Kenmore Death Rattle

It was the first day of Spring, and the fridge was making noises – like metal teeth grinding ice-cubes in the freezer. It sounded like my Aunt Ismene’s best friend Rita who gargled when she spoke. Rita, at my aunt’s request, had dropped by to check in on me after the back surgery. She gave me a casserole and a bottle of rum, and we stood awkwardly in the kitchen making chit chat. Though I wasn’t hungry, I nibbled at the food to be polite.

At first, I thought it was Rita making the noise, because like I said, she had this garbled throat thing, like a nervous tic. But it was the fridge that didn’t seem right, I don’t know, like the food didn’t taste cold, the milk and juice cartons sweaty; maybe it was just my meds. I mixed Rita a rum and coke and we talked about recovery and renewal and getting back in shape. I liked the way she leaned her hip against the fridge, and though she was significantly older than me, my eyes kept gazing involuntarily at her cleavage, and the way she pulled her shoulders back. Rita was single, and it was six months since Nan left me for Brian, my best friend. They had moved to Salem county, and I hadn’t talked to either since. At night I would lay in bed and imagine them coupled, flubbery Brian sprawled upon his prey, and I would transform them into small voodoo dolls the size of beanie babies, and then I would impale them with a long sewing needle. Sometimes I would think more passively about Nan, her habit of rising around 2:00 AM to pee. Instead of returning to bed, she would float downstairs to the fridge for a late night snack. One night I followed her, behind the cover of the fridge door, she was texting intently. She didn’t notice me.

I wasn’t sure if Rita was into younger guys. The way she leaned against the fridge made me wonder. She gave me a smooch and said I’ll leave you to relax, on her way out the door. After she left that night, the impression of her puckered lips reverberating on my cheek, the fridge wouldn’t stop rattling. First a low rumble, possibly a loose fan belt not keeping pace, and then a different pitch, an interior grinding – the teeth into ice, with a harmonic accompaniment of servo motors winding down on weak batteries.

I came downstairs at 3:30 AM, my cat having clawed at the empty pillow beside me to wake me up. I went to the fridge to get his Fancy Feast; the door was ajar. A cool glow emanated into the kitchen, throwing a sort of tender blue light upon the cabinets. I was arrested by how different the kitchen looked. The kind of kitchen a defense attorney would have designed to impress his trophy wife. Bluish tinge for the sake of bluish tinge. My countertops seemed marblesque, the oven mit a modernist sculpture.

The fridge then heaved and shimmied, as if trying to hoist itself, the way a person hops when scrunching into a tight pair of jeans. I had known washing machines to spin out of balance, and maybe something like this was going on with the fridge. Maybe a poltergeist had possessed it. The freezer door had popped open without me hearing. Clouds of frost mingled with the bluish gloam. Was my townhouse possessed? I felt like a spectator, a museum goer. Should I leave?

No, a garbled voice said, seemingly from the fridge. Then I thought, I’m crazy, and I have to get off the pain pills. A fridge contains only the food you subsist on. It is a machine designed to keep your foodstuffs cool. Inside, the lid of Rita’s left over casserole dish quivered like a mouth. Then the vegetable crisper shucked wildly, and from the gaping door, cuts of ham and swiss bristled from their plastic sheeves and clamored forth, flaps of cold matter upchucking and slapping upon the floor. I stood arrested, watching the fridge like an animal roiling in its death throes. It seemed a species on the brink of extinction, this hand-me-down from Aunt Ismene, who had upgraded to a low powered, eco-friendly European refrigerator, after she divorced Uncle Joe and moved in with Kristos, the export manager.

My Kenmore was not happy to be dying, or maybe, I thought, it was sick of me. If machines could be said to feel, maybe it was sick of providing shelter to my rotting cold cuts, moldy cheese, and blemished fruit. Should I have trusted eating anything that came out of such a machine? There were plastic bins with leftovers I hadn’t touched since Nan left.

I reached for the plug and yanked. The light in the room turned from blue to warm amber. I gathered the scraps and sweaty cartons and threw them in a hefty bag. I pulled hard on the drawstrings, trying to seal up the foul odor. I left Rita’s casserole on the counter; it was the only dish free of stench. She had left her phone number on a slip of paper attached to the fridge door with a Statue of Liberty magnet. When the sun came up, I called.

First published at black heart magazine, July 2012