“The dog turned the gas on, it’s the only explanation.”
In the back closet where the implausible and bizarre episodes of our thirty years of family life hang, this sentence has its own special, satin hanger.
It began when I got a phone message from our neighbor whom my husband had asked to check on our house on Lake Superior. I could tell she was trying to stay calm as she told me that when she opened the door to our house, the smell of natural gas nearly knocked her down.
Of course, she’d done all the right things, didn’t touch light switches, backed away from the door, had her dad shut off the gas valve from our giant propane tanks in the yard. Our house hadn’t blown up and killed the neighbors. Thank God because they’re wonderful. Of course, we wouldn’t want them blown up even if they were terrible, but you know. Anyway, when the gas dissipated, they went inside. One of the gas stove’s dials was turned slightly on and had been tick, tick, ticking, releasing invisible puffs of new gas with every tick for a month.
I immediately blamed my husband. He’d driven up alone, with just our dog for company, to check on a frozen water pipe. Without me there to hector him, he had probably just skipped out the door, la-dee-dah, without a thought to checking and rechecking and going back to check again. He probably never gave it a second thought, drove back to Milwaukee listening to sports talk radio while our house started filling with gas. Blithe, unconcerned.
He refused to take the rap.
Meanwhile, I could feel the raised eyebrows of the neighbors from 300 miles away. Something was always happening with us. Doors swinging open because the last kid out forgot to pull them tight, canoes flying end over end down the beach caught by the fierce Lake Superior wind, and the coup de grace, our old house burning to the ground in a deep winter fire that couldn’t be reached by the town’s fire department because of huge drifts of snow.
Good grief, I thought. We are such fuck-ups.
But like Inspector Clouseau, he began to piece it together. The story goes like this. He’d gotten up in the morning and fixed breakfast, doing his favorite bacon and eggs in an old iron frying pan. When he was done, he wiped out the pan, put it on the back burner of the stove, turned everything off and went to pack the car, leaving the dog inside. Came to the door, whistled for the dog, locked up and drove home, the stove already ticking if you believe his story that the dog, left unsupervised, tried to get at the bacon-flavored frying pan and turned on the stove in the process.
There was no choice but to believe him. The dog could offer no alternative.
So there it is. The dog turned on the gas and nearly killed the neighbors. And everyone lived to tell the tale.