“Where were you on the night of the murder?”
“I was having a quiet evening at home.”
“You got any eyeball witnesses to back that up?”
“My wife was there.”
“That ain’t gonna help you; a spouse will say anything to keep your Social Security checks rolling in.”
That’s the bizarre conversation that happens inside my head whenever I open the refrigerator. The bulb in it was taken out of a prison watchtower, seemingly. It’s bright enough to illuminate the surrounding terrain as escaping inmates run for their lives through the night. Which made it also bright enough to use in an interrogation room: “Where were you on the night of the (insert the heinous crime of your choice)?
But I got tired of it. I hate feeling like an accused felon whenever I open the fridge. For heaven sakes, it was just for a snack that should make me feel only moderately guilty. So I engineered one of the great astronomical events of our time: the eclipse of the refrigerator light.
There was only one item in the entire inventory that would do the job. That was the extra-large container of flavored coffee creamer. If you line it up just right, it will block the accusing rays of the refrigerator light from the precinct interrogation room.
I myself do not use this additive that turns every cup of coffee into a dessert. I always use straight, white half-and-half creamer, sort of like the neighborhood where I grew up. (The half-and-half part was that half of us admitted that we were crazy, the other half continued to dwell in denial.)
So I would move the creamer to the back to block the light. Then someone would use it and leave it out of place. I would move it back again. They would relocate it again. And so the creamer went back and forth like a chess piece. In a game that could obviously only end in a draw, but both opponents stubbornly soldier on.
And I wonder if anyone else in the household ever notices. I grew up in a culture that proclaimed “A place for everything and everything in its place.” So if the coffee cream had been placed on the left side of the top shelf instead of the right side of the same shelf — its usual location.
Someone would inevitable yell, “Hey, whatsa matter with you people! Can’t anyone put things where they belong when they get through with them? For crying out loud, this place is starting to look like a pigpen.” And yes, in Alabama, the pigs are notorious for putting the creamer on the wrong side of the fridge. They just don’t give an oink.
And so it goes; the eclipse of the refrigerator light winks off and on like a stalled chess game in the sky. And maybe no one knows about it but me. And now you.
It hasn’t changed much in this world — except — it has left me with a Pavlov response built into my brain.
Just the other night after lights out, I had fallen asleep. Then suddenly the phone rang. The light came on and a supernova of harsh illumination jarred me into unwanted consciousness. “It’s for you,” said my wife, as I reached for the phone. But I struggled to muster up a simple “Hello?” Because I wanted to say:
“I didn’t do it! I swear I’m innocent! And … and … is there any pie left in the fridge?”