Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

Other Short Stories

Repairs Required

Warm water is seeping out from the underside of the white metal shroud of the boiler. It is running over my right hand and trickling down that arm to the elbow. I can't get the Mole Grips over the connection. Every time I try the bloody things slip. My arms ache from working above my head and the stream of metallic-smelling water is getting hotter.

"Bugger!" Swearing at it, and at my own incompetence, will do but little good, however chastising the thing is cathartic. In frustration I wallop the pipe with the Grips and it responds to such wanton brutality with a satisfying clang.

"You know that Christmas present that Andrew suggested we get for Rachael?" The voice enquires from the kitchen.

Christ – this is not the time to talk about Christmas presents. Now what bloody idiot put the boiler down here, almost on the floor, in the first place?

"Brian, I really need your help with this. Will you please listen to me and stop playing with that boiler."

My neck screams 'rest' at me, rebelling at the effort of holding my head at just the right angle so I can catch a glimpse of the offending piece of brass. Meanwhile, elsewhere, my left foot is toeing its way cautiously around something shallow that it's unexpectedly encountered. This container bears an uncanny resemblance to the cat litter tray.

"I've found just the thing online, but I need you here to sort out the Internet when it screws up on me."

Please, not now. "Oh Fuck!" This latter as the Mole Grips finally recall their given purpose in the Great Scheme of Things and twirl the nut that final half turn necessary for it to part company with its threaded joint.

Much water flows.

It is hot.

"Brian, are you OK with that? Are you coming to help? Are you listening to me?"

I make a wild leap to escape this spouting geyser. My head hits the open access hatch, I try to steady myself but as my weight comes onto my left leg the litter tray – for it is indeed that – slides across the wet floor. The inevitable result is hot water, Mole Grips, cat-shit and me arranged over the utility room floor in the manner of a Paul Klee masterpiece.

I roll onto my belly, wallowing in it, one hand over the end of the gushing pipe, like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke, the other straining for the red-handled wheel-valve. A great stab of hot pain bores into my left palm.

"If we buy her a 12 and it's too small it will spoil the whole of Christmas."

My right hand gropes the valve. Hell, it just won't turn. I force my arm to twist it harder.

"On the other hand if we get a 14 and it's too large she will be mortified that we think she's that fat."

The valve cracks with an unexpected jolt, unbalancing me and yanking my retaining hand from the open-ended pipe. The boiler, having relieved itself of its burden of hot water, now sees its mission in life as being to drench me in a near-freezing deluge.

"So what do you think?"

I spin the valve shut.

"Brian, what should we do? I can't ask the girl, it is supposed to be a surprise present."

I stagger to my feet. My left palm is adorned with a bright red 28mm circle.

"Look, stop faffing about down there and talk to me. Honestly I do wonder sometimes; you really don't care about me do you?"

My jeans are at crisis point with the weight of water. A couple of careless steps and they will be relieved of existing duties to take up alternative residence around my ankles.

"You've never liked Rachael, right from the start. You always thought Andrew should have married Helen."

The place is awash with tepid water and cat faeces. It smells foul. I grab the mop and bucket and start bailing out.

"She's just not good enough for you is she? Just because she doesn't work in the city like Helen did."

Despite my exertions I am starting to shiver. The floor is damp now, rather than wet, and the smell of cat piss is following the lumpier bits of feline excrete down the outside drain.

"Well we can only hope you make it up to her properly this Christmas after that awful business last year. I hold you solely responsible for that, you know."

Warily I re-engage with floor, pipe and Mole Grips. With nothing to lose now I lie flat out on my back. My head is crammed underneath the boiler resting on the slightly smeary floor that is also hard and cold. At last I can see what I'm doing.

"Andrew behaved so well, considering what happened. And poor Rachael, just the memory of it makes me cringe. It's so good of them to come and see us again this year."

Got the bugger. The nut, no longer cross-threaded swarms up its thread like a homing pigeon and waits obediently whilst I apply binding torque with the Mole Grips.

"So probably best to go for the larger size, what do you say?"

I open the valve. There is the satisfying sound of whooshing water and the even more comforting knowledge that the joint is as tight as the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

"I can always hint that it is a little on the large size just in case there is a Good Reason early next year. Oh, Brian, that would be so lovely, wouldn't it?"

With the return of water pressure the boiler, with its distinctive rattle, fires itself noisily into life. Things, including me, should start warming up soon. A good bath, a hair-wash, a change of clothes, and I'll be just fine.

"Well if you don't want me to get it you can bugger off and buy her something else. Just carry on. I won't stop you. I don't see why I should be the only one who does all the work around here. You just don't love me, do you?"

Clipping up the access hatch I stand over the boiler, arms akimbo, triumphant in my conquest of all pipe-like things; just me and my trusty Mole Grips; together we can take on the whole world.

"Brian, what the hell have you been playing at?" says the figure in the doorway "I've never seen such a mess and I don't believe you have listened to a word that I've been saying to you."

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