The Water Bill

Sandy stood in the kitchen looking at the water bill in astonishment. $5,000 dollars? Were they kidding? She looked at the usage. Half a million gallons? That was the size of a lake.

“That’s insane,” she muttered. “I couldn’t use that much water in ten years, much less in 6 months. There’s obviously some mistake here.”

She scanned the bill for the customer service number, found it, and bill in hand, walked up to the office, picked up the phone and dialed the number. After maneuvering her way through a maze of voice mail menu items and waiting to get a live human being on the line … a total of 15 aggravating minutes … a non-recorded human voice came on the line. ” Long Island Water Resources, may I help you?”

“I certainly HOPE so,” Sandy responded. “I have this water bill for $5,000 and there has GOT to be a mistake. I couldn’t use half a million gallons of water in a decade.”

“May I have your account number please?”

Sandy read off the number and waited while the computer brought up the file. “Well, ma’am,” said the disembodied person on the line, “according to our meter reading, that’s your usage.”

“It’s impossible,” Sandy repeated.

“Well, ma’am, that’s what the meter reads.”

Sandy mentally counted to ten and took a deep breath. “May I speak with your supervisor, please?”

“Certainly. If you’ll wait just a moment, I’ll put you through.”

Over the course of the last few years, Sandy had become an expert in dealing with bureaucrats. One of her prime rules was “when in doubt, go up a step in the hierarchy.” On the other end of the phone, music was now playing. She was back on hold.

The last couple of years, nursing her dying husband had given her a kind of dogged determination. She would straighten this out, however long it took. She hoped, though, it wouldn’t take too long.

She drummed her fingers on the desk, waiting for a voice to come on the line. The music on the line changed from classic rock to country, then to a Broadway ballad. Still she waited. Finally, a voice came on the line. “This is George Connor. May I help you?”

“If you are a supervisor at Long Island Water Authority, then maybe you can,” she responded.

“You’ve got the right guy. To whom am I speaking?”

“I’m Sandy McHenry and I’ve just gotten a water bill that says I used half a million gallons of water over the last six months and owe $5,000.”

“Well, did you?”

“That’s ridiculous. I have a 60 by 100 foot plot of land and a house with one and a half baths. I live alone, unless you count the five cats, who, I should add, rarely bathe and never turn on the faucets. There’s clearly some kind of problem that needs to be tracked down. I have low water use toilets, make sure that the pipes and taps don’t leak, and take showers rather than baths. In my entire life I’ll never use this much water … ”

“May I have your account number?” he asked.

Patiently, Sandy read off the numbers again and waited while he brought her account up on the computer.

“I see what you mean,” he said. “You’d have to fill and empty a couple of swimming pools a week to use that much water. There could be a number of possible explanations for this. I think we’ll have to start by sending out a field engineer to look around.”

“What do I do about the bill?”

“I will put a freeze on your account for now, so you won’t be considered overdue. We can schedule an engineer to come out tomorrow. Can you be home between 8:00AM and 4:00PM?”

“I guess I’d better be,” she said. Then she sighed. She’d taken so much time off during the last couple of years, another day would hardly matter.

Hanging up the phone, Sandy tacked the bill onto the cork board behind the desk. She leaned back in the chair and looked around the room. So many memories. Before Jonathan had gotten so sick, this had been his “lair,” where he’d kept his old typewriter, books, racks of pipes and humidor. He came up here to write, smoke a pipe, think, escape.

Jonathan had been such a private person. Even after he and Sandy had married, they’d had separate bedrooms. Mostly, they’d slept together in one of the other, but sometimes, he had needed to be alone.

Sandy had known from the start of her relationship with Jonathan that he wasn’t in good health. She’d known he’d had a heart attack before he turned 40, needed daily medication. Had to be careful of his diet. He wasn’t supposed to smoke at all, but he did. He wasn’t supposed to drink, but he did that too. He was supposed to exercise regularly, which he didn’t. And he was 23 years older than Sandy, having turned 50 the day after she turned 27.

But Sandy had loved him. He was charming, witty, original, and smart. He seemed to know something about everything and a lot about some things. He had a rich voice and could tell a story better than anyone she’d ever met. He made her laugh, made her think, helped her grow into herself.

And then, she helped him die.

And now, there was the water bill. A $5,000 water bill. Maybe tomorrow would bring a million dollar electric bill. The excitement, she thought, never ends.


Categories: Fiction, Life, Marriage

Tags: , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. did she drown him ” helpfully” ….I had to write it..I could not control my fingers..Ending please ??


  2. Um, yeah, I’m dying to read what happens. You are a wicked writer with a wicked sense of humor. LOLOL.


  3. I really enjoyed this as well. You left me wanting more.


  4. Madness!!


  5. This post certainly brought back a bad memory. I had a next door neighbor in South Carolina who illegally tapped into my water & sewer line causing my water bill to skyrocket. After complaining to the water company they sent out someone who notice that neighbor watering his garden. They had no record of him being on their roles so they checked it out and found the spot where he put an underground “T” in my line to steal water. I wish hanging was still an acceptable form of punishment.


    • Around here, with everyone having their own private well, there’s no stealing … and no water bills. But if your well fails, you are on your own. You can’t call the water company. You ARE the water company.


  6. I want to know the rest of the story – you have me completely hooked…. 🙂


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