.
“Melony’s got it.” he said with a wave of his feeble hand clothed in Charlie’s leather glove.
We entered the house, which was icy with chill.
“It’s right down these stairs.” He pointed down a dim, musty staircase.
“Ok, I’ll have it on in a jiff.” I said.
After some time I came upstairs.
“Fixed?” asked the old man from his seat in a plaid rocker.
“Yep. Your pilot light was out. I relit it and it’s working just fine. This house’ll be warm and toasty in no time.”
The man just smiled and rocked.
“Can I get you anything else? Some coffee? A sandwich?”
The man shook his head with a gentle smile. After a moment he finally said, “Just that afghan.”
I brought him the fleece blanket, “Take these back to Charlie.” He said, and handed me the gloves and hat.
On the walk back to Charlie’s, I became more aware of a feeling I’d had for a while. Calm, peaceful, almost surreal.
I continued walking ‘til a black Avalon stopped, “Hey, Sheri!” called a voice.
I turned to see another one of Charlie’s neighbors—but this one I recognized. I’d meet him at one of Charlie’s Christmas parties.
“Hi, Philip.” I said, remembering not to call him “Phil” which he hated.
“You need a ride?”
“Yes, that would be nice.”
I got in and Philip turned down the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on his CD player, “Why are you walking in the snow at night?”
I tell him about the old man and his furnace.
“Really? I thought Melony Greer lived alone.” Philip mused.
“Well, the old man had a key and seemed to know his way around.”
“Oh, maybe she had a visiting relative or something.”
I told Philip to drop me off at Charlie’s. After he did, he waved from his car as he pulled out and I enter the warm house.
Three days after Charlie came back form visiting his parents, he called and thanked me for looking after his house and Flippers.
After thanking me, Charlie let me in on a funny story that happen during his visit. Apparently his dad tried to start a fire in the place with the flume closed.
“Oh, the freakiest thing happened.” Charles said, “My neighbor’d been saying her furnace was broken, and called a repair man a few weeks back to fix it. But the guy was backed up. She’d told me she was freezing with only her one fireplace to heat the whole house.
“Well, when I was getting mail today, she stopped while walking her dog and said a few night back she got home late, and her furnace was fixed. Said it was great not to freeze again.”
This sparked my attention, “Does this neighbor live with an old guy in his 80’s. Or have an old dad?”
“No, no older pepole live around here—except the Leary’s, and they’re more like 60’s. And my neighbor’s parent are both dead.”
That’s odd. I thought, and told Charlie that I fixed the furnace.
“Are you sure about the old guy?” Charlie’s voice trance-y with shock.
“Yes, is was an old guy. I’m sure. He walked to your house—said Melony had the car.”
“That’s her, Melony Greer.”
“Well,” I continued, “This man, he told me the furnace was broken and needed to be fixed.”
Charlie laughed, “Ok, that’s just weird. I’m a little creeped. Melony said she was thanking God for answering her prayers. Little did I know it was really you.”
“It may have been God after all.” I said with thought.
“You mean the old man was God?” Charlie chuckled.
I remember that calm peace I felt walking home after fixing the furnace, and smiled.
Charlie took me more sincere when I said, “No, but we are entertaining angels unaware.”
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