kerosene days


In Maine, you pay for your energy before you use it. The oil truck comes, a guy sticks a hose into the side of your house and pours flammable liquid into a huge tank in your basement.

In the city in Upstate NY where I grew up, you turned a dial and paid the gas bill later.

Maine really does seem like the last frontier. Sometimes my wife and I wonder if our little experiment is at an end. If we should move back to the rest of the country, where people say hello back and don’t try to drive right up your tailpipe in their monster pickups. Where no one would stick a “Superbitch” sticker on her Suburban.

I’ve got a plain white teacup here before me, bought at Pottery Barn in the mall. It’s filled with PG Tips, my favorite brand, a malty blend from the UK. I brew it in a plain white teapot made in Malaysia, bought from an importer in Hopkinton, MA.

The tea and this cup anchor me.

We can’t afford the minimum fifty gallons it takes for the oil guy to come. So I go to the hardware store and buy K1 kerosene, almost the same color as my PG Tips, at five-gallon intervals. I’m always nervous driving home with the blue plastic container in my trunk, sloshing around, needing only one spark to blow me sky high.

Seeing the sun shining but sometimes waiting for the night to come, to burrow under the thrift shop sleeping bag, pull the shades, make another pot of tea.

The end of winter, we hope. My college basketball team was eliminated from the tourney two weeks ago. I’m looking for a new series on Netflix to immerse myself in. Wallets and nerves stretched thin. Cracked skin. Empty gas tanks and empty cupboards. Brokedown cars. Unpaid taxes. Spitting snow, dirty ice. Student loans and car loans and home loans and bad credit. No credit.

A fist bump, coming around the side of my house after dumping the K1 into my tank, my daughter’s friend’s father, also in these times, the kerosene days. We laugh. Five gallons at a time, brother.

Writing in my kitchen, looking out the window into my neighbor’s yard. The yard with the wooden fence falling over, like it was busted through by a runaway car.

The teacup again. Knowing it’s there. When you’re stretched thin, it’s good to be able to take comfort in simple rituals.

Boil water, make tea. It’s enough.


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