Cryogenics by Bradley Babendir
Day One: January 23, 2014
It was like Miami’s hurricane season decided to move to the Hamptons and join the Polar Bear Club. The precipitation might have drowned Upstate New York if the temperatures had not been taking cues from an icebox throughout the entire ordeal, but the temperature was, in fact, taking their cues from an icebox throughout the entire ordeal, and so everything froze and it was terrible. The region was painted with a layer of ice. Some were prepared; some were not.
The Waltors family, though made up of intelligent people, were not prepared. The problem was not that the family did not believe the weather reports when they said the system was going to render all hyperbolic language literal. They did. They just did not care.
Jill, the mother, Rick, the father and Thomas, the son who was home for Winter Break, shrugged off the reports of impending doom because that’s just how they did things.
When the storm hit it was exactly as forecasted. Through rather exceptional measures, the region was able to protect both its power and water lines. Everything else was shut down, and it seemed as if it was all going to be shut down for quite sometime.
Day Two: January 24, 2014
Despite the minor apocalypse that occurred the day and night before, the Waltors’ two-story brick house was filled with an inexplicable calm that spread through each member like an aggressive, contagious tumor.
Rick had always been the pragmatic member of the family. In most cases, it made him the most useful, but it also made him a bit of a dick. During this crisis, it manifested itself in a particularly helpful manner, as he searched the fridge for the food with the soonest expiration dates. The eggs had to go on January 27.
He whisked, seasoned and scrambled them just in time for his wife to enter the kitchen. She sat down at the table, her back to her husband.
“Good morning,” he said. His voice dropped the last syllable.
“Good morning,” she said. Her voice held strong throughout all three.
Rick didn’t like cooking, but he also didn’t like his wife’s cooking. Early in their marriage, it became clear which was the lesser evil, and nothing had changed in 24 years.
He portioned off some eggs for when Thomas was hungry, or at least awake, and made his way to the table, a plate in each hand.
Their marriage had been reinforced with well-placed barriers to communication, but there was no newspaper to read and no work to be done, so the usually explicable silence hung over the table like a flickering light. Neither of them were playing the good cop.
Finally, Jill cracked.
“How long do you think this will last?”
“I’m not a weatherman.” Glibness was not unexpected, but Jill wasn’t hoping he would meet expectations. She looked as if she was trying to conjure heat rays from her eyes. After failing to burn a hole through his upper chest, she looked back at her food. .
“Thanks for breakfast,” she half-mumbled, half-snapped at him, then walked away. Dragging her feet to the trashcan, she spitefully discarded the unfinished helping on her plate. Rick winced but she was undeterred.
By the time Thomas trekked downstairs, Rick was already cooking dinner and his mom had finished the entirety of Spike Lee’s When The Levees Broke.
“There’s eggs for you in the fridge if you’re hungry.” Jill motioned towards the kitchen but she didn’t know why.
“I’m already making dinner. It won’t be much longer, just wait.”
Thomas and his mother looked at one another, and shrugged. Thomas delicately slinked behind his father, opened the fridge, removed a small helping of eggs, and stuck them in the microwave. 60 seconds later, the steaming leftovers were in his mouth.
The roof of his mouth was on fire, and he needed water. His father was blocking the sink. He stared, feeling unsympathetic and vindicated. After a moment or two, he moved, allowing his son to douse the flames before they got out of control.
They had Chicken and Broccoli. Expiring on January 24 and 26, respectively. Thomas snuck upstairs every now and then to take swigs from his bottle of Johnnie Walker Red.
Rick made sure not to cook more than they would eat. At the end of the dinner, Jill pushed her leftovers from her plate into the garbage can. He considered waiting until she went to sleep and picking out the untarnished portions, but decided against it. They had only been stuck for two days. He was not quite dumpster-diving-desperate yet.
Day 3: January 25, 2014
With only the bulb from the refrigerator illuminating his act of near mania, Rick reorganized the contents from what expired first to what expired last. He hoped that this would force his family to unconsciously eat in the manner that made the most sense. Discussing this with them was futile; manipulating them had potential.
His wife and his son were lazy, and if they weren’t going to help him knowingly, he might as well take advantage of their glaring flaws.
Day 8: January 31, 2014
Rick woke up early again and Jill stayed in bed. She had grown quite comfortable with sleeping late into the day over the last week. Thomas was downstairs already, which was a first. He hadn’t left his room before noon since the storm, but at 7 he was situated on the couch, sipping from a flask in his pajama pants pocket.
He was watching The Big Lebowski. At school, he pretended to think it was only an okay movie as a way of demonstrating to his friends how much better than them he was. Between shots in pool he would defend Barton Fink as the Coen Brothers’ towering masterpiece, despite how obviously wrong that was. Here, it was one of his favorites.
“What are you doing up so early?”
“I don’t know. I just got up.”
“Alright.” Rick left it at that. More information than necessary was bad information, and he didn’t want bad information.
Food was beginning to become scarce, but nobody said anything to anybody else about it. Rick sat at the table, reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Lisa hated the book, and the author, and the movie that came from it, but Rick did not care.
By 7:30 Thomas was drunk, by 9 the movie was over and by 10 he regretted everything. The imbibing seemed smart in theory—make the boredom less boring and the tension less tense—but he miscalculated. His drunk was not a happy one.
He had milled through the family’s film collection thrice now, and failed to find another that trended towards his sensibilities. This made him frustrated. Pushing pillows and sighing forcefully, he was eventually able to make eye contact with his father.
“When the fuck is this shit going to be over?”
“Excuse me?” His dad had never been the most tolerant of foul language, and that wasn’t subject to change, despite being in the middle of a forced quarantine.
“It’s like prison, or, like R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet.”
“It’s nothing like Trapped in the Closet. Did you even watch those?”
“No. But they seem self explanatory.”
“They’re not. And quiet down, your mother is sleeping. And don’t curse. I have no idea when this nightmare will be over, but you being disrespectful isn’t going to accelerate anything.” Rick paused. He didn’t know what to do. “Are you drunk? What’s going on?”
Thomas sank back into the couch. He turned on Raging Bull, which he had never seen, and stewed quietly.
Jill woke up eventually but it seemed to be of little consequence to everyone. Neither man paid much attention to the goings on outside of themselves.
Rick took out some beef that was set to expire on February 1. He portioned what he was going to make for dinner and froze the rest.
The eventual burgers were okay. Nobody was disappointed.
Day 11: February 3, 2014
Thomas was out of booze. He had not planned to ration for more than two weeks, and now it may as well have been prohibition. Except without the speakeasies and floosies and moonshine and all the other fun words that prohibition such a good time.
In other words, things were getting serious.
Day 15: February 7, 2014
For the first time since the icing, the family made it up for breakfast together. The list of edible products within the home had dwindled and was now lingering near zero. Still, since they were all up, they each had an Eggo waffle. Neither satiating nor enduring, breakfast was a quick ordeal.
Day 16: February 8, 2014
Everyone was up again.
Rick didn’t make breakfast. That didn’t go over well.
Jill and Thomas sat at the table. Time passed like they were bystanders caught in Clockstoppers with no agency at all.
“What are we going to have for breakfast?” Her stilted language made everyone, herself included, feel as though she was addressing a waitperson.
“I don’t know.” Rick did not like being addressed like a waitperson.
“I was just asking a question.”
“I was just answering one.”
“Really fucking clever, Rick.”
Thomas laughed. It was not an appropriate time to laugh. His parents didn’t seem to notice.
“Don’t talk to me like that. This is ridiculous. I’ve been cooking for this family, trying to ration our food so that we don’t starve to death like God knows how many other people. I don’t need to be disrespected.”
“You don’t believe in God,” Thomas quipped. Things had already gone off the rails and he felt he might as well have a little fun.
“It’s a turn of phrase, Thomas. And this is between your mother and me. Alright? Not you. Why don’t you just keep on drinking like you have been.”
“Don’t talk to your son like that!” She just wanted to shout about something.
“Thanks, Mom,” Thomas said half-heartedly. “And I would keep drinking, but I’m out, and you two don’t seem to have any liquor at all. So I don’t know what you want from me.” It was an odd note to end it, but it sounded good enough to Thomas and so he stormed off.
“I just wanted to know what we were going to do for breakfast, Rick.” Jill walked off calmly, despite being furious. She knew there was more dignity in it.
Thomas and Jill stayed in their rooms. Rick watched The Day After Tomorrow on the couch, by himself.
Day 17: February 9, 2014
Jill and Thomas didn’t leave their rooms. Rick watched Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Day 18: February 10, 2014
The world froze. The Waltors family went quietly—Thomas and Jill tucked into their respective beds and Rick wrapped up in a wool blanket on the couch. Global Warming deniers found it ironic until they froze too.
Freezing was a quiet way to end the world.
Bradley Babendir is an MFA candidate in Fiction at Emerson College. His fiction and criticism has been published by or is forthcoming at Bookslut, Full Stop, Los Angeles Review and elsewhere. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.