Conte, a journal of narrative writing.


My refrigerator broke on a hot June Wednesday. My roommate had gone for the summer. So, I decided to grow a friend.

Within a week, the deli meat had started to reek, the milk had curdled, and the lettuce was several gooey shades of brown. I threw away most of my food, noticing as I did that the chunk of Swiss cheese I had purchased possessed a certain durability. It didn't smell, it hadn't changed its form or color - yet. Even despite the warmth of the fridge, the cheese remained cool.

The cheese - whom I named Munster - sat all alone in the center of the top shelf of the refrigerator. Every morning when normal people took out orange juice or creamer from their fridges, I opened my refrigerator door to count how many spores Munster had grown in the night. At first, there weren't too many, but after a week, he was a beautiful blue in the center and snowy white about his edges.

I began speaking to him. Small stuff, of course, at first.

"Munster, really, you ought to read Strindberg. The comparisons that one can draw between his plays and many Greek tragedies is fascinating."

He never responded to me; he never moved.

"For instance, The Father bears many similarities to Aeschylus' Agamemnon."

After a month, I felt my experiment was a flop. I was getting hungry too and fast running out of ready cash to buy hard soft pretzels and sandwiches from the local deli. So, I called my landlord and requested that he send someone out to fix my fridge. He agreed, but, as expected in such cases, no one ever showed.

The night before the maintenance person was expected, I gathered up my blue and white Munster, wrapped him in tin foil and placed him ever so gently in the garbage. A tear may have streaked down my cheek.

"Bye, Munster," I murmured.

"Bye," I heard, maybe. I paused, lifted my friend from the trashcan. I felt the foil package definitely squirm in my palm. I watched as two furry arms ripped through the aluminum, slowly peeling it off. I panicked, screamed, and dropped Munster on the floor.



Okay, I definitely heard that. I struggled to believe it- that Munster was alive and could speak. I had done it; I started leaping around my kitchen as Munster struggled to scrape himself off my floor.

"Friend. Friend. Friend," he repeated over and over. I had often called him my best friend; a surge of electricity shot through me to hear the sentiment returned. I remember smiling at him, then gathering him in my arms and taking him on a tour of my neighborhood.

I wish I could say that my summer was golden from then on. But of course, it wasn't. Munster was a handful. All he would ever talk about was Strindberg and I quickly regretted introducing the Swedish playwright to him. Before a month was out, his little moldy self was absorbing whatever Strindberg play I left by the fridge for him. He quickly mastered the texts in both English and Swedish, a feat even I, who had studied Swedish for years, had not accomplished.

He grew as well. At the start he was maybe less than half a pound of cheese, by mid July he was about two. At the end of July, he was ten pounds. It was a nightly struggle putting him to bed.

And then, one day, he was gone. He left no note, but the refrigerator door was open and a copy of Den Starkare was missing. An image floated in my mind of a fuzzy lump hopping down the street carrying an old beat up paperback, drawing stares from the old people and children who would be outside on a summer's day. Obviously, I had to find my Munster.

There he was, sitting on my stoop, calmly reading Den Starkare to a neighborhood girl.

"No, you be Miss Y, I'll be Mrs. X." The little girl looked at Munster blankly. "You 're much too young to be Mrs. X." The little girl pouted. "Fine, fine, I'll be Miss Y, you can have ALL the lines." Munster sighed and handed the play to the little girl. The little girl skipped away, oblivious.

Munster noticed me watching him. "You have dumb neighbors," he said. I nodded.

"What can you expect from a five year old girl?"

"I'm less than three months old and already I know more than her."

I had to give him this. I'd be shocked to find a twenty-year-old reading Strindberg in Swedish, let alone a toddler.

"It's hot, isn't it?"

I nodded. After a pause, Munster continued, "I was wondering where I came from the other day."

"Yes? You came from the Superfresh. Before that, some dairy."

"I'd like to find my roots. Like you're doing."

"I'm not finding my roots. I'm staying in some grimy city until I finish school."

"Yes, and then you're going to Sweden, are you not?"

"That's hardly finding my roots; I'm going to study Strindberg."

"It's close enough. And it's my right to see where I came from. Take me to the Superfresh." I really didn't want to, more from laziness than anything else, as the Superfresh was some twenty blocks away and it must have been ninety degrees out. But I nodded anyway, picked Munster up, and loaded him in the basket on my bicycle.

The Superfresh was crowded and dirty. Munster tried to look impressed, but I knew he was let down, surprised by the bustle and noise. I showed him the cheese aisle. "I look nothing like them," he said.

"Well, they haven't expired yet. You, Munster dear, are like the elder cheese. These cheeses can only hope to reach the age you have." I felt him nod in my arms but I knew it wasn't much of a reassurance.

We left the Superfresh.

"Put me down," Munster calmly demanded. I yielded, gently placing him on the sidewalk. "I think, it's best you just go your way. And I'll go mine." I smiled, getting his reference. "A young thing like you shouldn't have to deal with an old cheese like me." I remained still. Munster slowly hobbled east, reached the corner of the street, turned, and was gone.

I returned home, crying a little on the way. There was a message from the landlord. The maintenance person would be by the next day, he promised. The refrigerator would soon be fixed. I opened the door to the warm, white box and began clearing away all remembrances of my best friend.