The Black and White of it

The Black and White of it was first published by Literally Stories


Melvin sat on the garden wall, deep in thought. Chip pan fires were the stuff of 1970s public information films and soap operas. He didn’t know a single person who had suffered a chip pan fire but out of the blue, it happened to him.

He didn’t even like chips. Why did he make them, today of all days

Fate had picked him out for bad things to happen. Maybe if he’d made a ham sandwich, the bad thing would have passed him by and happened to someone else. The moment he put the chip pan on the gas, he was laying out the red carpet for disaster.

Someone somewhere was doing something stupid, maybe fitting an electrical socket without turning off the power first. They were heading for electrocution, but when Melvin put the chip pan on the gas, the bad things visited him and the man working on the electrics finished the job without so much as a mild jolt. If he ever told his friends the story of how he fitted the socket, they would tell him he was lucky. He was indeed lucky, because the bad thing destined for him had stopped off at Melvin’s house instead.

A fireman emerged from the front door. He smiled at Melvin and said, ‘You were lucky.’

Melvin frowned and asked, ‘How?’

‘Well,’ the fireman explained, ‘if you hadn’t caught it so quickly, it could have been much worse. The kitchen is very small. If the appliances had caught fire, the smoke could have been toxic. Chip pan fires are the worst thing that can happen in a domestic kitchen. You were lucky.’

Melvin nodded, unimpressed by his so-called luck. He doubted a chip pan fire was the worst thing that could happen in a domestic kitchen.

Another fireman came out, smiled at Melvin and said, ‘We’re just about finished here. It’s a bit of a mess I’m afraid. You were lucky.’

Melvin nodded. A third fireman came out. This one smiled but said nothing. It struck Melvin they were smiling a lot. Were they happy there had been a fire? Perhaps they knew they could go home and do something dangerous with impunity because the bad things which might have headed their way had stopped off at Melvin’s house.

As the others climbed into the fire engine, the last fireman emerged. He smiled at Melvin and said, ‘You were lucky, sir; that’s the black and white of it.’

What did he mean?

Melvin walked back into the house and went into kitchen. He assessed the damage. The gas cooker would need replacing, the kettle had melted, as had the toaster. The microwave looked okay. It had a few soot marks on it, so Melvin picked up a cloth and wiped it clean. Through the glass an internal movement made him jump. There was something inside the microwave.

Edging closer, he peered through the glass. Looking back at him were two dark eyes. Either he’d lost his mind or there was definitely something in there. As it moved, fur squashed against the glass. Black fur. White fur. Melvin shook his head in disbelief. It couldn’t be true.

There was a panda inside his microwave.

The firemen; those bastards! Did this explain why they were smiling? The black and white of it? He ran outside and looked up and down the road. The fire engine had gone.

Melvin took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself, and went back into the house. He walked into the kitchen. The microwave door was open and the oven was empty. Melvin took another look. A panda couldn’t have fitted in there. It was impossible.

Opening the fridge, he took out a bottle of beer and headed into the living room. With a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, he tried to relax.

The black and white of it? What did it mean? It wasn’t a joke, or wasn’t one as far as Melvin could work out. It had no real meaning, a strange thing to say given the circumstances. Finishing the beer, Melvin headed to the kitchen for a second bottle. Looking at the open microwave, he shook his head. A panda couldn’t fit in there. It couldn’t.

The next beer went down easily and Melvin felt better. He laughed as he thought about what the firemen had said. There was no way a chip pan fire could be the worst thing to happen in a kitchen. Surely opening the fridge to find the severed heads of your family was worse than a chip pan fire? A chip pan fire would be preferable to cutting an artery with a bread knife and bleeding to death.

Picking up the empty beer bottle, he switched off the living room light and went into the hallway. As he went to switch off the kitchen light, the microwave caught his eye. He muttered to himself, ‘I wonder?’

It took several attempts, but he worked out how to place his feet so both legs fitted into the device. It wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t comfortable either. With some contortion he worked himself further in. It was bigger than he thought. He tucked in his left arm and carefully pulled his head back before working his right arm inside.

It was a struggle but he managed to fit inside the microwave. Could a panda have crammed itself inside? Melvin considered the size difference between a man and a panda and decided it probably couldn’t have fitted. It was strange being confined in such a small space; strange but interesting.

Melvin decided it was time for bed and so slowly started working his right arm out. As he did, a movement in the kitchen caught his eye. The broom cupboard door opened and a panda stepped out. With one swipe of its paw it slammed the microwave door. Then it turned the timer to the longest setting, one hour, and pressed the button marked ‘Cook’.

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