I sat down, swung sideways and tucked my knees up tight against my chest.
This is a true story and still sends chills up my spine.
Do you remember the refrigerators of the ’50s? I do. Ours was white with big rounded corners. It stood in the dining room – too big to fit in our small kitchen. That fridge broke down one night, and the puddle in the middle of the floor told my parents exactly what they needed to do. They needed to buy a new fridge.
When I got home from school, I stood in the far corner of the sundeck with my younger sisters and watched Dad carry the old fridge out onto the sundeck. With Mom’s help, he got the new fridge off the back of the truck and onto the ground. And then, he wrapped his powerful arms around it and carried it up the stairs, across the sundeck and into the dining room. The door of the old fridge stood open. I studied it, thinking that the empty space looked just the right size for an eight-year-old like me. I bent forward to get a better look but stepped back in surprise as Dad stomped out onto the deck.
“This is not a toy,” he said and slammed the fridge door with such force I felt the deck shudder.
The next day after lunch, my younger sisters, some of our friends and I stood staring at the fridge. I opened the door and peeked inside. It smelled of leftovers and water left too long in metal ice cube trays. We pulled the wire shelves out of the old fridge and set them on the deck.
My friend, Kyle, climbed in and said, “Close the door.” Without thinking, I did, and then opened it seconds later.
“It’s kinda cool,” he said as he slid back out.
“Get in,” he said to me as the others urged me on.
I sat down, swung sideways and tucked my knees up tight against my chest. Their smiling faces watched me as the heavy door closed with a click.
It was dark. My heart pounded in my ears. Each beat marked the seconds.
Curious, I pushed against the door. There was not a hint of movement. The door, designed to keep food fresh inside this airtight interior, held fast. I pushed again.
Panic crept up my spine. Tiny hairs on the back of my neck prickled. I tried to take a deep breath. Something was wrong. Real fear chilled me. I beat my fists against the walls. I threw my body from side to side.
Bright sunlight blinded me. I spilled out onto the deck. I panted, gasped and hiccuped through sobs. Sounds flooded my senses. Adults yelled. Children cried. The smack of flesh on flesh: spankings.
“Mom,” I sobbed. She held a glass to my lips; cool water flowed down my parched throat. And then, before I could sort out my thoughts, I was hauled over her knee. Between spankings I heard her loud words.
“Never… ever… ever… get… in… a… fridge… again!” She jerked me upright to face her. “Do… you… understand?”
Tears ran down her cheeks as she hugged me against her chest.
A loud sound suddenly drowned out all others and we looked towards the fridge. My father was smashing it with a sledgehammer. Again and again he attacked it then he sank onto the deck. It was the only time I ever saw him cry.
A month later, we learned that a child was found dead inside a discarded fridge like ours. It was then I understood the horror our parents must have felt when they discovered our innocent game.
Be aware of dangers when discarding these old appliances. Remove all latch-type secured doors and prevent a tragedy from happening.
– Dana Ramstedt is a freelance writer and preschool teacher of 18 years.