This past weekend the temperature took a deep dive to 8 or 9 below zero Fahrenheit. That’s about –23 Celsius. I’m learning to do approximate Celsius-Fahrenheit conversions in my head. In winter I like Celsius better because it makes it sound colder than it is. In summer I like Fahrenheit better because it sounds hotter.
Trav and I went out walking in the morning and again at dusk when it was below zero and the wind was howling around corners and the wind chill was probably about –23 F. I bundled up, Trav’s got one hell of a coat, and the cold was really no big deal.
Around 6:45 Sunday night, however, I set out for the weekly meeting of my writers’ group, which starts at 7 and is only two or three miles away. In my satchel were seven copies of this week’s installment of my novel in progress. I was looking forward to wine, popcorn, a roaring fire in Cynthia’s parlor, and hearing what everyone else in the group had been up to.
I turned the key in the ignition. Malvina Forester coughed, coughed, and coughed again. Lights blinked on and off on the dashboard. Malvina, who’d never let me down, wouldn’t start.
My next-door neighbors are in France, visiting their daughter, who’s an exchange student this year in the Bordeaux area. Through the winter woods I could very dimly see lights from my two next-nearest neighbors, one in either direction, but it was pitch-dark, windy, and below zero. For an emergency I’d roust someone out of a warm house to give me a jump start. Missing writers’ group was not an emergency. I trudged inside and called Cynthia to say I couldn’t make it.
The next day was Presidents’ Day. I had work to do and nowhere to go. Malvina still wouldn’t start. No surprise there. I hoped it was just a dead battery and not something that would cost serious money to fix, like a dead starter. Did cold kill starters? I’m no computer adept, but I know more about cranky computers than I do about cranky cars. This is why I like cars that aren’t cranky.
At the top of Tuesday’s to-do list was “get Malvina a jump start.” Among the car-related docs in my glove compartment is the number for Subaru’s roadside assistance service. I strongly suspected that it wouldn’t apply on Martha’s Vineyard, never mind that the island is overrun with Subarus, so I looked closer to home.
The next-nearest neighbors aren’t generally home during the day. I thought to leave a phone message for one, but I didn’t have their number on hand and it’s not in the phone book. So I logged in to Facebook and PMed the other, along with two other not-quite-so-near neighbors. They’re maybe a quarter mile away through the woods, closer to a mile by road, but Trav and I walk by their houses nearly every day so they’re definitely part of “the neighborhood.”
So within half an hour I had two offers of assistance, and within another half hour one of my neighbors was in my driveway with his pickup and his jumper cables, which were lots longer than mine. With juice flowing into her battery, Malvina started right up.
Standing by the open hood, we couldn’t help noticing a high squealing sound and a faint burning smell. “Maybe the fan belt?” said my neighbor, then he extracted a fistful of twigs and leaves. “Mouse nest,” he said.
Both the sound and the smell went away.
I let Malvina run for 10 or 15 minutes, then for good measure drove down to the school and back. I took a deep breath, shut the engine off, then turned the key in the ignition. She started right up.
I later learned, from a Facebook buddy whose Subaru’s battery likewise got knocked out by the cold, that Subaru’s roadside assistance does work on Martha’s Vineyard, but I’m glad I didn’t know it when I needed it. Instead I’m reminded that I’ve got neighbors willing and able to help me out.
I realized something else as well; there are other houses I walk by regularly, and people I regularly see and wave at on the road, but the people who feel most like neighbors — the ones I hear from most often and felt most comfortable asking for help — are the ones I know on Facebook as well as face to face.