Inconveniences abounding and patience worn thin, in a battle of Man Versus Fridge…
by: Ben Nardolilli
Edison did not notice the bread was frozen until he tried to put two of the slices in his toaster. They were wet, hard, and cold. He worried that the moisture, in whatever form, might cause the toaster to short-circuit, and so he microwaved them instead. The result was still disappointing, but he was already running late and could not investigate further until that evening. When he returned to his apartment, he found the inside of his fridge lined with a layer of frost. On the top, tiny icicles were beginning to form.
He looked around the appliance for a knob to adjust the temperature. After he failed to find it, Edison emptied the fridge to help with the search. As he removed the items, he checked them to see if the frost had harmed them. Some of the items that were held in jars were fine. The spaghetti sauce and marina just needed to be thawed before use. However, most of the food was ruined. His produce section was an emerging disaster area. If the fridge warmed up again, the melting crystals would turn his cucumbers and carrots into a mushy mess. A similar fate awaited his meat and eggs.
Since the fridge was property of the apartment, and the apartment was the property of the management company he paid rent to, Edison contacted them by phone. After several minutes of listening to a jazzy piano rendition of “Silent Night,” a voice asked him what the issue was. Edison told her where he lived and what was wrong. The fridge was too cold, in fact, it was icy, and someone needed to come by and adjust its settings. He added that he had just gone grocery shopping and he lost two weeks’ worth of food. The representative told him it would be a week before anyone could look at it. Edison thanked her and began his wait for the fridge to be fixed. In the meantime, he ate the dry food in his kitchen, flavored with whatever survived the great freeze. The results were limited. His diet relied mostly on processed tomatoes and soybeans to flavor his pasta and rice, as opposed to the meat and vegetables he had planned on adding. A generous helping of dried garlic with dinner helped but made his breath noticeably worse in the morning.
When the repairman came and looked at the fridge, Edison was there in case he had to answer any questions or help. The repairman said little to Edison, as he pulled out the shelves to get to the back of the fridge. When he was done, and the fridge was fixed, Edison had to put everything back the way it was. Not just the few items of food he had left, but the shelves too. The whole time the repairman stood off to the side watching him. Edison thought about asking him for help. In the end he just offered the repairman a glass of water, which he drank as Edison continued to put the fridge back together.
Afterwards, he went grocery shopping and filled up the fridge again. Edison managed to get in a single day’s breakfast and dinner before the fridge gave him trouble again. This time, it was too warm. Edison noticed it when he went to grab milk for his coffee and the carton was only a few degrees cooler than the mug. When he tried to spread butter on his toast, the stick was already melted on the edges, producing greasy streams that were hard to control with a knife. Edison decided to see if the fridge would improve on its own. A couple of days later, he was throwing out his groceries again. This time, even the items in cans and jars that had been opened needed to go into the garbage.
Edison called his management company again. The same piano song started to play and covered up his muttering and swearing until a live representative could come on. Once she did, Edison gave her the details of his case. The fridge, their fridge, was broken again. It had spoiled his food. She listened and when he was finished, she told Edison someone would be there shortly to help fix his appliance. She hung up without apologizing for the inconvenience. Edison waited for this person to arrive all through the weekend but had to go to work afterwards.
Over the following two weeks, he kept returning home to find a note on his door. It said that the repairman had come but since Edison was not there, he left. Edison called the management company once more. He explained the case, supplied the case number, and read off the notes that were left behind. The man, or woman, needed to come on the weekend, he said.
“I’m sorry,” the representative replied. “We can only supply someone on the weekdays.”
“But I’m at work.”
“You’ll have to be home.”
“You’ve already cost me a lot, you know. I’ve lost a lot of groceries to this.”
“You have to be at home.”
“I’m also eating out all the time.”
“My meals. I’m going out for all my meals. Or doing takeout. It’s very expensive. I can’t use my kitchen at all unless I just want to eat soy sauce and rice for every meal.”
“I’m sorry. Please expect a visit next week between 9 to 5, Monday through Friday.”
“But I need to work. Didn’t you hear me?”
“We need you there.”
“Why can’t you just send the guy in? I assume you have a key right? I can’t be the only one with a key.”
“We can schedule the repairman to come tomorrow morning.”
He came the day after tomorrow, in the afternoon. Edison was there because another misfortune had visited him. In this case, he was sick. He got up out of bed, escorted the repairman in, showed him the fridge, and then crawled in back between the sheets. He slept through the work and the sound of the man closing the door behind him. When Edison woke up, it was the middle of the night. He went over to the fridge and opened it up. A rush of chilled air fell at his exposed feet. Edison was happy. The fridge was cold, but not freezing. Soon he would get to fill it up again.
Edison went shopping after work. It was dark out when he came back home. As soon as he was inside his door, he flipped on the light switch to see. Nothing happened. All the rooms around him remained dark. Edison tried again, flicking the switch off, then on, then off, and then on again. The lights remained off. Edison put his bags down in the front of the fridge and went through the apartment to try to find a light that worked. Every time, he failed to banish the darkness. He returned to the fridge and opened it. Everything right in front of it was suddenly illuminated. Edison brought his bags over and put his purchases away.
Another call to the management company proved just as frustrating as the others. They reminded their customer and tenant that they could only send someone over when Edison was present. That meant waiting two more weeks until the next three-day weekend. Fortunately for him, the management company did not give their employees that Monday off. Until then, Edison had to deal with the darkness. He tried using flashlights and quickly used up the batteries. He then started to sleep earlier at night but kept waking up at three in the morning. After a week, he started to spend more time outside the apartment to pass the time. Edison went to bars, watched movies, and strolled through bookstores. When money was an issue, he aimlessly wandered around grocery store aisles, checking the prices. Usually, he had to leave after fondling the produce section and crying, wishing these were his apples and pears he was putting away into a fridge.
The repairman ended up coming during the night. Edison let him into the apartment and then took a folding chair out into the hallway and read. The lights out there still worked. The repairman walked around Edison’s apartment, investigated the writing, tested the switches, and moved the fridge so he could get a look at it. Edison heard his tools at work, clanging and clinking against all kinds of materials. When he saw the repairman pass him by, he asked what the issue was.
“Fridge is using up all your juice.”
“How…how is that possible?”
“It just is.”
“It’s not freezing any more. It’s not hot any more. What’s it using all that energy for?”
The repairman shrugged. “Crisper’s crisper, maybe.”
“Well…what’s the solution?”
“Got to get the proper fuse. Then…”
“Then set up a new starting relay for the hook up with the fridge. That’ll mean I need to get a PTC relay as well. Could take weeks until I get the parts.”
“So I’m without electricity until then?”
“You got it out here at least.”
“It’s the hallway!”
“Get some batteries then,” the repairman said as he walked away with his tools.
Edison waited. He waited for the parts to be ordered. He waited for the parts to arrive. He then waited for the repairman to come with them. In the meantime, Edison continued to eat, drink, and attempt being merry outside the apartment. One night while leaving the library, he did a quick calculation and realized he was spending less than 5% of his conscious moments in the apartment. Most of that time he was either commuting, at work, or asleep. His sojourns around the neighborhood accounted for the rest. Edison debated whether or not to bring this up with the management company. If he was only spending three minutes of every hour awake in his apartment, he figured he deserved some kind of discount.
By the time he had a draft email prepared, the parts and repairman were at his door. Edison let him in and stood behind the man as he worked. He wanted to take advantage of the only light source in the apartment. Edison also wanted to be on hand the second the problem was declared fixed. This way if things went wrong in other parts, he could grab the repairman on his way out of the building. The man worked on the fridge and its wiring for over an hour. When he finished, he told Edison to put the power back on. Edison dutifully flipped a switch and the kitchen was again lit. He stood in the light for a moment and the repairman stood near him as well. Both of them looked at the fridge and waited.
Everything seemed to be working. The repairman left and Edison went around the apartment, turning lights off and on to make sure they worked. When there were no issues, Edison made his way to the bedroom. Two last flicks of the switch and he was undressed and in bed, ready to sleep. As he dozed off, Edison thought about everything he could do now the obstacle of the fridge was gone. All the meals he could cook. All the things he could do at home instead of going out. He would get so much more reading done. Maybe he could even get back into the habit of having people over, especially since he could cook for them.
It would be nothing fancy. Edison thought about his mother’s seven-layer dip. It just looked complicated to make. He wondered about where to purchase the ingredients and if he wanted to attempt to make the chips himself. Edison had done it before, to mixed results. It was easy to picture himself burning them again, especially since he could smell what it would be like. Such a terrible odor, he remembered. But along with the memories of burnt corn, there was the overwhelming smell of burnt rubber.
Edison got out of bed, went into the kitchen, and found the source of the smell. He put the back of his hand on the door to the fridge. There was no heat. He tried to get a look at the back to see if something was burning but saw no smoke. Edison grabbed a dishrag and used it to open the appliance. Inside, everything was cool and pristine. The smell began to make him cough and he double checked every other device and room to make sure it was the fridge producing the noxious, yet invisible cloud.
Nothing else came close to smelling as bad. Edison tried to breathe with his t-shirt over his face and got dressed. He had no idea where to go and ended up sneaking into his office. The coat room was empty and he slept behind its curtain. He woke up early and used his desk phone to reach the management company. This time, a male voice asked him for his information on the other side of the line. Then he asked what the nature of the inquiry was. Before he could finish the list of possibilities, Edison told him-
“My apartment stinks.”
“Sir, our records show you were giving a tour of the place. If you looked over your lease…”
“No, it smells. It’s your fridge. Your fridge smells.”
“Sir, have you tried cleaning it?”
“It’s a rubbery smell.”
“Rubbery? It bends?”
“No. It smells like a tire fire. Like a tire blowing up. Like a tire getting shredded by a car going in circles and-”
“We understand. Please allow two to three weeks for someone to come and examine the issue.”
Edison hung up and cried. He spent the day at the office and when he returned to the apartment, the smell was still there, even stronger. Edison opened up windows and turned on fans to scatter it. He scrubbed faucets and cleaned surfaces as an excuse to put bleach in the air. He even deliberately burned some toast. Each action brought a moment of relief. Then the acrid smell returned. Edison twisted up two pieces of toilet paper and stuck each one of them up a nostril. That got him through a second evening of the odor.
He hoped he would not have to spend another night at the office. This hope was soon dashed when his coworkers began noticing the smell too. Soon they realized he was responsible. Even though none of them said anything to him, Edison could tell with their sudden wincing and eye movements that they had found the culprit. He had to stay out of the apartment as much as possible if he was going to remain in the office. Edison made a trip back to his room, but only to pack a suitcase full of clothes from his closet. The chamber was not airtight, but it did not smell like burning rubber.
Edison developed a routine. He slept in the coat room, washed at the sink in the bathroom, microwaved his meals in the kitchenette, and went out to the library when he needed a break. One time a janitor discovered him. With a little difficulty, Edison was able to recall the Spanish words for refrigerator, rubber, and smell (as a noun and not a verb). The grammar was much easier, along with the invectives he used to describe the property management company. He realized he sounded just like his grandfather did when he played dominos. The janitor nodded and told Edison that his brother-in-law might be able to help. His specialty was freezers, particularly on trains, but he knew enough about refrigerators.
He could also work while Edison was in the office. He just needed a key. Edison was weary at first, but reasoned that in order to steal anything, they would have to fix the smells coming from the refrigerator anyway. Otherwise, there was no way they could look around for long enough to see what was worth taking. Their eyes would water too much. Not to mention the coughing. If they managed to steal everything, Edison could still come out ahead, so long as they fixed the fridge. At the rate he was going through rent for an apartment he was not using and paying for takeout, Edison would save money if he could live with his fridge.
Edison made the handoff to the janitor and a day later, the janitor returned the keys to him. He thanked him for his help and asked what his brother-in-law needed from him. The janitor said nothing. Edison’s situation was too depressing for either of them not to help. When the workday ended, Edison went back to his apartment and to his relief he could breathe easy. The smell was completely gone. Edison sniffed all around the fridge to make sure. It was not on him either, or any of his things. Overjoyed, he did all the things he had been unable to do in his absence. He watched movies and played video games, microwaved nachos, and made himself a sundae.
At bedtime, he had a slight stomach ache, but managed to doze off. He could not remember the last time he slept so well. Edison dreamed about the janitor, wondering what his life was like. When Edison asked to see his apartment, the man led him to Edison’s childhood home. Everything looked like it did when he was seven or eight. The only difference was that no one else from his family was there. Edison took a moment to enjoy feeling the shag carpet and his heavy blankets with dinosaurs on them again. The janitor sat down on the bed with him. Edison wanted to know where the janitor really lived. When the janitor replied, a loud humming noise came out of his mouth.
He woke up and checked his phone. It was 2:49 AM. Edison lay back on the bed and continued to hear the hum. It was not part of his dream. It was coming from outside his head and outside the room. Edison felt he already knew what it was, but hoped this time it was an issue with another piece of technology in his life. The microwave or the coffee maker perhaps. Maybe it was the toaster’s turn to rebel. If he was truly fortunate, it would be in someone else’s apartment. His suspicions were confirmed in the kitchen. It was the fridge again. Edison slumped against it and curled up in a fetal position. On the floor, he could feel its vibrations. He tried to go back to sleep but was never fully successful. A couple moments of darkness came but then the hum startled Edison again back again into waking.
In the morning, he fought off a string of yawns, and realized it was the weekend. Too bad he could not enjoy it staying at home. Edison called the management company one more time. “Silent Night” came on again in its jazzy mediocrity. A woman asked him about the nature of his call.
“My fridge is humming.”
“Is this a prank call?”
“Like when you ask if someone’s fridge is running?”
“And you tell them to go catch it?”
“So it’s humming. A little music?”
“No. It’s too much. I can’t sleep with it on.”
“Well, we can send somewhere there in five weeks.”
“Not, like, hours?”
“No. Oh no. You think your humming fridge is something we’re all just supposed to drop everything and fix right now?”
“Not right now.”
“That’s a very privileged attitude.”
“It says in your record you’ve gotten a lot of attention from us already. Give other people a chance, why don’t you?”
“Is this call being recorded?”
“For quality…” Edison tried to remember the word he had heard before. “Assurance?”
“Insurance is a matter of the lease agreement.”
“Can someone come sooner?”
She took a deep breath. “No.”
Edison ended the call and went back to the linoleum. The vibrations were not bad, but the hum was intolerable. Waiting five weeks for the possibility of it getting fixed was too much. Edison got up from the floor and went over to his room. His suitcases were still packed. Edison grabbed them and dragged the luggage out into the hall. He looked at the fridge and waited in case for whatever reason the hum might stop. It continued. Edison pulled his keys out of his pocket and opened up the fridge. He tossed them with a jangle into the crisper drawer and closed the door.
Ben Nardolilli is currently an MFA candidate at Long Island University. His work has appeared in Perigee Magazine, Red Fez, Danse Macabre, The 22 Magazine, Quail Bell Magazine, Elimae, The Northampton Review, Local Train Magazine, The Minetta Review, and Yes Poetry. He blogs at mirrorsponge.blogspot.com