Main T.o.C. Door #1 Door #2 Door #3 Contest Gallery
image Sally Houtman
One With Everything

“My ice cubes are melting,” I say to the phone. I try not to sound pathetic.

“This is Parts and Repair,” the man says. His voice is rough, could use sanding.

“I called earlier,” I say, “and was referred to another number.”

“Mmm. Mmm.” the man says. I feel him softening. He knows my pain.

“At that number,” I say, “I was asked for my account information and told to go to and register to search the database for an answer to my problem.”

“Uh-huh. Uh-huh.”

“I did,” I say. “There wasn’t.”


“I called the number on the website and was referred back to the second number who gave me a third number.”

“Uh-huh. I see.”

“At that number someone verified my account information and referred me back to you.” I am on the home stretch now. Victory is mine.

“Ah,” the voice responds, a faint twinkle in this sea of night. “Please hold.”

I do. And for a moment I forget that I am a divorcee in a rented apartment with vertical blinds and a dishwasher I will never use. I forget that I am an office clerk who bites her nails and wears tube socks to bed. For one brief moment I am in control. I have grabbed single life by the neck, wrestled it to the ground and pressed its contemptuous face into the carpet. Helen Reddy, hear me roar. I am strong. I am invincible. I am...


I can do this, I tell myself. How hard can it be? Women get divorced every day and manage to get by. I slip on my shoes and my blue knit sweater and head to the store. I am filled with rough anticipation; the untarnished hope of heroes and pioneers.

In the store the light is dim. The hands on the clock look like knives. A salesman emerges, extends his hand. He has spinach in his teeth. “My ice cubes are melting,” I say.

“Oh,” he says. His forehead creases. “Compressor malfunction.” His tie is crooked. His socks don’t match. Is that a moustache or a cry for help?

I nod.

“A fridge needs a free flow of air.” He waves his arms, demonstrating the free flow of air. “The stuffier the room, the harder the motor has to work to stay cool.” His words begin racing, speeding past. “As it creates cold its motor heats and the harder it has to work to cool. As it cools it heats and as it heats it cools. It’s a vicious cycle.” He’s getting away from me. The train is leaving. I’m not on board. He is panting now, his finger wags. “And extension cords...well...they’re the kiss of death, a recipe for premature burn-out.”

He should know.

“I need a new fridge,” I say. Easy on the helplessness, I think.

He claps his hands, “Right! First you look at the energy rating.” He raps his knuckle on a yellow tag. “These show the efficiency ratings of each model. Did you bring a calculator?”

“Oh,” I say. “Silly me.”

“No problemo. It’s easy. Just multiply the average energy use of the model by 8700 – that’s the number of hours in a year – then multiply the number by the per kilowatt hour charge in the area where you live. You do know your per kilowatt hour charge, don’t you?”

I didn’t study. I’m not prepared. “Who doesn’t,” I say. “It’s practically all I think about.”

He pauses, rubs his chin. “Next you need to consider size. I can put you in anything from our baby bar fridge to our top-of-the-line 1780 by 900 by 730, 614 liter French Door Iridium.”

It’s an enigma. I can’t crack the code. “Okay,” I say. “Iridium sounds nice.”

“If you have high storage needs, then the Iridium’s the one for you.”

I think about what’s in my broken fridge at home: a half jar of marmalade and a ten day old Panini that looks like Mick Jagger. I decide the bar fridge will do.

I stop for a burger on my way home. There is a boy behind the counter. He is not much older than my shoes. I ask for a plain burger with lettuce and tomato only. He gives me a stricken look. “But what do you want me to hold?” he asks.

“Uh, everything but the lettuce and tomato, I suppose.” We are dancing in circles, running in place.

“But the computer isn’t programmed to enter what you want put on, just what you want left off,” he says. The robots have taken over. He wasn’t informed.

I square my shoulders and speak sharply to the pitted slope of his nose. “I don’t know your recipe now, do I? So how am I to tell you what not to put on when I don’t know what it is you do put on?” I refuse to give in. I am a woman of purpose, hard-wired to whine.

He is perched on sanity’s steep pitched roof, slipping fast. “Hang on,” he says.

“You, too,” I say.

He meets my gaze, a dull sheen of anguish appears in his eyes. “I’m really sorry,” he says. “I’m new at this.”

I know how he feels.

I take a deep breath and stare at my shoes. Perhaps I am being too hard on this lad, asking too much. After all, a person can’t be expected to change at a moment’s notice. They can’t just learn things overnight. I mean, there you are just zipping along one minute and the next minute something hits you – BAM! – some unexpected wrinkle, some small unwelcome change – and you’re expected just to deal with it, to keep smiling and move on.

My purpose has faded to a memory now, a grainy film on a rusty reel. “It’s okay,” I say. I feel myself warming, beginning to thaw. “Just give me one with everything.”