In 2001, shortly after I moved into my house in Santa Fe, I called an electrician to come and figure out why so many lights inside and outside the house didn’t work. When I was a theatre technician running the light board, we had a rule: if one light is out, replace the bulb. If two lights are out, check the system. When the electrician came, he found a lot of frayed and broken wires as well as many burned-out bulbs that needed replacement. When he was ready to leave, he said, “Everything’s working. Good you called.”
Some weeks later, I was putting a not completely dry pan away in a bottom cabinet when suddenly there was a burst of flames. Too shocked to think, I put out the fire with my hands. After taking care of the burns, I called the electrician who’d checked all the wires and outlets when I first moved in.
When I told him what happened, he reacted as if I were hallucinating. “Have a drink. Take a nap. You’ll feel better.”
“No! You need to come. Now. I don’t know what caused the fire.”
“Calm down. It’s Saturday afternoon. My son and I are watching a ball game on TV, drinking beer. I’ll come on Monday.”
“No,” I said, “You have to come now!”
I could hear him muttering something about a crazy woman to his son. I didn’t care how weird he thought I was as long as he came to check out what caused the fire. “Okay,” he said, “but it will cost three times the normal price. Maybe four times.” His tone was patronizing. I could tell he didn’t believe me.
“I don’t care what it costs, you need to come now.” After a few more rounds of his telling me to calm down and me telling him he had to come right away, he finally, reluctantly agreed.
When he and his son arrived, he said, “So, show me where the “fire” was. I ignored his disbelief and pointed to the bottom cabinet. When he saw the charred wood, his attitude changed. He got down on his knees, looking at the area with a flashlight. When he finally spoke his tone of voice was serious—no joking, no telling me to calm down. “Okay, tell me what happened--from the beginning. I want to know exactly what you did.”
“I washed a pan and sort of dried it, then I put it in the cabinet. Suddenly there was a burst of flame.”
He shook his head and turned to his son, an apprentice electrician. “Take a good look at this. You’ll probably never see anything like it.”
No longer questioning my sanity, he told me to kneel down beside him. He pointed his flashlight on an electric outlet, “What you have is a live feed. If you hadn’t acted so quickly the whole kitchen would have been in flames. Do you mind if I disconnect it?”
“I’d mind if you didn’t,” I said, relieved that he’d found the problem and knew how to fix it. “What’s a live feed?”
“It means that any contact, even a single drop of water, could ignite the charge because the electricity is flowing. Your house could have burned down if you hadn’t been here to put the fire out.”
I was stunned. Just the thought of how easily the fire broke out was scary.
By the way,’ he said with a grin, “I do not recommend putting fires out with your hands.” Then, more seriously, he told me, “You need to have home fire extinguishers, especially in the kitchen.”
“I’ll buy some tomorrow. Thank you so much for coming. I know you thought I was crazy.”
“You’re right. I absolutely thought this right up until I saw the charred area and the unprotected outlet. He shook his head. “Who leaves a live feed in a house?”
I got out my checkbook and asked how much to pay. “Just the regular charge,” he said. “It’s really good you insisted I come.”
Have you been in a scary situation where you asked for help and weren’t believed? What happened?
Stories inspired by world tales to challenge and comfort.