A cozy corner, a cup of coffee, time to think deep thoughts. The clack of my computer keys is often an effective barrier, preventing strangers from intruding on the hatching of the whimsical notions I ply as my stock in trade. “I’m working here,” my posture shouts. “No time for idle conversations.” Clack, clack.
And yet, from the table directly next to mine, the words penetrate even the most resolute defenses. “… not the first dead thing I’ve kept in my freezer.”
The choice now is mine. Take a deep breath, store the overheard confession in the discarded conversations storehouse with thousands of other unwelcomed thoughts, or drop my guard, pretend to be cleaning the screen of the computer, and indulge in the guilty pleasure of purposefully eavesdropping.
I lean back in my chair, a writer stretching, nothing out of the ordinary, certainly not arching closer to the voice to my left. I extend my arms, strike the about to yawn pose, fold myself as one might in yawning extravagently and slide just an inch or two closer in time to hear the unexpected.
“I jammed him in while he was still warm. So devastating. Only fourteen. But beautiful in his own sweet way, right until his last shriek.”
OK, Jimmy Hoffa, D.B. Cooper, Amelia Earhart. Who, exactly, looked sweetly hot until the screaming ended? Fourteen? Fourteen? The mind goes where the mind goes. Jeffrey Dahmer’s fridge. Uneaten fortune cookies. Oh God!
The thoughtful reader will note that there has been no mention of intervening phone calls or cries for help. “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” “Well, I can’t tell for sure, but I think the lady at the next table stuffed a dead fourteen year old in her freezer. Not the first time, either.”
But then, second thought. Not the first time for this body, or not the first time for any number of bodies? What are we looking at here? Casual, first timer in the freezer game or serial freezer feeder?
The perp at the next table continued.
“My last cockatiel made it to sixteen. Henry was more fit, a healthy bird. I hold myself accountable. I should not have over done the treats. That was all about me. Me. Not Henry. Henry needed leafy greens and fruit, and I was tossing coffee toffee in the cage. He liked it. Ate it anyway. Seemed fine. Then dead.”
The world just became slightly less grim. No children were frozen in the making of this conversation. I hunched back over my own table, ready to take up my endlessly amusing attempt to turn 1960’s brainless TV shows into Broadway musicals. Diverting as heck but apparently not of interest to anyone else. Hogan’s Heroes, The Musical? Come on, who doesn’t want to hear Sergeant Schultz warble, “I know Nussing” as the plucky prisoners prepare a drag act for the compound’s talent show?
Work. Work. And yet.
OK, cockatiel, but not the first? And why the freezer? Need time to prepare a formal farewell? Out-of-town relatives flying in for a service? Relatives of yours? Of his? Taxidermy an option? Is freezing the way to go if stuffing an old and beloved friend? So many questions, none of which were answered. Off they went on some other tangent. Saving the planet, whatever, blah, blah, blah.
I’m looking at my screen. Trying to come up with a musical number for Arnold Ziffer, a pig, the most sentient of the life forms appearing on Green Acres. Arnold first appeared on Petticoat Junction, the show that introduced Hooterville, a show which was, itself, spawned from an earlier laugh riot about country folk, The Beverly Hillbillies. Arnold is a wunderpig; he makes Wilbur, Charlotte the Spider’s porcine pal, look like the even-toed ungulate that he was. Compared to Arnold, Wilbur was lunchmeat on the hoof. The gag on Green Acres is that the whole town responds to Arnold as though he is an actual human child of Fred and Doris Ziffel, an academic standout who watches Walter Chronkite to keep up with current events and whose work as a painter if the school of abstract expressionism has won him the title of Porky Picasso.
Thus the dilemma. There’s no fun to be had in exaggerating Arnold’s absurdity; it’s already over the top. It was that sudden opening in the fabric of the universe – nothing to write – that brought a curious memory to mind.
I’m very fond of guinea pigs; we had one or more for years, until the pain of grieving the latest loss became too great, and we went without. All of the guinea pigs were named after islands – Samoa, Fiji, Java Lava, etc. I can’t remember which of them died as we were in the act of moving from Detroit to Connecticut, a horrific tale of misplaced ambition to be told elsewhere. The movers were an ad hoc lot; they forgot to move our bedroom, for example. Suffice it to say, the moving was not going well, and then we discovered that we had lost a dear pet and friend.
The truck is rolling. What to do?
We packed a shoe box with newspapers and gently place the departed in a comfy nest of papers, a nest he/she would have liked had he/she been capable of being alive.
Moving is hell. Boxes stand unopened for weeks, months on end. In this case, the shoe box was relegated to a side porch outside our new home, stacked on other boxes we knew we had to get to quickly. Somewhere in the first afternoon a new neighbor stopped by, not to meet and greet, but to snoop through our things, get a sense of who we were by hefting the things we owned. His thoughtfully designed plan went south when he opened the shoe box on top of the pile.
I’m pretty sure it was curiosity rather than responsibility that brought him to our front door. He stood, puzzled, shoe box in hand, and said, “Did you know there’s a dead animal in here?”
We did, but understanding in an instant that this shared reality could not have happened without some rifling of our boxes, we nodded, took the box, and asked, “You didn’t open the big box on the bottom, did you?
Farewell, blithe cockatiel. Here’s hoping a stranger sneaks into the freezer looking for ice cream.