The Head in the Freezer
Candace backed out of her driveway and hit a high school boy with the car. She didn’t realize, at first, that this was what had happened. It was raining out, a cold, gray, dreary day, and she felt only a soft thump, as though the tire had grazed a trash bag. Too late, she pressed down on the brake.
For a second, she thought that her mother had mistakenly put the garbage out on Thursday instead of Friday, and then she remembered that her mother had died almost two months earlier. That was when she saw the boy with the backpack looming on the other side of the glass.
He was standing in the rain with the hood of his gray sweatshirt pulled up over his head. He pulled back the hood and flicked earphones out of his ears, letting them dangle against his chest. “Get your head out of your ass and look where you’re going!” he yelled. He hit the hood of the car with the side of his fist for emphasis. When she didn’t answer, he added, “I said, look where you’re fucking going!” He pushed away from the car, pulling the hood back over his head as he stalked away, throwing the words back over his shoulder. “Stupid bitch.”
The boy in the gray sweatshirt continued down the sidewalk in the rain. He reached the house at the end of the street and turned back, making an obscene gesture in her direction before vanishing around the corner. Candace was shaking, and she pressed a hand against her mouth.
She was late for work. She couldn’t remember whether she had even turned around before putting the car into reverse. But forgetting to do that wasn’t possible, was it? She was the most careful driver she knew; she didn’t even speed.
Just that morning, she had read a newspaper article about a woman in Wichita who had sat on the toilet so long that her legs had atrophied. The woman had a phobia, her boyfriend said, and had gradually started living in their bathroom. She had been beaten as a child, the boyfriend said.
Candace felt a flush of anger, and she wanted to get out of the car and run after this boy; she wanted to scream at him to get his own head out of his ass and watch where the fuck he was going. It was raining, for god’s sakes. What was wrong with teenagers?
She checked carefully before pulling out of the driveway this time, imagining the satisfaction of grabbing the boy by the collar of that stupid sweatshirt and slamming his head against the concrete sidewalk.
But then she wondered if any of the neighbors had seen her hit him, and, oh god, what if he was one of those awful rich kids with a lawyer daddy who would call and harass her night and day? By the time Candace got to work, her thumbnail was chewed down to the quick.
All afternoon, there was a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach every time she forgot and then remembered, and, when she got home, she walked around the house and drew all the curtains. She couldn’t shake the sense that she was being watched. Why had the accident happened in her driveway, of all places? Couldn’t she have been an anonymous stranger in a parking lot? No, of course, it was in her own driveway, with a kid who probably walked past her house twice a day on weekdays, on his way to and from school.
The garage was still full of her mother’s old furniture; Candace had put off calling the Salvation Army for a pickup. So the car was out in the driveway, exposed, and she knew that she’d come out in the morning and find it had been damaged; he would scratch the word bitch into the paint or break her headlights with a baseball bat. Then he’d egg her house, throw rocks through her living-room windows, tell his friends to follow her around and threaten her. She’d be under siege. And what would she do then? Would she have to call the police and explain everything?
She went into the upstairs bathroom and closed the door. There was a fluffy pink cover on the toilet lid, and she sat down on it. On top of the tank, she had placed a box of Kleenex tissues, and the wallpaper was a pale floral pattern. The room smelled comfortingly of talcum powder. She imagined her ankles as roots, growing and twining around the base of the toilet, her arms turning leafy and branching upward until they grazed the ceiling.
After two hours alone in the bathroom, though, she was bored and her legs ached. Since her mother had fallen into a diabetic coma and died, there was no one to bring clothes and food into the bathroom like the man in Wichita had done for his girlfriend. Finally, Candace got so hungry that she had to get up and go to the kitchen.
Hungry. Angry. Everything she had imagined was inverted, her bones shrinking into themselves, the leaves unfolding around her insides, sharp points digging their way out.
Her cheeks were hot. She wanted to take a packet of peas from the freezer and press them against her face, but if she moved too many things, there wouldn’t be enough packages of frozen spinach and ground beef to hide a high school boy’s head, so she walked to the cupboard instead and began pulling out spices and tins of soup. Things she could boil and boil on the stove until they were almost too hot to eat.