The Meter Reader
I’d only gone to read the meter.
Last call of the day as well. One of those medium sized houses on the Mount; you know the ones I mean. Half past four, one cold, miserable evening in the middle of August. The 17th to be precise. I particularly wanted to be home early that day; it was my son’s eighth birthday. Action Man he wanted; I’ve still got it somewhere. (She looks around vaguely) His father said he shouldn’t be playing with dolls at his age, wanted to get him a Star Wars Laser Thingy, but I said No! No guns or anything to do with war. So Action Man it was. He was ever so miffed; the old man. Said I wasn’t to blame him if he turned into one of those. But of course he didn’t (PAUSE) at least I hope he didn’t.
I was doing ever so well that afternoon, managed to get into Woolies for some last minute bits and pieces and was just thinking about sliding off a bit early when I got the call on the radio. ‘Could I do a rush job?’ Some people were disputing a bill and an up to date meter reading was required. What could I say? Over an hour left till I was finished, I thought I could pop in, read the meter and still get home early.
Just an ordinary house it seemed, nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. I parked up, walked down the path and rang the bell. Now I don’t expect someone to be waiting behind the door ready to fling it open the minute I ring the bell, nor do I expect to be kept waiting for five or so minutes. We all know how long it takes generally to get to the door. I rang the bell again, oh, two or three times in the next five minutes and was just about to give it up as a bad job when I heard a faint faraway voice calling. ‘Come in,’
So I tried the door and expecting it to open banged my nose ever so hard when it didn’t. I heard a faint rattling noise and various doors creaking open from within and the voice I‘d heard saying ‘Come in’ was getting louder and louder and now I could make out it was saying, ‘Coming.’ This went on for ages with the voice slowly getting nearer. I remember thinking I wish you’d hurry up and come, but then I thought that a lot about the old man as well.
You know that feeling you get when you think someone’s watching you, well I got that all of a sudden. I looked round quickly but nobody was. I glanced all round the house, up at the windows; nothing. I don’t know why but I looked down at the letterbox and there staring towards my middle were two enormous blue eyes. I was that startled I jumped backwards. ‘What do you want?’ said the eyes.
Electricity. I’ve come to read the meter. ‘Just a minute,’ said the eyes. The letter box slammed shut and I heard the bolts being pulled back on the door. There must have five and when the door finally opened and I stepped through into the hall I was expecting the local branch of Sotheby's.
I stepped through to find a long empty space devoid of anything but newspapers on the floor. They must have been five or six inches deep. I looked at the women who’d opened the door. She was as long and thin as the hall. I thought we’ve got a right one here. She didn’t say a word just closed and bolted the door; all five bolts. Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang. Just like shots from a gun it was. I thought why has she gone and done that; I’ll only be here a minute. She turned and looked at me; ‘Are you here for the party?’
I thought ‘party’, I want to get home for a party of my own and time’s getting on. No love I said, I’ve come to read the meter. ‘Oh’, she said in a little voice, I thought you’d come for the party. So I explained about my son and it being his eighth birthday - and could she get a bloody move on and show me the meter so I could read it and bugger off home and leave her to her own party. Although I couldn’t imagine it being any happy sort of occasion, she looked that miserable.
Anyway she took me through the hall and into the utility room off the kitchen where I quickly jotted down the numbers and made to go when she thrust a cup under my nose, ‘Tea?’
I didn't want any tea, I just wanted to get home but thought it would be better if I just had a quick sip and when she wasn’t looking tipped the rest into a plant pot. ‘Why don’t you sit down for a minute and rest your weary legs? I bet you’re on the go all day long.’ So I sat down, which in retrospect was a bad move but you don’t know at the time. I sat there like a lemon drinking tea that I didn’t want and tried not to look at my watch. ‘They’ll be here soon,’ she said. More than I will, I thought draining the cup and made to get up but do you know I couldn’t move, not a bloody muscle. I thought, Christ, what’s happening?
It’s ever such a strange feeling to be fully aware but not be able to move and this women just looked at me with a burning intensity. I began to feel really frightened; I couldn’t move, I couldn’t talk; I couldn’t even blink and this women just kept on staring at me, not moving, not speaking, just those enormous blue eyes boring into me.
This is a daymare I thought, I’ve been working too hard; a build up of stress; I’ve closed my eyes for a moment and I’m having a daymare. Deep down though, I knew it wasn’t. I had no concept of time, how long I sat there unable to move I’ll never know. Eventually she spoke, and the pathetic thing is I was so grateful I could still hear that I didn’t catch what she said.
She suddenly moved and bustled with tremendous energy about the kitchen. Cloth on the table; paper plates; plastic glasses; sandwiches; cakes; bottles of pop, everything you need for a children’s party. Apart from children.
She spoke again. ‘Can you hear them?’
For the life of me I couldn’t hear a thing and even if I could I wouldn’t have said a word.
‘I can hear them; my babies are crying. They need Mummy.’ She left and I tried moving again; absolutely nothing. Not a flicker. I’ve read reports of people coming round in the operating theatre and being unable to tell the surgeon and having to lie there in agony feeling every cut and tug. Well this was worse, I just hadn’t a clue what was happening to me; or why. Who was this women? What had she done to me to make me so paralysed? And why?
I could hear here approaching down the corridor singing softly to herself: I couldn’t make out the tune at first it was so low, but when she came back into the room I recognised the last two lines of a song I’d often sung to my Eddie. (SHE SINGS OR LA LA’s)
Is gathered there for certain because
Today’s the day the Teddy Bear’s have their picnic.
She was carrying a bundle of teddy bear’s. If I could have breathed a sigh of relief I would have done.
‘Here they are look,’ she said, ‘my babies. Mummies little treasures’
I tried, I think, to convey my best ‘Ah bless ‘em’ look but it’s pretty impossible when you can’t move a muscle. She didn’t seem to mind though, just carried on chattering.
‘This is Cornelius, this is Jeremy, and this little angel is Humphrey.’ She held them up in turn for my inspection. I must say they looked unlike any teddy bear I’d ever seen but then I was always a golliwog girl myself. Ugly little things they were.
She propped them up at the table and just like I’d done as a little girl started pretend feeding them sandwiches. She went through the whole range of food on the table, finally finishing up with tangerine jelly and ice-cream. She then brought out a birthday cake, lit five candles and sang happy birthday to Humphrey.
I don’t know why but when she appeared with the bears I stopped panicking and in an odd way enjoyed what she was doing. She was just a poor deranged woman I reasoned to myself who probably couldn’t have children of her own and liked to play happy familes with her teddy bears.
It still didn’t explain what had happened to me; why she’d drugged me. There was a lot I didn’t understand but I didn’t feel threatened anymore or in any danger like I had before. Sooner or later the effects of the drug would wear off and I would just stand and leave.
After she’d blown out the candles and cut the cake she brought one of the bears over and held it in front of my face. ‘Jeremy wants to say hello. Say hello to Jeremy’
I looked at Jeremy bear and realised that far from being over my nightmare was only just beginning. I was filled with horror and despair, I couldn’t do a thing but inside I was silently screaming. This women with the enormous blue eyes was mad, completely mad; it wasn’t a teddy bear she was holding up for my inspection but the mummified body of a tiny baby.
I think I must have passed out. It was either go unconscious or go mad. I remember hearing the chimes of an ice-cream van then nothing. The next thing I recall is waking up in hospital. The police said they couldn’t find any evidence of a party; no sandwiches; cakes; jelly; ice-cream; nothing. The woman with the enormous blue eyes said she thought I looked a bit funny when she let me in to read the meter and then, when I collapsed in her kitchen had called an ambulance.
The doctors said I’d been working too hard; ‘over doing it’, they said. I didn’t believe any of it. There’s nothing wrong with me. They say I can go home soon. I’m not bothered either way. I’m happy here. I’ve got my baby to look after. (SHE HOLDS UP A TEDDY BEAR THEN CLUTCHES IT TO HER CHEST)
She sings softly & slowly as lights fade
"If you go down to the woods today
You’re in for a big surprise
If you go down to the woods today
You’ll never believe your eyes
For every bear that ever there was
Is gathered there for certain because
Today’s the day the Teddy Bear’s have their picnic."
Copyright (c) Chris Gallagher