How can water weigh so much?
It took her ten minutes to slice it from the freezer, prising a flimsy
knife between plastic and ice. She worked carefully and slowly: scraping
here, twisting there. It doesn’t pay to rush things like this, and Heather
distrusted knives. Despite her best efforts the blade seemed to be wedged somehow. She gave it a sharp tug and the ensuing crack made her worry she’d broken something
important inside, but the block seemed much freer and loose enough to get
Heather reached in behind it, trying not to scrape the skin on the backs
of her hands. She stretched her fingertips behind The Block and edged it
gingerly towards her, standing on tiptoes. Just before it tipped off the
shelf she shifted her right hand underneath, holding it in place. A thin
film of melting water was making everything slippery and her hands sting
with the cold. Her hands really hurt.
She hadn’t been expecting the weight of the thing (she should have
remembered) and nearly dropped it straight onto the floor, but her arms
tensed and her back arched just enough to hustle it into the sink.
It had been sitting there for an hour, resolutely not defrosting half as
fast as it bloody well should and Heather was bored. She switched on the
kettle, managed to wait until it had actually boiled (three minutes of
listening for bubbling and the click of cheap polyurethane springs),
unplugged the cord and poured it onto the ice. There was a satisfying fog
of steam and splintering noise, but no real progress. Even so, she felt
better and filled the kettle again for another go, but couldn’t be bothered
to switch it on. It stood there uselessly on the draining board.
Heather’s kitchen would be a depressing place to die. She hadn’t done the
washing up for a good five days and cups were piled onto plates like so
much crusted rubbish. A few stray curls of pasta had dried to the floor,
staking their claim amongst the smears and streaks of long forgotten
sauces. The best thing to do would be to clean. Definitely.
Heather wiped the window with the chewed cuff of her sleeve. A thin smear
of grease tracked her progress, indented with the texture of her top.
Things like that pleased her – the way you can rely on a jumper to make the
same mark again and again on the same window. Jumpers and grease never let
Her breath was wet against the glass. She signed her name absent-mindedly,
putting two dots over the ‘e’. He-ether. Imagine if she’d been called that:
her whole life would have probably been different. It would have been much
worse, of course, just because of those two little dots. She exhaled
against her signature, erasing what might have been. The faint outline was
still annoyingly visible, so she scrubbed at it with the chewed sleeve and
The view was pretty good if you like watching people come and go and what
they do. You could see them wander in and out of the bank opposite from
nine until five, six days a week. You could play The Bank Game: guess the
expression people will have coming out by the expression they have going
in. It’s hard at first, but you get a little anthropological skill after a
while. The trick is to watch how they push the door. You can always tell by
Three right guesses (bored, annoyed, annoyed) and one wrong guess had made no impact into The Block. It still sat there impudently, slowly sweating water. Heather went up to it and breathed at it as heatedly as she could. The odour of her
lungs surprised her, until she realised it was The Block that smelt. Funny
how you never expect ice to smell. There was something stale about it: the
ghosts of frozen peas and fish fingers diffusing into the kitchen.
From the outside, Heather’s window was nondescript; she’d never known
anyone to look up at her and catch her eye from the street below. For a
while she thought this was strange and unnatural – convinced that there was
something namelessly awful about her particular window, but now it seemed
normal. She’d even developed a theory: British people walk with their eyes
too low, fixed on the floor, watching for cracks in the pavement. Why?
Because of the weather. You can’t look up in England because you might get
rain in your eyes, or catch someone else’s, and then what would you do?
Pretend you don’t notice the weather or anyone else and you’ll do just
fine, love. But you can look down on people with impunity from up high, out
of the kitchen window. Homes are castles, after all.
She tried to remember how long it took the first time, to defrost. It had
taken her six days to notice the strange square of ice resting in the
freezer, after she moved in here with The Slut. Heather had found it and
not told him for some childish reason, wanting to have something all of her
own in this new place. Turns out that had a certain irony really, what with
his subsequent revelations.
The Block had – and this sounds stupid – spoken to her, radiating
importance like no chunk of frozen water had before in the whole history of
the world. It started to weigh on her mind more and more. She thought about
it all the time: hoovering, wiping the window with the cuff of her jumper,
washing up, having sex, buying fruit and eggs. But she couldn’t remember
how long it had taken to defrost. She definitely remembered sitting here in
the kitchen at three a.m., thinking things through, quietly murderous. The
morning must have filled up her memory too full and left no room for the
details of those hours in the kitchen.
Apparently, Mr. R. Seagrave (previous tenant and owner of the house and
The Block) had died in the kitchen. Had a heart attack over his toast. He
spasmed into his plate of sausages, tomatoes and eggs and ended up dead,
covered in yolk, like a sick joke. Maybe he didn’t like Marmite. His widow
had explained, quite convincingly as it happens, how she couldn’t live here
anymore what with him having died just there all of a sudden on a Tuesday
morning. So Heather and The Slut had moved in. And the Slut had moved out.
Pressed up close, she could see a faint glint through the surface of The
Block. It’s opacity was thinning and that dull, familiar shape throbbed
She boiled the kettle again and made a cup of tea with slightly sour milk.
Heather always put the milk in first and squeezed the teabag with a fork
against the side of the mug nearest the handle. She had no other rituals
apart from that one. And the defrosting, if doing something twice in the
same place counts as a ritual.
Heather often wondered whether The Widow had known about The Block. She
thought not: old women don’t have such secrets, they have grandchildren and
knitting and biscuits, not things like The Block. But then Mrs. Seagrave
had been old and frail and would have had problems getting it out of the
freezer. Her geriatric back wouldn’t have arched in the same way as
Heather’s and she might have dropped it, splintering onto the floor. Safer
perhaps to simply leave it, for chance and for Heather to find after The
Five right guesses in a row. (Lucky, Troubled, Drunk, Poor, In Love).
Heather had got thirteen once, but she’d been stoned and almost certainly
too generous in her marking. It had been the highlight of her week,
convinced that she’d come to a Nobel winning sociological breakthrough.
Five is pretty good though; most people can only manage two or three even
after a bit of practice.
The Block had melted enough: you could see almost all the way through and
spidery cracks laced its insides. Raising it above her head (it is a
ritual, after all), Heather cast it into the sink, where it lay in several
big pieces, still sweating. She unwrapped the cling film, layer by layer,
put the gun in her mouth, took it out again, walked downstairs and across
the street and took their money.
Copyright © Mike Dixon 2002
Mike Dixon was born in 1979, grew up in Oxford and is doing his finals in Philosophy at Cambridge. This is his first short story. He is writing some more and can be contacted at [email protected]
This story may not be archived or distributed further without
the author’s express permission. Please read the license.
This electronic version of Defrosting is published
by The Richmond Review by arrangement with the author.
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