“I can’t believe we’re arguing about this!” Brad Sutton cried. “You said you understood and wouldn’t do it again!”
He and his wife Margaret were standing in the kitchen. It was six-fifteen in the morning. He was wearing a robe, she in her pajamas. Coffee audibly dripped into the large glass pot.
“Please, please, please don’t preset the coffee maker to switch on at 6 a.m.,” Brad vehemently added.
“Give it a break. Will you give it a break?” Margaret wearily returned.
As if not hearing her, Brad said, “I told you: I have the strangest notion something bad will happen, and it’s directly related to our Deluxe Programmable Get-Beaned Coffee Machine.”
Margaret was in no mood for her husband’s anal antics this morning, and delivered a caustic rejoinder:
“Sorry to burst your warped bubble, but contrary to your deluded mindset, you’re not a freakin’ psychic.”
Brad thrust his hands on his hips. “I’ll have you know that I tested 97 on the Wright Psychic Inventory.”
Margaret rolled her eyes. “You’re obsessed with scales and numbers. That’s why you’re an accountant.”
“The Wright Psychic Inventory is a valid instrument!”
Margaret waved off his remark, and said, “The truth is, I bought that newfangled coffee maker so I could awaken to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafting through the house. Remember? So you’ll just have to live with my preprogramming it at bedtime.”
Brad glowered at her. “Do it again, and I’ll divorce you.”
“Please. I lost count how many times you threatened to divorce me in the last ten years.”
“This time I’m serious.”
“That’s what you said last time.”
“I mean it, Margaret. I’ll divorce you for real.”
She closed her eyes, then opened them. “Pray tell me, what do you possibly think is going to happen?”
Brad puffed, brushed back his longish hair. “Something bad. Something catastrophic.”
He swallowed. “I don’t want to verbalize it.”
“I told you: I don’t want to say it aloud.”
She paused. “Can you whisper it?”
“Please stop mocking me.”
“I’m not, Brad. You’ve piqued my curiosity. For real.”
He stared at her. His chest rose and fell rapidly. Tiny beads of perspiration were visible on his brow.
“I thought you were being oppositional as usual, picking arguments just to entertain yourself, but I perceive how frightened and anxious you are.”
“Forgive me for being so difficult,” Margaret said, “but I still want to know what you think is going to happen.”
At last, Brad said, “I’m afraid if I verbalize it, it will go out into the universe, and it will set tragic events in motion.”
Margaret softly retorted, “As ridiculous as that notion sounds, I will entertain it, since you’re palpably upset.”
“I am. I am upset,” Brad quietly confirmed.
Margret said, “Okay, what if you whisper what you fear in my ear, so the all-hearing universe won’t kick it into effect.”
Brad thoughtfully worked his lips.
“Will that work for you?”
Brad emptied his lungs. Paused. Then, he walked tentatively up to his wife, and, through cupped hands, whispered in her ear, “I’m afraid if you preset the coffee maker, it’ll short out, and catch fire, and burn down our house.”
Margaret vacantly stared at him.
“You have nothing to say?”
“I understand,” Margaret intoned, treading off.
“That’s it? You can’t elaborate?”
“I understand,” she tonelessly repeated.
“Where are you going?”
“In the shower.”
“Why so early?”
“I have a staff meeting at eight.” Margaret was a retail sales manager at Joseph’s Department Store.
“Cancel it. I’m very upset.”
At the foot of the stairs, she coldly conveyed, “You’ll survive.”
* * *
In the shower, Margaret murmured, “His fears, his obsessions are getting worse. And I don’t know how to handle them anymore.” She sighed. “I suggested numerous times he should see a therapist, but each time he shot it down. And I’m out of ideas, and out of patience.”
“Honey?! What are you doing?!” Brad called from the other side of the sealed door.
“What do you think?!” she loudly snapped.
“Taking a shower?!”
“Yes!” Margaret replied.
“Do you really understand my fear?”
“You sounded like you were placating me.”
“You sure?” Brad probed.
“Do you still love me?”
“You’re not placating me?”
“Are you there, Brad?”
“What are you thinking?”
“How lucky I am to have you.”
She stopped soaping herself, closed her eyes. As messed up as he is, I still love him.
“What do you want for breakfast?” he asked.
“Okay, darling. See you soon.”
* * *
The next morning—a rainswept Thursday—Brad walked into the kitchen, whistling an old pop tune, at five past six. And the first thing he saw was dark brown liquid drizzling into the pot on the base of the Deluxe Programmable Get-Beaned Coffee Machine.
“She promised me yesterday she wouldn’t do it again. But she did.”
In seconds he was at the bottom of the steps. “Margaret!!!”
“What?” came the calm, distant reply.
“What are you doing?”
“You preset the coffee maker again!”
“Yes I know.”
“You promised me you wouldn’t do it again! Why did you lie?”
“It’s for your own good.”
“How do you mean?”
“I’m teaching you to face your fears, darling.”
* * *
Margaret was enjoying a Cobb salad at an eatery next to Joseph’s. Her longtime staff—Sally, Nancy, Lynn—were dining with her. They were painfully cognizant of Margaret’s ongoing saga involving Brad. Her daily blathering was wholly predictable, and extremely wearying, and years ago they’d learned to pacify Margaret:
“He’s a total headcase, and you’re so stable.”
“No other woman would put up with him.”
“He should be committed.”
“He’s a loser; you’re a saint.”
Today, however, Sally was decidedly calculating when she said with her elbows on the table, her chin on her folded hands, and her eyes pinned to Margaret: “There is one solution you haven’t considered, boss.”
“What might that be?” Margaret casually asked, putting another forkful into her small mouth.
“Just shoot him.”
Margaret nearly choked on the hard boiled egg as she tried to laugh.
Handing her a glass of water, Sally said in an undertone, “I wasn’t joking.”
* * *
Margaret went home that evening and relayed to Brad the gist of the conversation she had with the girls at lunch (sans Sally’s murderous suggestion).
To which he replied, “What else is new? They hate me.”
“They also agree with me that your fear of burning the house down because I preset the coffee maker is ludicrous.”
“Of course they did!” Brad rejoined. “You’re their boss, and they need their jobs.”
“That’s not why they agreed with me.”
“Yes it is!”
Tell him, Margaret thought. He needs to hear it. “Sally Crawford said I should shoot you.”
Brad stormed out of the house, and slammed the front door so hard every knickknack on the shelf in the living room rattled.
“Ahh. Peace at last,” Margaret said with a pleased smile.
A mere twenty minutes later, Brad was back. But he pouted through dinner—neither spoke a word. At precisely 10 p.m., he headed up the stairs, as per his nightly routine (Margaret was in front of him), and he secured the solid core door behind them.
* * *
The following morning, Brad sat up in bed and looked at the alarm clock on the nightstand.
It was off! The alarm hadn’t sounded, even though it was plugged into the outlet!
“Oh my God,” he gasped. “I didn’t wake up at six.”
He grabbed his watch off the bedstand. It was 6:22 a.m.
Suddenly, he detected the smell of smoke, and vigorously shook his sleeping wife.
“Wake up! Wake up! The house is on fire!”
Margaret groaned, rolled onto her back. “Knock it off,” she irritably said.
He sniffed the air. “The smoke. It’s getting thicker.” He was hyperventilating, now.
Grumbling, Margaret sat up, breathed in through her nose. “Oh my goodness! You’re right!”
“I told you, dammit!” He leapt off the bed. “The floor’s hot.”
“We’re going to burn up,” Margaret fretted.
“We’re directly above the kitchen, so that’s what must be on fire,” Brad reasoned.
He ran to the staircase, descended it two steps at a time.
At the bottom, intense heat emanated from the door.
It was hot to the touch. Thick smoke filtered under it.
He puffed. “The first floor must be an inferno.”
Upstairs, he urgently said to Margaret, “Call 911. The house is aflame. We have to get out. Now!”
“How?” Margaret asked, wringing her hands.
Brad shot over to the closet and retrieved the rope ladder he had stored there for such an emergency.
For once, his anal attitude paid off, Margaret thought. Then, aloud: “Hurry honey. Please! I don’t want to die.”
“We’re not going to die.” He threw open the window, hooked the top of the ladder to the front lip of the windowsill, and let the rest of it fall to the ground. “Come over here, Margaret. You’re going down first.”
Ninety seconds later, they were both safely on the ground.
By this time, half a dozen gawkers had gathered in the street.
Flames licked the right side of the house, radiated out the first-floor windows.
“Our beautiful home is being destroyed before our very eyes,” Margaret lamented.
The fire company arrived only four minutes after she’d called 911. Three other departments responded, in case they were needed.
By 7 a.m., only smoke emanated from the charred house; the fire marshal entered the structure after it was deemed safe.
At 7:06 a.m., the lanky marshal exited the front door with the blackened remains of the Deluxe Programmable Get-Beaned Coffee Maker.
“Here’s your culprit,” he said to the Suttons. “Looks like it used to be a coffeemaker.”
“It was,” Brad confirmed.
Brad told him.
“You’ve got yourselves a products liability claim, for certain,” said the lanky man.
“My wife programmed it to turn on every morning at six.”
“Whew!” exclaimed the fire marshal, shaking his head. “I’m glad I don’t own one.” Then: “I’m very sorry for your loss. Good luck to both of you.”
When he left, Brad said to Margaret, “Do you have anything to say?”
Her head was bowed. She was tightly holding herself. “Forgive me, honey. You were right. It was wrong of me to doubt your psychic ability.”
“Well, that argument’s been decidedly resolved. After all, you were forewarned.”
“I know,” Margaret morosely said, her head still down.
“What are we going to do now?” Brad asked.
Margaret looked up, her eyes bright. “Get an improved Deluxe II Programmable Get-Beaned Coffee Machine. I just saw an infomercial for it the other night.”