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A short story by Mike Dixon

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 out.

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 you down.

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 stared outside.

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 that.

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 through.

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 Slut’s revelations.

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. For rights information, contact The Richmond Review in the first instance


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