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The dark at the bottom of the stairway


Sun, Sep 3rd, 2000
Posted in

My wife drove into town to look for some material for a chair that she is going to re-upholster and would be gone for an hour or two and as she was leaving, suggested that I find something useful to do. I sat at my desk and gave the matter some thought. What could I do that could be considered useful but not too strenuous?

I looked at my desk calendar and noticed that next week I was going to call the man to come out and clean our oil furnace. It would cost me about one hundred and fifty dollars for about four hours of work. Well, why couldn’t I clean that oil furnace? There didn’t seem to be all that much to it and besides, I really did need those two silk ties.

I went down to the basement and removed an inspection plate and the front of the furnace. It was in need of cleaning all right. I got out the Shop Vac, that my wife had given to me, and attached the hose and wand and plugged in the cord. Now this machine is one powerful machine. It has amazing suction and when the hose is attached to the exhaust outlet has enough power to blow the leaves off from trees.

I inserted the wand into the opening of the furnace and pushed the button. The vacuum went off with a roar of a jet engine and the room turned black. I couldn’t see anything. It was as though I was at the bottom of one of those black plastic garbage bags and the vacuum roared on. Finally, I was able to locate the off button on the machine and all was quiet ,much as it must have been on November the eleventh at eleven o’clock in France at the end of World War I.

I took off my glasses and when the air cleared a bit, I could see that the walls, the ceiling and the floor of the basement were covered with soot. I walked over to the basement bathroom and looked into the mirror. The face that looked back at me resembled that of a coal miner or Al Jolson. I felt as though I should get down on one knee and sing, “Mammy.”

I made my way upstairs, cleaned my glasses and poured my self a large glass of bourbon. I went out on the front porch and sat down. I took a gulp of whisky and looked at my dog, Sam. Sam looked back at me as though he knew something was amiss but couldn’t figure out what. I was taking another pull on the whiskey when my wife drove in, got out of the car, stepped up on the porch and stopped dead in her tracks. She didn’t say anything at first, she just stood with her mouth open. Sam got up and with his tail between his legs, crawled under the car. I wished that I could join him.

When she recovered from shock, she asked me what I was up to, why was I drinking at two o’clock in the afternoon? I told her that I had just finished cleaning the furnace and that I was tired. She said that she had better go down and have a look. I suggested that that might not be such a good idea. She went anyway.

They used to say that it is always darker before the storm. Well, that is not always the case. They used to say that every cloud has its silver lining; that is not always the case. They used to say that some day we will sit down and laugh at this...I doubt it.

After every great disaster there is usually a brief period of stillness, a certain weariness before things start to move. My wife went to stay with her sister for awhile. I was able to locate a firm that specializes in clean up and reconstruction after floods, earthquakes and mine explosions. They said that for a thousand dollars, they could set things right. Well, they may be able to clean things up but I doubt if much of anything will be set right. I have decided that perhaps I won’t need those silk ties until next year...if there is a next year.

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