That year, I learned about the Doppler effect in physics class. What makes the noise of a speeding car seem a pitch lower after it’s sped by you. It was fall. My pimples were mostly gone but I was still fainting. I had not yet learned how to take the new refrigerator for granted–the choice of shaved or cubed was still exciting to me.
The second week we had the machine, it would not stop making ice. It was shooting and spewing it all day and night. The churning made the kitchen floor vibrate and we had to put buckets below the machine to catch everything that came out. I still remember the sound of the hollow plastic ricochets. The thing persisted. It howled when we tried to unplug it. The company serviceman took a week to come and when he did, an hour of expensive fiddling did not stop the problem, it just crippled it. The man installed an alternator switch that would allow us to slow down the ice-shooting motor to a barely-recognizable pace when we didn’t need to use it. But it would always be running. A few cubes would still escape at night. Sometimes during an unpleasant silence at dinner, its faint whir would be heard in the background, a barely noticeable growl, the angriest plumbing and air condition gurgles you ever heard.
I had a party at my house one night, when all our problems seemed like manageable things to keep track of. I tried to be a passable master-of-ceremonies and patrol some critical order point around the kitchen and living room, but as usual, I got cocky. I gave in and went upstairs with someone. We were somewhere on the road to sweaty friction when she had to vomit and ran over to the toilet. Each retch-noise was inverted-sounding, a tape of someone’s agony played backwards. She cried and asked me if I hated her. But I wasn’t answering. Because a floor down, I could hear the refrigerator cranking and rumbling. The enormous whir and shake was in perfect sync with her spew. It shook the walls and rippled the posters of the bad bands. I heard a glass break and some guys yell out in a way that sounded amused or scared. But I could not be of anyone’s service by then, because I had fainted.
I dreamt of a taller, prettier girl I did not know, holding the refrigerator’s hair while it vomited ice into a bucket. I dreamt of someone I hated flicking his tongue over the alternator switch and making the refrigerator moan–it sounded like a hybrid of its own mechanical groan and the girly retch and a whistle noise I had heard once in a cartoon. In the dream, I blew my nose and salt and dandruff came out in huge chunks, like rock salt. The tissue I used was made of foam and hair and disgusted me out of sleep, the thought of which I laughed hard at in bed till I had calmed myself back to unconsciousness. In the morning, someone had slipped in the house’s endless puddles and was bleeding on the floor. I called 911.
I was in the second weekend of being grounded when it started up again, this time yielding to no one. Eventually, the refrigerator was taken away and when that happened it screamed the whole way down the stairs. It screamed into the ears of the moving men and it screamed outside where the sound echoed off of the neighbours’ houses. It did not stop, even when strapped into the truck. When it was driven away, the howl continued, except now reduced to a waning half-step lower, the Doppler effect concluding the experience with a diminishing, tapered defeat.
Daniel Powell is a student at Syracuse University, where he studies English and hosts Hungry Matron Radio, a weekly webcast show featuring readings, music and audio plays. Visit his blog at ambiguitron.blogspot.com.