After we shut off the water supply and unbolt the line, Bug scurries down the hall for towels.
“Which one?” he calls. “Where the laundry is?”
“No, across from the laundry. The little door. That’s going to be the linen closet.”
“Okay.” He comes back with all we posess, his arms spilling over with a rainbow of hand-me-down terrycloth. It’s a familiar routine on a new stage. So many rainstorms, so many sopping towels. My father would holler up from the basement for more as he tried to staunch another torrent from the window well. We’d run the mucky things through one dryer cycle after another as we hustled to stay one step ahead of the next cloudburst.
“Home ownership,” he’d grumble and shake his head at me, determined as I was to take up this albatross. “You’re about to find out what it’s really like.”
There were moments in the past nine months – long, doubt-thick fogs – when I was certain I couldn’t pull it off. Contentious short sale, single parenthood, rising interest rates, flat income. Panic. Resultant blindness. I remember my father standing in the kitchen of his messy, leaky-walled, well-loved house, penetrating me with that take-no- BS gaze I remember from the report-card years. Just like then, his force skewered me to my pre-determined potential and kept me from dipping my toes too deep in defeat’s indulgence. “It’s time for you to join the owning class,” he’d say. “And there are three reasons that this IS going to happen.” He counted them out on his fingers, punctuating each one with his signature boom.
By the time the second loan fell through, I had forgotten all three.
Bug and I snap each towel open and sop up the flood behind the fridge. The drywall is bubbling halfway up to the ceiling. A puddle forms anywhere we move the stainless-steel behemoth despite having unhitched it from both power and sustenance.
“I just don’t know about refrigerators,” I shrug. I pry off the grille underneath. Nothing. Behind is a flat metal expanse with three braided lines disappearing back inside. No drain holes are visible. Closed system? I have no idea. The dog-eared paper manual left by the previous owner goes into great detail about adjusting the thermostat but is silent on the topic of leaks.
“Let’s look it up on the computer,” Bug says. “Type in, ‘water leaking from refrigerator onto floor.”
“Good plan, Stan.”
YouTube directs us to remove the back panel from the freezer and clean the line (which line?) with a flexible wire. I’m not sure what we have on hand. The basket where we keep our assortment of hand tools was supposed to be for mail but it has been re-assigned in the absence of a toolbox. Bug digs through it and brings me an adjustable wrench and a pair of pliers. One was my grandfather’s, the other filched from my dad’s garage.
Together we take out the frozen homemade pizza dough, the giant bags of Costco nuts, and the appliance bulb. I root around and jimmy the ice maker. The nuts – the kind that go with bolts – are too small and tucked away. “Can’t do it. I need a socket wrench.”
“It has a short, silvery-chrome tube you put on the end and you slip it over the nut this way.” I gesture it out for him.
“Oh yeah. That kind. My daddy has one of those socket things.”
“I know he does,” I say. It used to be ours. That part, I don’t say. Bug hands me the light bulb and I screw it back in. “Well, that’s all we can do for tonight, Buddy. Let’s pack her up again and hope for the best.”
We stash away the almonds and sourdough. With sufficient square footage to sustain half a Syrian refugee camp, the GE Model 18 squats in the center of our tiny kitchen. We shimmy it to a parking spot at an odd angle near the window and plug it back in, leaving the soggy corner free to air out. The pipe from the wall continues its incessant little drip despite me finding the shut-off valve and applying all the PSI my arms can muster. I pop a small margarine container under it for the night. The towels are drenched and we start a load of wash.
We stand together on the damp kitchen tile and consider the humming barbican. “Do you think it’s going to keep leaking on us?”
“I don’t know,” Bug says. He traces his fingertips along one of the contour lines smearing the door. “Maybe we should wash it off.”
I nod. “Good idea.” I wet some sponges. “Maybe if we tell it nice things, it won’t spit water on the floor tonight. Maybe I could say, ‘I promise to do my best never to let any vegetables rot inside you.’”
“Okay.” Bug starts to scrub the brushed surface. He talks to it in a lullaby voice. “We will fill you with all the stuff you like,” he says. “Ice cream. And snowballs.”
“And fresh berries the whole time they’re in season.” I reach up on top and scrub at the grease the previous owner failed to remove.
“And carrots,” he adds.
“It likes cold things.” Bug digs out the bag of magnets he has brought from the other house. The single photograph he chose to pilfer from his grandparents’ fridge is a dozen years old and curling at the edges. It shows me standing by a concrete signpost on the Appalachian Trail. My father is next to me, frozen in time delivering a safety lecture as I embark on my first weeklong solo backpacking trek. In the shot, I pick at my fingernails as the monstrous pack digs into my shoulders. Hand extended, my father counts off the three things I absolutely must remember as I walk alone into semi-wilderness.
By the second night, I had forgotten them all.
Bug finds a place on the side where the magnet will bite and he puts the photo up. I swipe the last kitchen towel across her silvery skin and say, “Good night, good fridge.”
“Stay dry,” says Bug. “We’ll see you in the morning.”