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  • Hello, Fridge
  • Anna Hartford (bio)

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. I was younger than you, and you were more successful than me, and 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 [End Page 88] 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 eight hundred 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...


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