The Woman in the Refrigerator

Megan Pillow Davis

 

Deni was first to scramble to the top of the junk heap.

“Queen of the Mountain!” she said, pumping her fists in the air like Rocky Balboa. She sat down on the refrigerator, half buried at the peak between a rusted shopping cart and an old box spring, and kicked a milk carton down at Nell, who was climbing up slowly after her.

“Slowpoke,” said Deni.

“Showoff,” said Nell. She sat on the fridge next to Deni. Everything sucked. And her boobs were sore. She’d been waiting to get her period ever since they’d started getting bigger almost six months ago, and still nothing. Deni had had hers for over a year.

Fucking bleed already, Nell thought. Otherwise, I’m gonna kill somebody.

Deni grinned.

“Only show off when I earn it,” she said. She pulled at the refrigerator handle. “Wanna see if there’s anything inside?”

The junk heap was just tall enough for the girls to look over the trees to town. Church steeples pointed through the branches like goalposts. The bright white dome of the library rose up like a ball nestled in the deep green of unmowed grass.

Nell took a joint from her bra, rolled it between her fingers. She rapped her knuckles against the fridge door. The sound was deadened, like the refrigerator was still full of food. She imagined Kit-Kats and Trix yogurt, the kinds of things her mother never let her eat.

“Open it,” she said.

Deni pulled the handle. It popped open with a loud thock!,like a suction cup pulled from a wall. Inside was Ms. Willingham. Deni screamed, a sharp sound that spiraled over the treetops. Nell stuck the joint behind her ear and stared.

Ms. Willingham’s blonde hair was always pulled back and her dress pulled over her knees when she taught their eighth grade Algebra class. But now her hair was filthy and loose around her cheeks and her dress up around her waist. Her arms and legs were folded against her chest like some kind of weirdo yoga pose. She was wearing the dress that the news said she’d last been seen in when she went missing a week ago. The nails on her hands were broken and bloody. Her face was pale, except where it was a dark, mottled black where her cheek rested against the inside of the fridge. In one of her blue eyes, a web of red blood vessels netted around the iris.

And then Ms. Willingham closed that eye. A wink.

Deni was still screaming. Nell put a hand over her mouth.

“Hush,” she said. “Did you see that?”

“What the fuck?” said Deni, pushing Nell’s hand away. She whispered fucklike she always did in the back of her mom’s car on their way to soccer practice, even though there were no adults around other than Ms. Willingham.

“She winked,” said Nell.

“She’s dead, you crazy bitch!” screamed Deni. “We gotta tell the police.” She scrambled down the heap and headed toward the junkyard entrance. Nell took the joint from behind her ear and put it back in her bra and scrambled down after her. She looked back once. Ms. Willingham was waving one bloody hand.

The cops didn’t waste time. The head detective was a muscular woman with a pixie cut who Deni said was a dyke and who Nell secretly thought was cute. She said her name was Nancy. She made them tell their story from the back of the police car as it roared toward the junkyard, siren blaring and lights ablaze. At the top of the heap, Detective Nancy opened the refrigerator door. Empty.

“All right, you little twats,” she said, and slammed it shut again. “What are you playing at?”

Deni stammered, but Nell said nothing. What if the killer had been watching them and moved the body? No. Ms. Willinghamhad moved. Nell scanned the junkyard perimeter. Was she watching them from the trees?

Detective Nancy was staring at her. “Are you high?” she said.

“Not yet,” said Nell.

That night, after smoking the joint in the bathroom, Nell lay in bed and tried not to think about Ms. Willingham. Every time she rolled to her side, her breasts ached like an infection she couldn’t shake. Her mom had warned her that her period would be mostly about discomfort and inconvenience. But nobody told her the hair on her armpits and crotch and would coarsen or that she’d get cranky at the full moon. Nobody mentioned that she’d turn into a fucking werewolf.

Nell closed her eyes and there was Ms. Willingham, bloody, waving. She’d imagined it. Of course she had. But Ms. Willingham was still missing. And she was nice. Why couldn’t it have been Coach Underwood, who always walked into the girls’ locker room when everyone was still changing? Or Mr. Reynolds, who rubbed all the girls’ shoulders during class and once blew an airhorn up Nell’s skirt while she wrote on the board, showing everybody her underwear? Why couldn’t it have been that pervert Mr. Zager, who ran his finger down her arm last week and said she was blossoming into a beautiful woman?

Outside, Nell heard the sound of shifting gravel, almost like footsteps on the driveway. She got out of bed went to the window. Ms. Willingham was standing on her driveway. She raised one bloody hand and smiled. Her mouth was also filled with blood. Ms. Willingham’s lips didn’t move, but Nell could hear her: Come down, Nell. Let’s go eat them up.

Nell opened her mouth to speak. A howl rose up out of her throat, deep and guttural. She threw her head back. She gave herself over to it.

Men for five miles around heard her and gave a collective shiver. Coach Underwood and Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Zager brought their little dogs inside. But because it was a quiet town where nothing bad ever happened (to men, at least) they didn’t bother to lock their doors.

 

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Megan Pillow Davis is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is currently a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared, among other places, in Brain, Child Magazine; Still: The Journal; and The Huffington Post. She is the 2017-2018 Pen Parentis Writing Fellow and is currently at work on her first novel.