Short story

Freezer Space by C. L Murphy

You’d be surprised how little space a man takes up in a freezer, if cut to fit.

I was.

Paul was an average height and an average build, slightly rounded in the middle, but I think it was the freezer drawers that made the difference, in the packing.

If Paul had bought a chest freezer, like I asked, it might never have been an issue.

I slid open the deepest drawer – the meat drawer, he’d called it, back when his head wasn’t surrounded by packs of frozen peas and pork chops. I took out the last of the minced beef, clearly marked with his black pen: eat by June 18.

I pulled on the drawer, shifting it a little as his nose stuck out in its Clingfilm wrap.

You probably think I’m some kind of monster. I’d never planned on killing him. I’d never planned on killing any of them, but there’s only so much yoga and chai tea a woman can take.  I tried baking. I tried redecorating the spare room. I even dug up the back yard and sowed rows of broad beans and carrots, and bought a green plastic potato planter from the garden centre.

Then I went to the library.

Use your anger, the poster said.

So I did.

Forty-three years, and the answer was staring me in the face.

I set aside the June 18 mince, and got out one of the burgers from my weekly shop. A real money saver, they were. One ninety-nine, for six.

“They’ve probably got horse meat in them,” I said to Paul’s head, as I moved it across to get at the frozen peas. “I bet Mrs Taylor doesn’t get one ninety-nine horse burgers.”

Mrs Taylor was a solicitor’s secretary. Mrs Taylor probably bought herself prime beef squeezed into delicate little rounds by a fine Italian gentleman with weird facial hair – not that all Italian men had weird facial hair, don’t get me wrong, but Mrs Taylor would appreciate that kind of facial hair on a butcher. After all, being a solicitor’s secretary, Mrs Taylor could afford the best.

I closed the freezer door, careful the bottom drawer was in place. Paul’s feet had always been unnaturally large. It was a shame that was the part of him blessed with size. It wasn’t like his feet had any great height to sustain, either, and now, wrapped in Clingfilm and pushed as far back as they could go, they still caught against the door if I wasn’t careful. It shouldn’t surprise me, really. Even when he was alive, Paul had a habit of sticking his protuberances where they weren’t wanted. In Mrs Taylor, for one.

“She asked after you, again,” I said, nodding to the freezer. “She called me over to her – had me walk right across the square, she did, with no thought to my old knees. She told me she hadn’t seen you around, much.”

I poured the water into the pot, for the peas. The frying pan sizzled on the fast ring, the fat nice and hot. I put the single burger in the middle and the sliced cold potatoes around the edge. The meat hissed and crisped. The symmetry pleased me. Simple things, as Paul would say. For forty-three years, I cooked his burger in the middle of the pan, every Wednesday night, and mine on the edge with the potatoes. Sometimes, mine didn’t cook as well, and the potatoes got a bit meaty where the horse fat seeped. Now, thanks to the heavy cast iron frying pan, I had a perfect well-cooked burger, every time.

I touched the potato slices with the spatula, gently edging them into place.

He never liked me saying it was horse meat, of course.

“Horse is very good for you, you know,” I said, to the freezer. “Good for the heart it is – good, clean meat, they say. The French eat it all the time.”

I flipped the burger. The fresh side whispered in the fat.

“I told Mrs Taylor we were going to Paris,” I said. “‘Paris?’ she snapped. Like Paris was only for the likes of her and her solicitor secretary friends. ‘Well,’ I told her. ‘Life is for living, now, isn’t it, Mrs Taylor?’”

The little bubbles rose up out of the red meat and spit over the potatoes. I squashed the burger into the hot iron, leaning on the spatula.

“I imagine Mrs Taylor likes her meat well done,” I said.

I poured a large glass of white wine and I picked up the brochures for Paris that had arrived in the post. I stopped by the table to enjoy the little vase of yellow roses I’d had delivered the day before, for our one month freezer-versary.

The women’s magazines all agreed it was important to celebrate anniversaries within a relationship.

I took my wine to the window.

“What colour roses did you send her?” I said. “Or did she have some other, posh kind of flowers? Something fancy and frilly.”

Our little road was quiet. One of the ones in the new houses had been washing their car, over by the crossing. The bright red bonnet gleamed in the sun.

“I expect she put her flowers in a crystal vase,” I said. “She’d stick them in the middle of the kitchen table, where everyone could see them. Her husband would be eating dropped fancy petals on his sausages for a fortnight.”

The bank statements didn’t say which type of flowers had been delivered, of course, but then I don’t suppose Paul knew what he was ordering, anyway, except a quick bonk on the fancy pink bedding the bloody woman hung on the line.

I turned back to my own, sweet little yellow roses, so pretty in their simple vase. They’d look trashy in crystal. Lord forbid, we did anything that could be deemed as trashy.

The burger hissed and spit. I wandered through to the conservatory. The patio shone in the evening light. The flowers in the hanging baskets looked good. They’d been a lot of work to keep watered throughout the warm weather. I stepped into the evening air. A blackbird sang from the end of Next Door’s fence. I made a mental note to cut their grass the next time I did mine. After all, it wouldn’t do for people to think the house was empty.

I glanced back at the pan, and then stepped down to the path between my vegetable beds. The pumpkins were growing well, at last. I tucked a tiny slip of denim back into the earth. The nasturtiums were already spreading from under the fence. It wasn’t that I’d planned on running the two gardens together, any more than I planned to knock that arsehole off his ladder. Mind you, I don’t suppose his poor wife had planned on having her arm broken, or her face knocked into the stone wall, the week before. And how was I supposed to know he’d die? I only nudged the rock that held the ladder in place – I wasn’t going to use the pan, not at first.

The very least I could do was to keep the garden nice, until she came back. She was bound to come back, eventually. The house was all hers, now, after all.

The deep pink cosmos danced in the light breeze. The pretty colour suited the corner so much more than his ugly brick barbeque, and the tops of the honeysuckle were already climbing over the edge of the fence.

I ate at the table.

Paul liked his supper on a tray, in front of the telly. He used to turn up the volume to thirty-five. He said the sound of my jaw clicking made him uncomfortable.

I sipped my wine.

The neck had been the easiest bit. By then, I found I was quite good at getting the little boning knife in between the bits of his spine. I’d tried the electric carver but that made an awful mess, and I wasn’t about to change the linoleum in the kitchen. I only had it replaced last spring.

I shook a little more salt on the potatoes.

I turned the brochure page to my favourite picture – the river, with lights all the way along and a couple walking hand in hand down the pavement. The man was tall, the woman thin. I imagine the idiot who put together the little pamphlet thought it would be representative of those who might want to visit the city, but in my experience, tall, handsome men with skinny girlfriends, rarely went on holiday.

Mind you, my experience had been somewhat limited, until recently.

“It wouldn’t have worked,” I said, to the freezer.

I knew women like Mrs Taylor. Everyone knew a Mrs Taylor. Mind you, everyone knew a Paul, too.

I took my coffee on the patio. The soft evening light touched on the leaves of the cherry tree I’d bought, right after I left the mechanics. I’d worried at first, that the oily rags would damage the tree roots, but there hadn’t been that much, in the end, and the tree did look nice between the two gardens. Come spring, the top corners of the patios would be filled with blossom.

I breathed in the rich roast flavour of the coffee. All those years of making tea at night, and cooking two burgers in one pan, and listening as Next Door yelled at his wife. Years of watching the man at number seventeen kiss his partner goodbye, and then his girlfriend, hello. Years of taking my car to the same slimy mechanic and being charged more than my month’s pension for what was basically only an oil change –

But then, no one expects an old lady to know about things like engines. Or frying pans.

I sipped my coffee.

The cherry branches rustled in the breeze. The more I looked at the little tree, the more I was certain it would do well. After all, there was plenty of space down by the shed, for a new compost heap. Or even another tree.

I turned my face to the sun.

There was always room, if you knew how.