THE REFRIGERATOR • by Jeff Switt

She sits naked on the floor of her hospital room, knees drawn to her chin, rocking back and forth. Her hospital gown, shredded. Fingertips, red and bleeding from stuffing bits of cloth into imaginary holes in the walls.

The door to her room unlocks and opens. The doctor’s heels click across the concrete floor as she walks toward the girl. The doctor softly calls her name.

The girl looks toward a vision on the wall.

“Don’t make me do this again, momma.”

***

In the cellar of their farmhouse, the refrigerator laid on its back like a white and chrome coffin. The door propped open. A mouth ready to devour.

“Don’t make me put you in the box again, lassie,” her father warned.

That’s how it was for the girl after her mother drowned trying to save her.

Four years old. A daughter the father didn’t want. Intolerable competition for affection. Now, a daily reminder of his loss.

Holes bored around the refrigerator’s sides gave the girl enough air to survive hours of captivity if she lay still. Mouth pressed to a hole.

Screaming did no good. It only depleted the oxygen, so she learned to lie in silence. The heat from her body and the moisture in her breath turned the closed fridge into a sauna of darkness. Her body quivered in the wetness of her perspiration mixing with her pee, sometimes her filth.

She tried to imagine what her mother looked like. What she smelled like. Certainly not tobacco and whisky and fear like her father. She had neither memory nor a picture.  Content to create her own, she imagined a woman with the smile of a Christmas card angel with skin the softness of clouds, dressed in a white gown flowing with love. Ephemeral visions wisping across the pond beyond the barn.

In the “box,” her limbs lost all feeling. Numbness whitewashed the pain.  Her mind counted the passing of the minutes. One, two, three … forty-nine … seventy-eight.

Oxygen deprivation muddled her brain. She drifted through the colors in her crayon box. Red, purple, yellow, black. Passed out reciting the alphabet — C, D, P, G, X.

When her father opened the door, the musty cellar air hitting her lungs gave the feeling of a newborn taking its first breath. Each time she cried, “Why, Daddy?”

The answer cowered in her head before he spoke the horrid words, “’Cause you killed your mother.”

His answer never changed.

“Now clean yerself up,” he’d say, pushing a bucket of water and a rag across the concrete floor with his booted foot. “And the box, too, lassie. ‘Less you want to lie in your own stink the next time.”

Eyes buried deep in a face of hate glared.

***

The last day, reeling drunk and laughing. Her father lifted the door and sprayed her with his garden hose. She remembered him tripping on the hose. Slipping on the wet concrete. Falling backward.

His head resonated like a melon as it hit the floor.

Ten years since her mother’s death, now nearly his height. She dragged his unconscious body to the fridge, lifted him to the edge, and pushed him in. Folded his arms. Tucked his knees. Closed the door.

The latch clicked.

When her father came to, his yelling and threats, now muffled and weak, held no power. “Lie still and breathe through a hole, Daddy,” she whispered as she ripped a piece of cloth from her dress and plugged a hole.

And another.

And another.

***

They found her sitting naked on the cellar floor, knees drawn to her chin, rocking forward and back next to the fridge.

Eyes staring. Chanting, “Don’t make me do this again.” Her dress torn to strips, strips to pieces, pieces to threads.

***

That was a year ago.  The doctors saw progress. Until the day her screams pierced the hush of the women’s activity room.

The day she looked at the magazine picture of the old white refrigerator with its chrome latch handle.

When her chest constricted, pulling her wrists to her shoulders.

When her hands curled downward and in.

When she went back into the refrigerator.


Jeff Switt is a retired advertising agency guy who loves writing flash fiction, some days to curb his angst, other days to fuel it. His words have been featured online at Dogzplot, Boston Literary Magazine, Shotgun Honey, 50-Word Stories, 100 Word Story, A Story In 100 Words, 101 Word Stories, Postcard Shorts, and Nailpolish Stories, as well as Every Day Fiction. His latest venture is A Story in Three Paragraphs.


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