I guess it would’ve been better if I hadn’t been stoned at the time.
I was just running out the trash, see, it was Saturday night and we were all getting baked to marathon-watch “BoJack Horseman” and my girlfriend complained she couldn’t fit anything else in the garbage can. Rather than risk an argument about how I’m always the one who takes out the trash — even though I am — I just tied the bag up, slipped on my shoes, and ran it out to the dumpsters in the alley behind the house.
Bulky pickup must be tomorrow because I noticed an awful lot of large items next to the dumpsters. They spanned all the way down the alley, all our neighbors throwing out the big stuff they didn’t feel like hauling to the junkyard. A set of drawers, an old TV with the fat part on the back, a haphazardly dismantled couch. Looked like someone took a saw to it.
Next to our particular dumpster was just one of those vintage fridges. You know, old-old like you’d see in “Leave It To Beaver” or “I Love Lucy.” They’ve got the solid white retro-futuristic shapes, long silver handles. I was stoned, remember, so I kind of laughed to myself because it reminded me of what the 1940s thought a spaceship might look like.
I opened the dumpster and dropped in the full-to-bursting trash bag of beer bottles and McDonald’s remains. I let the lid of the dumpster close with a bang.
Before I headed back inside I stood there for a moment, savoring the unseasonably warm December weather, and almost immediately jumped when I heard:
“Hey, who’s out there?! Help me! Get me outta here!”
I had a brief flash of one of those old 80s shows, a “very special episode” where a kid gets trapped inside a refrigerator by accident. What was it? “Diff’rent Strokes?” “Family Ties?”
I couldn’t remember.
“Yeah, kid, I’m here,” I said, immediately tugging on the handle of the fridge. It didn’t open, handle didn’t even budge.
“Oh, thank you, thank you,” the kid said tearfully, because it was a kid, a little one it sounded like. “It’s getting hard to breathe in here! Please get me out!”
I pulled again and again. No dice. It was like someone had sealed the thing shut.
Shit. My pleasant high had floated away and was replaced by a jittery sort of panic.
“Hold on, kid,” I said, looking around for another adult, maybe someone who was a better adult, more adult-y than me in this current situation. “I’ll get you out, just don’t freak out or anything.”
“My big brother,” the kid said, sort of ignoring me and sounding more upset as he went on, “my big brother, he told me this would be a good hiding spot for hide and seek, he said it was the best spot and he really deserved it but he wanted me to hide here!”
“Okay, that’s fine.” Jesus, when was the last time I worked out? Why couldn’t I get this stupid door open?
“He’s usually so mean, my brother Johnny, I was so happy he was being nice for once!” The kid took in a deep breath, shuddery and sad. Or sort of like he was running out of air.
“I’ll be right back, kid, I’m gonna get this thing open, just wait.”
“NO!” he shouted, and it sounded like he was pounding on the door with both hands. “No, please don’t leave me, please don’t leave me here by myself! I don’t know how long I’ve been in here and I’m so scared!”
I stopped between my garage and the fridge, hesitating, totally unsure what to do.
“You need to calm down,” I said, kind of both to the kid and myself at the same time. “I’m just going to the garage, I’m going to find something to get the door open. Just wait just one second, okay? I won’t leave you alone long.”
A pause, then:
“Please hurry,” the kid said miserably.
I did. I hurried to the garage and searched it, frantic, finding only old half-inflated soccer balls and dirty Swiffer mops I’d abandoned there to die. I wanted a crowbar, I needed a crowbar, but how often do you spot one of those in the garage of a bunch of 20-somethings who don’t have their shit together quite yet?
But then, in a haphazard hefty tupperware full of miscellaneous tools, I spotted it: a huge, heavy-duty hammer. Probably not ours, probably the landlord’s, but fuck it. I didn’t think he’d mind if I used it to save a little kid’s life.
I scrambled back to the old fridge and, after giving it one or two more experimental pulls on the handle to be sure I wasn’t just too baked to figure it out, started working the claw end of the hammer into the seam between the door and the fridge itself.
“Johnny’s always so mean to me,” the kid said as I dug and pulled, dug and pulled. “Like he doesn’t even want me around. He says Mama and Pop should’ve stopped after him. He wants to be the baby and I’m the baby and it makes him so mad.”
“Uh huh,” I said, hardly listening as I struggled to make headway. It never even occurred to me to get anyone else’s help, you know?
“I thought he was being nice. For once. Shoulda figured.”
“Uh huh,” I said again. I had managed to work one of the claws into the rubber seam and was trying to get the other one in there.
“Maybe he didn’t do it on purpose, though?” The kid’s voice was pathetically hopeful and it made me feel so bad for a second. Then, I remembered: “Punky Brewster.” That was the show where the kid got trapped in a fridge. I saw it on one of those clickbait nostalgia-type articles.
Suddenly the hammer got some traction and the fridge door was opening, I pulled as hard as I could and the door was opening and then —
I stood there for a long moment, staring, utterly unsure of what to think or believe or even do. I almost jumped out of my skin when I heard:
“Hey there sport, whatcha looking at?”
It was my neighbor across the way, the one I shared an alley with who lived on the street beyond mine. Mr. Sanders. Nice dude. The old guy was tottering towards me as his ancient overweight dachshund, Buttons, waddled his way around the yard to do his business.
“This fridge,” I said, and then stopped, because there was nothing else I could say.
“Oh, found my old fridge, didja?” He gave me a smile that was missing quite a few teeth and leaned against the gate of his backyard fence. “Pretty neat, huh? Don’t make ’em like that anymore, no sir-ee.”
“It’s your fridge?” I said dumbly. In my pocket, my phone buzzed once. A quick glance saw a text from my girlfriend:
Where r u? Waiting on u 4 Bojack
“Yup.” Mr. Sanders regarded the fridge fondly from his spot on his property. “Parents found it in the dump when I was a kid. Never really worked, but they brought it home anyway. Just sorta stayed in the basement after they died. They couldn’t bear to part with it, I guess. Thought I’d do some spring cleaning, get rid of it.”
It’s December but yeah, whatever. Then, something horrible occurred to me.
“Mr. Sanders,” I started, but he grinned again, flashing all those empty spaces between his teeth.
“No reason to be so formal! You can call me John.”
“You ever have a little brother, John?”
His face closed up then. It was like all the muscles in his face sort of let go, then tensed again in a look that wasn’t very nice at all.
“No.” Mr. Sanders snapped his fingers impatiently in the direction of Buttons, urging him to finish his business. “Only child, as it were.” Then he spotted the hammer in my hand. His eyes flicked from it to the open door of the fridge. “Whatcha up to there, sport?”
I closed the fridge door, fast.
“Nothing. Just getting rid of some garbage.”
Mr. John Sanders stared me down for a long moment before smiling again. This one, though, it was all teeth (or missing teeth.) No eyes behind it.
“You and me both, sport,” he said. “You and me both.”