Domestic Appliance

by Jennifer Fliss

In the suburbs, in a newly renovated rambler, in a granite-countered kitchen, in a stainless steel refrigerator lived a young woman. She couldn't recall how she came to live in the fridge and she couldn't recall any life that was not in it. She woke up one day lying on a stick of butter; it had grown soft where her body rested, female indentations of hips and waist. The woman's feet came almost to the end of the stick of butter. She was seven tablespoons of person.

It was a nice refrigerator, as these things go. Fresh produce, rotating bottles of white wine and six packs of beer, Friday night Chinese takeout containers, marinating beef, an open box of baking soda. Rarely did things expire.

When the fridge opened, the woman hid behind the milk, ducked into an egg carton, or sidled up to the pickle jar. A few pickles, peppercorns, and slivers of onion floated in the briny juice, dancing around each other to music she could not hear. She stared into the jar for hours. The light in the refrigerator was dull and gray, but it was not in complete darkness. For sustenance, sometimes she would nibble on cheese, like a mouse. Other times, she would pull open the side of a yogurt and slurp the strawberry cream. She generally avoided the condiments, Tabasco sauce, hoisin, and capers, which were crusty at its openings. None of which you would want to eat on their own anyway.

The woman was cold all the time.

Lunch sacks read "Amos" in black marker, occasionally in crayon in a child's craggy print, were placed in the fridge daily by thin fingers with glossy nails. The fridge woman always looked inside the paper bags. Usually it was a sandwich, often tuna, sometimes pb&j, which the small woman found terribly endearing. Occasionally there were dinner leftovers in plastic containers. Little red rounds of cheese, plastic baggies of chips, chocolates. And always, a folded up note. Torn from a notebook, the pages were scribbled with the same thick marker that was used on the outside of the bag, and would comprise a brief love letter. Remember I love you!, You're the best!, Circle here: Y/N do you love me? They were all very middle school-esque, folded into little paper footballs, but that was what was so brilliant about them. The brutally manicured fingernails belied a sweet little heart.

What did Amos look like, the fridge woman wondered? Months passed and she became bolder, watching Amos and his comings and goings. His wife, it seemed, came around less. Amidst the ins and outs of half-eaten pizza and deli meat, the fridge woman fell in love. Dark hairs spiraled on Amos's arms and hands. On his face, green eyes like the rind of a lime. Thick eyebrow, one, always crunched up. He always wore a smile when he surveyed the fridge. The tiny woman liked a man who found joy in small things.

One day-dreaming morning, the fridge woman did not jump up and hide when Amos opened the fridge door. He reached for the ketchup absently and startled at the sight of her. He then bent down and came eye to body with the small woman, who was leaning against a bottle of sriracha, collecting drips with her fingers and licking them, her miniscule lips puckering with the spice.

"Hello," Amos said. Too loud, for the tiny woman fell backwards, but quickly got back to her toothpick feet.

"Hi," she brushed her hair from her face.

"What are you doing in there?" Amos asked.

"Been assigned by the sanitary police. Things are starting to go bad. Did you know this blueberry yogurt expired two months ago?"

"I do know," he said. Frowned. He took the yogurt and tossed it in the trash behind him. "Gone. What else?"

"This applesauce. Hasn't expired yet, but it's gone all moldy at the top," she said, pointing to the jar. He took it, chucked it behind him.

"Ok, what else ya got?" The fridge woman was about to give up some fuzzy meat in tin foil when Amos' wife came up behind him.

"Close the door," the wife said.

"Trying to figure out what to eat," Amos replied, not removing his eyes from the small woman on the shelf.

"You're letting the cold out," his wife said.

"It's plenty cold out here," he said. The fridge woman snickered and from above Amos's head, a pale hand appeared on the door and slammed it closed. The small woman was left on the shelf with the steady electric hum of the fridge and the dull, gray cold.

Amos began leaving the small woman things, dry foods— toast points, sandwich cookies, a cereal o, which she fashioned into a bracelet. She nibbled on it in the evening hours leading up to Amos's night visits. Midnight munchies, he called it and shouted to the wife in the other room, excuses. She shouted back that he'd get fat and who would love him then?

They knew. But it was too absurd. Too impractical. It was unreasonable for a full sized adult to have a relationship with a 7TBS sized adult.

The wife, frustrated by the crumbs on the fridge's shelves, called Amos out. Who do you think has to clean this up?! Such anger for such a minor crime. He left behind his lunch sacks when he went to work. Eventually she stopped putting notes in the lunch sacks. Then she stopped making him lunch altogether.

After a time, it was just the wife who opened the fridge. Amos gone a day, then a week, then a month.

In her depression, the fridge woman drank from open mugs of beer and coffee gone rancid, left there by the wife. The lettuce went wilty, then gooey, then turned to murky black liquid at the back of the fridge; the clear plastic box a science experiment terrarium. She ate kernels of rice gone hard from take-out barely touched. In fact, both women did. Together they shared the sordid remnants of the stainless steel refrigerator—the kind that gave you ice and filtered water on demand.

The wife opened the fridge, stared inside, closed the fridge, taking nothing. The wife stood in the cold of the fridge with red rimmed eyes. The wife drank the juice from the pickle-less pickle jar; put it back. The wife scrubbed the produce drawer. The wife threw out the condiments.

She did not notice the woman in the fridge, who had few places left to hide. One day, the wife left the refrigerator door open. Just a little. The cold began to weep out of the fridge. The tiny woman looked out and down to the wood floors below and outside. A powdery light came through the windows. She did not know it was the sun, but it was inviting. She thought to jump. She thought to make a run for it. But then the wife noticed her mistake, slammed the door shut, nearly catching the tiny woman's hair. The tiny woman fell back and for days no one came again.

On the last remaining bottle of beer, the woman pushed. With her back up against the glass, cold with condensation, she crunched her eyes, the veins in her neck straining. On the label, a dragon sat on a swing. Dangerous, wistful, both. She understood. She gave the bottle one more heave and it fell over with a metallic clunk. She tried to pry off the top. It was a twist off. With her entire body she wound and wound around. And then: a spill of beer. Glug glug glug came the amber liquid. The woman slipped to the shelf below. Opened her mouth to take it in; the deluge of ale inundating her. There was more than her small body could handle. She couldn't stop it. Struggling to even breathe. Drowning. She fell to her knees and then onto her back. The shelf was cold on her back.

Amos returned. It would be only the one time, as these things happen, as he told his buddies. After sex with his soon-to-be ex-wife, Amos crept past her snoring tangled body and went to the kitchen. It was nearly morning and gauzy light filtered through dirty windows. He went to the fridge. The internal ice machine released its uniform cubes. Fingerprints smudged the stainless steel door.

Inside, he found her, miniscule mouth agape, arms just fragile wisps. Sticky alcohol covered her body and the nearby shelves. He pinched her small body with his fingertips resting her head on the pad of his pointer finger. Setting her in the kitchen sink, the stainless steel muddily reflected her blond locks. He cried. He could still hear his not wife's snoring from upstairs. It was fairly muffled from this distance, but it still grinded. He pushed a finger on the small woman's chest. Push. Blew a breath of air into her mouth, like blowing an eyelash off a fingertip. Push. Huff. Push. Huff. Her eyelids stuttered. Her lips twitched. She coughed. Amber liquid fountained out of her, enough to fill a thimble. She opened her eyes and lifted her head. Recognized the great tendrils of wild arm hair first and lay her head back down. Amos placed her on a potholder, told her to hang on a minute.

He took a rag to clean the spilled beer. Wiped the countertops too. He studied the toaster oven and microwave. There were no tiny women there. Were there always women in the corners and crevices in the world that directed life? Was the purpose to go unnoticed? But he had noticed her. Did this happen to other people? With a dishtowel and clean sponge, he made a bed for the small woman in a plastic storage container. He cleaned his fingerprints from the stainless steel refrigerator in the granite-countered kitchen in the newly renovated rambler in the suburbs.

BIO: Jennifer Fliss is a Seattle-based fiction and essay writer. Her work has appeared in PANK, The Rumpus, The Citron Review, Necessary Fiction, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter at @JFlissCreative or via her website, www.jenniferflisscreative.com