by Cathleen Townsend
“Can’t you drive any faster?” the passenger demanded. He took off his faded ball cap and peered through the windshield.
“It’s the damn rain! It’s covering the whole road, and I’d like to see you do any better.”
The refrigerator, sitting in the back of the truck with the rain beating down on it, was unperturbed. As long as they wiped it down later, it wouldn’t get rust on its white-painted surface. And they would—it was valuable. It kept the food the family needed from spoiling, and its magnets, still adhering to its smooth exterior, had proudly displayed children’s art, reminders of jury duty and dentist visits, as well as postcards from family vacations. The woman had said it was the heart of the family. Her husband had laughed and said that meant their hearts were in their stomachs.
Just then the truck lurched and settled with a loud bang. The men slammed the doors as they exited the truck, the wipers still scraping ineffectually at the rain.
After a few shouted swear words, the men decided the culprit was a large pothole.
“Look at it, will you? You’ve sunk it up to the axle!” The passenger’s baseball cap was already soaked through.
“Like I could see potholes through all this!” The driver waved a sweatshirt-clad arm at the rain and then spat, as if that would do any good. There was already more than enough moisture in the air.
“Well, what are we going to do? I don’t suppose you’ve got a road service card in your wallet.”
“No,” the driver said. “But I’ve got a couple of two-by-fours. Maybe we can use them to help get the truck free.”
A half hour later the two climbed back inside, covered in mud. Cigarette smoke poured out the broken back window as they discussed their options.
“Ain’t no way I can afford a tow truck,” the driver said. “Stupid refrigerator only cost me forty bucks.”
Stupid refrigerator! As if any of this mess were its fault. Even a kitchen appliance could tell that a rickety old truck was hardly the best choice for hauling. Its dented body and bald tires would barely make it down the road under the best of conditions.
“Well, I’m not walking five miles in this pouring rain,” the passenger said, and the driver nodded.
“We’ll have to ditch the fridge.”
What?! There was nothing wrong with it. If they plugged it in, it would work perfectly.
Unconcerned with the refrigerator’s outrage, the two pushed and shoved until the refrigerator landed with a loud splash in the road.
“Wait,” the driver said. “Let me get the shelves—I can use them in the garage.”
The refrigerator stood by helplessly as they wrestled the shelves from its interior. It gave them back every swear word they’d uttered and more, heaping curses on their heads, and it made no difference at all.
The men freed the truck from the pothole, and the refrigerator expected them to drive away, but instead they backed the truck into the refrigerator. It tipped over the edge and slid down the side of the embankment, coming to rest beneath the overhanging bridge. Then the men drove off.
So that was it. Nobody would want the refrigerator now, not with its shelves gone. And its coil had been ripped from the back as it slid down. Its open door swung back and forth, pushed by gusts of wind. This morning it had been the heart of a home. Now it was nothing, worth even less than the truck that had brought it to this place.
It screamed its rage, and there was nobody to care. A passing coyote gave it a sniff and went on its way, uninterested. This refrigerator no longer held any food. It had no purpose at all. Rain falling down its scratched paint served for tears.
The sky cleared overnight, but nobody came for the refrigerator. Birds twittered their mindless melodies from the trees. The refrigerator gave a half-hearted attempt to hit one with its door as they flew past, but the bird merely swooped out of the way.
A week later a wood rat that ambled by. It stopped and gave the refrigerator a long, thoughtful look. It sniffed cautiously, perhaps lured by the smells of old food, and climbed inside.
The refrigerator slammed its door shut. The rat scrabbled at the inside, but it had no hope of pushing the door open. The rat finally ran out of air and died.
There—the refrigerator still had something it could do. It could kill rats. The woman had said rats were vermin; she had set traps to catch them. It was a far cry from being the heart of a home, but it was better than nothing.
The next time the coyote trotted by, the refrigerator opened its door invitingly. The coyote edged forward cautiously, its nose twitching at the scent of the dead rat.
The refrigerator had meant to slam the door on the coyote, too, but the coyote snatched up the rat and darted away before it could. The refrigerator considered this. The coyote had just taken food from it. It could kill rats and store food at the same time.
The refrigerator gradually learned it could kill any small animal unwise enough to enter it. Squirrels, marmots, raccoons—they all ended up being coyote fodder. Homeless humans also drifted by, some staying for a while under the bridge. One of them chortled as he put a jury duty summons on the door with two of its remaining magnets.
“I’d like to see them find me and arrest me for contempt of court.” He laughed bitterly as he wrapped his filthy coat tighter around his shoulders.
The man slept that night with his feet sticking out of the refrigerator, but it didn’t mind. It could sympathize with a ruined life. Everything that ended up here under the bridge was pitiful, used up.
Except the coyotes. The refrigerator looked forward to their coming, their graceful dash to its inside, the jaunty bounce in their step as they left with meals. Providing their food was the only purpose it had left.
The jury summons lasted for quite some time before it tore off and blew away. Only two scraps still remained beneath the magnets, tattered reminders of former pride.
Another rainy night came and the refrigerator resigned itself to merely waiting it out. Even the coyotes were hunkered down somewhere else. The rain pelted the ground, bouncing up again as it hit the many puddles beside the bridge. The wind came in gusts, turning the rain to icy sleet.
A bedraggled man crept beneath the shelter of the bridge, muttering curses against the rain. He took of his sodden sweatshirt and wrung it out before flinging it against the concrete wall. Then he rubbed his hands up and down his arms.
“Crap! It’s freezing out here.” The man popped open a beer and shivered. He chugged the beer and lit a cigarette, but neither stopped his shivers. His eye fell on the refrigerator, and he gave a sharp bark of laughter.
“Well, what do you know? That old fridge I dumped is still here.” He got up and stamped around the front of it. “I wish it was something I could use to make a fire.”
The man paced back and forth, ignoring the refrigerator’s rage. It was glad the man was freezing. If it was within its power, it would make him even colder.
The man stumbled around, and the sound of his teeth chattering was audible even over the driving rain. He gave the refrigerator a considering look. “At least inside the fridge I’d be out of the wind. Might as well get something out of my forty bucks.”
He crawled inside, leaving his legs extended. But after a time he pulled his knees up in an attempt to get warm. His head came to rest on his knees, and his breath slowed and evened out in sleep.
The refrigerator door slowly closed.