Illustration by Russell Christian.
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Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel
When Appliances Attack
My appliances are turning on me.
I don't have many appliances. Just the basics, really--stove, refrigerator, a blender I haven't used in many years. Now, suddenly, for reasons I can't quite explain, all my machines seem to be upset with me.
I got home about 7:30 Monday night. It was foul one outside. I had a few in me, and my body was still struggling to acclimate itself to a new brain medication. Things were a little shaky. I closed the door behind me, dropped my bag on the bench, kicked my shoes off, waved in the general direction of the beasts, turned on the air conditioner, and went to grab another beer.
When I opened the refrigerator door, the light didn't come on.
No big deal, I figured, Dora was here today. Maybe she unplugged it.
I knelt slowly and creakily to the floor and felt along the wall for the outlet. Everything seemed to be plugged in, so that wasn't it. I stood again, opened the refrigerator door, and stuck my hand inside. Seemed cool enough. A drop of water fell on the back of my hand.
I reached up and felt around. Things were damp in there all right. I pulled open the freezer door. It was no longer the frozen nightmare it had been the previous evening, having reached the point where I had to chip out small caves with a screwdriver to fit anything in there. Someone had defrosted it for me. Dora. Bless her heart.
Unfortunately now, it looked like the lightbulb had burned out in the process. I closed the freezer door, then reached for the bulb. I knew it was there, in the back someplace. Somewhere near the top, just over the beer.
My fingers touched smooth, cool glass. I wrapped my fingers lightly around the bulb and started twisting it from its socket.
With that first twist, the bulb exploded in my hand. What's more, it was full of water--I guess that as the ice in the freezer melted, it dripped down through the socket, directly into the lightbulb.
I pulled my damp, glass-filled hand back out of the refrigerator and looked at it closely. I didn't seem to be bleeding at all. I poked at it. It didn't feel like I had driven any shards under the flesh either, so that was good. I walked over to the garbage can and dumped the glass, then went back to the refrigerator. Somewhere, in those few short steps, I stopped thinking.
I reached my hand back into the refrigerator, just to find out how much of the bulb was still sticking out of the socket.
Feeling for glass, I grabbed hold of the filament wires with my wet hand instead. The buzz and burn shot through my fingers for just a second like a sadist's joy buzzer before I was thrown back against the wall behind me. In the process, my arm hit two loose beer bottles, which followed me out of the fridge and crashed down across my toes. The bottles, thank God, didn't break. I wasn't so sure about the toes.
Well that was really stupid, I thought as I pulled myself upright, wincing, my fingers still tingling.
I reached over to the wall again, felt for the outlet, and pulled out the refrigerator plug. With a newfound confidence, I reached back into the darkened refrigerator and felt for the jagged glass. I should probably have put on a glove or something.
Again, I felt the sharp vibration and the shock of pain as my fingers brushed the filament before I was, again, thrown back against the wall.
Wrong fucking plug, I thought, a bit too calmly. Fact of the matter was, I'd always sort of had a thing for electrocution, even when I was a kid. Maybe that's why I was so intrigued by the possibility last time I was in the madhouse.
I sat up again, yanked the other plug, reached blindly back into the refrigerator, and grabbed hold of the filaments. If it was going to get me, I was going to make sure it got me good.
Nothing. So I unscrewed what was left of the bulb, and replaced it. There was still plenty of water dripping from the coils, but I figured I'd take a shot. I plugged the machine back in, and the light came on. Then I went about my business.
The next evening when I got home, I went through the same routine. Dropped the bag, removed the shoes, waved at the cats, turned on the air conditioner, grabbed a beer. It was about 6:30. It was still foul outside, and I still had a few in me, but at least the medicine seemed to be taking hold.
I pulled some dinner out of the newly uncluttered freezer, set it on the counter, and turned the oven on. It was insane to use the oven when it was so damned ugly outside, but I had little choice.
I tore the frozen dinner box open and removed the plastic from around the joys that awaited me inside.
A few minutes later, I pulled the oven door open to insert the tray, and waited a second for that tell-tale blast of heat to puff the hair out of my eyes for a second.
There was nothing. I put the dinner back on the counter and pulled the oven door all the way open, and stuck my arm inside. It was cool in there. That wasn't right.
Well, fuck all. I couldn't remember the pilot light ever going out once during the entire ten years I lived here. And because of that, I was at a loss as to what to do.
I knew, in theory at least, that it involved matches and gas jets, but that was about as far as I took it. I turned the stove off, then turned it on again, listening intently for the softy "whoompf" that would tell me that everything was okay, that I wouldn't have to worry about a thing.
Again, nothing, except the hiss of gas. That worried me some. I knew some folks once who lost their whole house in a huge gas explosion. Bad news. Everything was gone in an instant.
Still, after a few minutes of sniffing the gas and getting all lightheaded and nauseous, I grabbed a pack of matches, sat back down on the floor, and lit one.
I reached into the oven, not seeing a goddamn thing, lit match between my fingertips, just waiting for the whole world to dissolve around me. Blind man playing with matches and gas. There should be public service commercials.
But nothing happened. Of course, the fact that I didn't know what the hell I was doing probably had something to do with that.
I tried that a few more times before giving up, vainly waving a lit match around the inside of the stove, praying that something would catch. I closed the oven door, turned off the gas, and paced a bit. I really was getting pretty woozy.
Then I pulled the broiler at the bottom of the stove open, lit another match and did the same thing. No fucking clue. Nothing happened. But I didn't die in the process, either.
I pined for the days when all I had was an electric hot plate sitting on the counter next to the sink. (Now there was an arrangement that nearly killed me).
A few minutes later, I turned the gas back on, tried it one more time, then gave up entirely, deciding to make a sandwich instead. Nothing wrong with a sandwich.
I put dinner back in the freezer, and was pulling out the block of cheese when I heard a strange noise. Clicking sounds. Soft, erratic clicking sounds from over by the window, near the trash can.
Great, I thought, some sort of toothed insect, and I'll only be able to find it by feeling for it.
But as I got over there, I recognized the sounds as coming from inside the stove. I pulled the door open a crack, and the puff of hot wind rushed across my face.
Well I'll be damned.
It would be very easy to think that, somewhere during my spastic match-waving mania of the past 20 minutes, I had done something right, something had caught, something, through some freakish accident, had actually worked.
I don't think so, though. No, I've seen this movie before. That fucking stove was just toying with me. Just playing around, tormenting me. It saw how much fun the refrigerator had had the day before and wanted a little taste of the action. Yeah, I can see this kind of mentality working itself around the entire apartment--the computer, the television, the blender. All of them with their own little tricks. Each with their own plot to hurt me somehow.
I'll tell you one thing--I'm steering clear of that blender for a few days, that's for damn sure.