The Gas Man

Mom says to hide because the gas man is here. We hide under my bed, my sister and I, and mom hides in the closet. Mom whispers we don’t have money to pay the gas man but we will next month and then we won’t have to hide. She said that last month and the month before and I hid in the kitchen pantry because the gas man knocked at the back door and I had no time to get into my bedroom. I don’t know where my mom and sister hid. I didn’t dare whisper. I didn’t smell gas. At school they made us sniff a piece of paper and said, That’s gas, if you ever smell it call your parents, call the fire department, call Officer Friendly, but whenever the gas man shows up I never smell gas. There is only knocking. A hello? A shadow at the front door and then the shadow sliding strips of shadow through the blinds onto our carpet and tiled floors as the gas man moves toward the back of the house, where the gas is turned on and off. Mom says if the gas man turns off the gas we will be very cold, it’s winter, we won’t be able to cook our food or take hot baths. But she says it’s illegal to turn off the gas in winter, people might freeze to death, especially old people like grandma. But grandma has electric heat, I heard her say so. Her apartment smells like beets in winter, sometimes like burnt hair. Once the gas man said, Sun, sun, open up, and I know the sun is made of gas, but not the gas we use to heat our homes, which is natural gas. Is the sun not natural? Does it need to open up? At school on the piece of paper the gas had a face, it was a face, a head, greenish blue and when you scratched and sniffed the bluish green smelled like nothing else but gas. One time I crawled under my bed with a lighter mom left on the coffee table and spun my thumb against its little metal wheel. The fire wasn’t red or orange like burning leaves in fall, but blue and green like little Mr. Natural Gas at school. It spread like a puddle during a storm, all underneath the mattress of the bed, from my head all the way down to my toes. I remember standing outside in my pajamas while the sirens came, and then it was raining and the bed was wet and smoking in the parking lot dumpster, and the fireman took off his helmet and told me to never ever never play with fire, or I might get burned, my whole family might perish, my mother and my sister both. Under the bed now, the new bed, I just begin to see, my eyes begin to see my sister beside me, her pink and red barrettes in her yellow hair, it’s the middle of the day so even under the bed it’s not too dark, even the gas man could see us, if he really wanted to, if he walked to the window of our bedroom and looked inside. He could even open the window, if he tried, it’s supposed to be locked but I forgot. This morning I opened it because I wanted to see a bird in the lot. I wanted to know why it was still here, up north, in winter. But it’s supposed to be locked. Dad used to visit my sister and me at the window and bring us gifts he would slide through when we cracked it open, but one time he cracked it open wide enough to try to pull me through. Mom didn’t like that game, and now he can’t visit us at all. Mom says to stay under the bed. She says he’s still here. And now we hear the gas man whisper, or maybe talk normal through the back door, I’ll have the money, next month I’ll have the money. Mom says nothing. I want to ask why the gas man would give us money if we owe him money. I want to crawl from under the bed and open my bedroom window, tell the gas man to just come back next month, soon it will be warmer and we know that means he can turn off the gas, but right now it’s cold and using the oven to warm the house is not enough. This time of year even the sun is not enough. Look at the seagulls, even they get cold.

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