It came from Beares Furniture Store. A Defy D210, featuring adjustable leveling feet, variable thermostat, sealed crisper. Small: human-height, or thereabouts. The traditional white. Beares offered to go budget or straight; I went straight. For years they sent special offers, festive greetings, birthday cards. I believe their slogan is: “Beares Really Cares about You.”
They delivered. The Defy was hauled up the stairs by two men, three times my age, and I stood by in polite embarrassment and didn’t tip. It was planted in its predetermined vacancy. A fridge should feel it belongs. You have to give it time to settle. I peeled back its protective plastic skin. I installed its skeleton of shelves. I waited for its temperature to drop, until it shone its iciness upon me. I bought milk for it so that it could feel complete.
When we moved in together, the fridge came with me. We had found an apartment overlooking the Cape Town harbor. For a while everything seemed as it should be. We considered ourselves a “good couple” in the sense that we’d say to each other: “We make a good couple, don’t we?” We do. “You love me, don’t you?” I do. “I’m pretty, aren’t I?” You are. I would stand on our small balcony at dusk and watch the ships queue up in pastel stagnation.
Everything is slowed down in a fridge. The processes of liquefaction and decay, usually swift, play out over weeks or months. A fridge gives you time. But time is dangerous to have, because you always have less of it than you think. Like so, a fridge inevitably becomes the foulest place in a house. Something will rot or spill and you’ll think: I’ll sort it out later. It’s disgusting, but for some reason it’s not urgent. We trust the cold; we feel reassured by it, excused by it.
The Defy was normally defrosted only by omission: when we didn’t pay the electricity and came home to its ominous silence. But I cleaned it intentionally when I was moving away, and you were moving out, and the fridge was staying with you. I confronted the filthy accumulation of what we’d been prepared to overlook and wiped it down with bleach and let it dry.
You have to move a fridge in the upright position. Fridges have a complex internal chemistry; they insist on a certain nobility. Like so, strapped down, the Defy made its vertical way across the city. The floorboards moaned as we set it down in its new home. We plugged it in and allowed it to begin its work again. We bought beers for it so that it could feel consoled.
Publicly we had chosen an agnostic line. “We’ll see,” we said: it might be a long time, or none at all; America might be far away, or just a flight. But to one another we were more optimistic. In this optimism, the fact that you were keeping the fridge took on significance. We used it as a sort of deposit. An assurance that I’d be back, that we’d work out, that some semblance of our domesticity was ticking on, like a pacemaker. Neither of us had the energy for the truth. We were exhausted people, and to honor our exhaustion we rested in each other’s company for years. We lived in a room with too little sunlight, and we watched 800 hours of TV and agreed that about four of them were worthwhile.
When the time came, I disappeared. I fell into something dark, cold, riveting, mine. It was so sudden and improbable that you refused to comprehend it, like an audience at a magic show, even once they’d been assured that what they’d thought was a man was only a mirror. And I, the magician beneath the stage, felt wicked and strange. For I’d believed the reflection, too, and I was mesmerized by my own trickery.
For a while you sent photographs: a hundred ways for us to lean together, to smile; for my hand to clasp your shoulder, for yours to hold my waist. But then you ran out of photographs to send, or the will to send them. So we let the silence collect. We let it take its time: for months, and then for years. To make everything blank and sad; to cover us, forgive us. You wrote only to tell me you’d met someone new. You wrote only to say you were moving in together, and to ask what you should do with my fridge.
I searched for you. “1- 25 of many” my email said, in happy corroboration of the fact that we’d once been close. That despite being automated, it had found it tiresome and pointless to keep count of our correspondence. In their totality, the subject lines from the new era read: “Hello, Fridge,” “Fridge,” “Fridge again,” and finally, “For move on Thursday 12th.” I was enjoying being in contact again. I was even enjoying the unspoken injunction that we discuss only fridge logistics, though in the process some biography was necessary: I was moving home; I’d reclaim the Defy.
All this fridge talk was building up, I assumed, to a kind of exchange. But in the end you were working on Thursday 12th, and your neighbor let me in. I recognized most of your furniture, but it seemed to have forgotten me. For all its expense and heft, a fridge veers towards the juvenile. The rest of the kitchen may pretend at seriousness, but the fridge helplessly accumulates a flapping and colorful array of photos, invitations, ticket stubs. I released this chance collage of your new life from its magnetic holds.
This must all be so tiresome to you now, I know. Thank you for bearing with me. Beares Really Cares about Me. It sounds bizarre to say it now, after everything, but when you first wrote I had forgotten about the fridge. I’d been away for what turned out to be a long time, and in the decadence of America most apartments come fitted with fridges and stoves. At home I had been a Fridge Person, and I was always conspiring to live with a Stove Person (two Fridge People cannot cohabit; no kitchen will allow it). In my first days of American apartment hunting, the fridge was foremost on my mind. With every place I inquired, hopefully, as to whether the appliances would stay. “Of course,” everyone said. And soon I got entitled. I began to take them for granted, more and more, until at last they were given no consideration at all.
So when your email arrived, crisp and bright and untouched in my inbox, and I saw your subject line— “Hello, Fridge”— I possessed for a moment the poetry of those words absent their context. I had forgotten I owned a fridge. I had forgotten you were its custodian. All I had, as I clicked and it loaded, was the word “Hello” and the word “fridge.” And I thought you were calling me fridge. I thought at last you were greeting my frigidness, which so craves the acknowledgment. I thought you were writing friendlily, to taunt us for having been so cold to one another these last years, so distant. For becoming Arctic. “Hello, Fridge,” you said to me, and I understood perfectly.
This piece first appeared in the March/April 2020 Issue of The Kenyon Review as the winner of their inaugural short nonfiction contest.