FRIDGE by Xueyi Zhou

Say you just move into a new apartment. A freshly finished apartment with a lingering smell of paint. The apartment is not big but it’s your own, and that’s something. You work hard for it, wall by wall, for a tiny cell in a honeycomb. However, a bare box with only a man inside seems more like a lock-up than a lodging, which means now you need appliances. Your choices are limited by the small space and your thin wallet. But you decide to treat yourself, to get something nice. To make it cozier, more like home. You are torn between an air-conditioner and a fridge. An air-conditioner is important, especially when you are settling in a hot city. It’s unbearable most days, with the biting heat and the biting mosquitoes. However, a fridge sounds like money better spent. You grew up with a constant hunger and it pains you to see food go bad and get thrown into the bin. Also, you can take advantage of the AC late in the office after your boss leaves, since he never pays for overtime and hasn’t spotted anything wrong with the utility bill. The transaction is fair so long as you don’t press your lucky temperature too low. 

You know what? Make it the fridge. 

Now you’ve decided to buy a fridge as your first home appliance. That’s a big step. You need to choose carefully which fridge to bring home. Cheap fridges suck out more electricity and break down frequently. Besides, you don’t like the look of them. They are too tacky, with poorly-lined flower patterns pretending to be luxurious. The Japanese one looks inviting. Much more attractive, actually. Almost too perfect, too out-of-reach. You roam around the mall collecting sidelong looks and silent contempt from the saleswomen, still empty-handed. Then you see a bright white fridge at the corner tagged “on sale.” The price is marked way down due to a small scratch at the front door. You inspect its label to find that it was made in Germany. The suspicious low price now makes sense. You know how the Germans are. They take things very seriously. The fridge works well and you have a secret fondness for German products, for their reliability, even though you have never been to Germany, nor have you ever met a German. You take out your credit card and swipe away your next month’s salary and bring the fridge home. Back-breaking inconvenience for an extra saving of delivery fee makes it a sweeter deal.

You carefully place the fridge in the kitchen, the center piece of the puzzle. Your sweat forms a little mirror on the floor and you smell worse than the paint, but you don’t care. The fridge looks beautiful, even with the scratch. In fact, the scratch is what brings life to it, like a painting by Fontana, breaking the line between dream and reality. A cut from which life pours in and flushes out possibilities. The fridge fills the apartment and life fills you. You feel like you are not alone, a new feeling after your mother died. The fridge is freezing inside, but its surface is warm. You touch the scratch gently as if touching a wrinkle on someone’s face. The scratch is the only reason you can afford a nice German fridge. 

Next you visit the supermarket. You spend rather generously, taking all quality food to the cashier without hesitation. A packet of Japanese noodles, a jar of Australian jam, and, of course, a bottle of Parisian water. They are not cheap but it’s OK, take a breath and loosen up a bit. You are holding the basket handle too tight as if those things could escape. You feel like you and your fridge deserve them. You two deserve something good once in a while. Don’t run away. You are allowed to have them. The girl at the cashier asks you whether you would like to have a free magnet. “Sign up for our membership and the magnet is yours. You can save 2% with every purchase.” You mumble to yourself what a rich-people’s scam, and you will not set foot in this pretentious supermarket again, but the magnet grips you at first glance. You recognize that it is the Golden Gate Bridge. Plus, what’s the point of buying a fridge without dressing it up with a magnet? You surrender your credit card and swipe again, carefully pocket the magnet and out you go on the road, with a bag of heavier debts.

You enter your apartment and open the fridge. It has the new fridge smell, somewhat similar to what you remember smelling in the hospital. A smell of nothing-ness, dominant by its absence, a smell you will never forget. You put all the countries into the fridge: Japan, Australia, France. All the countries you and your mother have never been to. Now they are all inside your new fridge. Oh, don’t forget, there’s one more: USA. You stick the magnet onto the front door, not to cover the scratch but to decorate it, and to be decorated. But wait, no, something is off. Right! You turn your wallet inside out and insert a tiny photo between the fridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a very tiny photo, taken a long time ago. The cheap ink keeps fading but you can still see the woman’s face, though faint, much prettier than the face you saw at the funeral. Suddenly you notice the fridge is as rectangular as a coffin. No matter where you are from—Japan, Australia, France, USA—eventually you end up inside a rectangular ice box. You are at lost for a moment until the warmth emitted by the fridge pulls you back. Everything has been improving, you think. You even have a nice German-made fridge now, with all the fancy countries in it. You stroke the scratch again and say thank you, and get ready to leave for work again. Before you go you take a reluctant final look, at the bright new fridge with a scratch, a Golden Gate Bridge and your mother and a world inside it. You look closer into the silhouette in the photo. The cheap ink is fading and the black is no longer black. It fades into a Chinese red, a color that reminds you of blood and good omens.


Xueyi Zhou is an emerging writer in mainland China. A native Chinese, she enjoys the challenge of writing in English, a language out of her parents’ reach. More importantly, she enjoys the eyerolling of her family when they demand to know but can’t. She currently works full-time in a stainless-steel trading company in Foshan. She is on Facebook.
 

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

Read Next: I AM A WRITER by Danny Swain