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The Icebox

by Ron Van Sweringen

Bill Baxter opened the icebox door and stood staring in. White enamel looked back at him, as in a hospital. Only a plastic ketchup bottle with its crusted red rim stood alone in the cold silence. “Strange,” he thought, “how the contents of an icebox reflect your life. When your life is full, your icebox is full.”

A while later, strangers looked out at him from the television screen in his living room. They described a horrible train wreck with gruesome pictures. The report interrupted his frozen TV dinner of mac and cheese.

No one runs up the front steps anymore or uses up all the hot water, or plays the radio too loud, he thought. There is hope though. He smiled, putting his dirty dishes on the drainboard. In a little while Jeopardy will come on, and there’s still some ice cream left in the freezer.

At just after nine, the front door bell rang. He hesitated a moment before answering it, to be sure he wasn’t hearing things. It had been a long time since anybody rang that bell. There it was again. Sure enough, somebody wanted to see him.

When he opened the front door, a young man stood on the porch, his hands shoved in his pockets and his coat collar turned up.

“You lost, young fella?” he asked, surprised at how cold it had gotten.

“No sir, I don’t think so,” came the quick reply. “I’m looking for Mr. William Baxter. Does he live here?”

“You’re looking at him,” Bill answered, puzzled at who the young man was and what he wanted.

“I’m your nephew, Johnny Walters,” the young man replied with a half-grin.

“You’re Martha’s boy?” Bill questioned, scanning his young face. “The one who was in prison.”

“Yes sir,” he answered, avoiding Bill’s eyes. “That’s all in the past though, I’m clean now.”

Bill’s first instinct was to tell Johnny he couldn’t help him and to close the door. He had an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was about to act on his impulse when Johnny offered his hand in friendship. Bill looked at the boy’s hand shaking slightly from the cold, then at the grey blue eyes that reminded him of his late sister Martha.

“Come on in boy,” he smiled, grasping the outstretched hand. “I was just on my way to the grocery store.”

Copyright © 2009 by Ron Van Sweringen

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