As many of my readers are aware, there’s an infamous trope where a superhero’s girlfriend is killed off as a cheap plot device to create angst and/or motivation for the hero, typically sending him off on a mission of revenge (while conveniently freeing him up for a new love interest along the way). This has been called “fridging” after a Green Lantern storyline where one of the Lanterns’ girlfriends was murdered and shoved into a refrigerator for him to find.
Over the years, the trope has grown to incorporate more than literal fridges. It’s grown into a term that describes the sexist way that many male writers treat female characters as disposable ways to trigger a male character to take action – as if female characters exist in fiction for no other reason than to provoke men to have a reaction to them being hurt. It’s pretty gross and terribly dismissive of the many women who, you know, maybe don’t always want to see their fave female characters getting raped and murdered and tortured just to make male characters get spurred to action.
The writer Gail Simone has an excellent website where she outlays many of these deaths all together and it’s pretty damning: Women in Refrigerators.
So anyway, a few weeks ago, my friend jokingly suggested I write a story about a woman fighting a refrigerator along the lines of what I did with my short story “Mom Vs. Couch” (read it here, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) and I replied “Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell” as a humorous potential title for such an endeavor. But alas, just like with “Mom Vs. Couch”, what started as a joke turned into an actual idea which wouldn’t leave me alone.
What if, I wondered, what if, getting shoved into a fridge could serve as a catalyst not only for a male character, but for a female one? What if women could reclaim the fridging trope for ourselves? Was it possible to actually give fridging a feminist treatment, or at the very least, not make it grossly anti-woman?
And away I went. So, here you go, the first part of “Women in Fridges – A Cold Day in Hell.” Be aware, I wrote this entire story (not just this part) in 3 days. Plus it’s the week before Christmas and I have about a zillion things to do so I’ve been getting up at 2am to write and keep my life going at the same time, so if there are any typos or weirdnesses or things that don’t quite add up, let me know in the comments below and I’ll fix them.
VERY IMPORTANT TRIGGER WARNING: Since the entire point of this story is a woman who ends up getting stuffed into a fridge and what happens as a result, please be aware that a woman is gonna get stuffed into a fridge at some point. While I tried not to make it too graphic and the story WILL have a happy ending I promise because I prefer happy endings, I can easily, easily see how it could be disturbing for some, so if that is you, please read “Mom Vs. Couch” instead.
“And this is Zoe Rose, for KAQT News. Good night and have a wonderful tomorrow.” Zoe smiled pleasantly into the camera and held that pleasant smile in place without wavering until the producer waved her hand signaling they were off the air. Then Zoe yanked off the mike and stood up. While normally she was ok with hanging around and making chitchat after a broadcast, tonight she couldn’t wait to get away from these people.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry, Zo?” asked Chuck, her co-anchor, a walking amalgam of hairspray, Botox, and Crest WhiteStrips. “I thought maybe we could go catch that drink we’ve been talking about?”
They hadn’t been talking about a drink. Chuck had been talking about a drink. In the three months since Zoe had come to KAQT-TV, Los Urbanos’ Number One News Source, he had asked her for a drink at least once a day, sometimes more than once. Chuck was a veteran anchor, a holdover from another time, who walked around looking at every attractive woman he encountered as if they were entrees at the All-You-Can-Sex-Buffet. Everyone called him Matt Lauer, Jr. and they were only barely joking. Zoe counted her blessings because she knew that even just 5 years ago the expectation would have been for her to go have that drink and be appreciative of the opportunity to sleep her way to the top.
Thank GOD for #MeToo, she thought. “I can’t tonight, Chuck.” She forced regret into her voice although it wasn’t easy. “I have to get my computer fixed.”
“Again? Jesus, Zoe, you have to get your computer fixed at least twice a week!”
“At least twice,” she said, and laughed. Chuck joined in even though he had no idea why it was funny because he was trying to create a false sense of familiarity he could exploit later. “Have a good night, Chuck.” Zoe made her escape and headed back to her office.
Zoe’s office was small, but it was a corner office and it looked out over the sprawling megalopolis of Los Urbanos, and it had these big glass windows all along both external walls so you could appreciate it all. It was way bigger than what she’d had back in Cascade Falls. Everything in her life was way bigger since she moved to LU. She felt like the luckiest woman in the whole world as she swung open the door. She had worked hard, of course, very hard to get to where she was, as far back as she could remember she’d been working towards this dream coming true before her eyes, but she knew tons of other journalists who had worked just as hard and hadn’t had anything approaching the opportunities she’d had. And that didn’t even take into consideration her personal life, which was fucking spectacular and totally undeserved.
She was blessed. Incredibly blessed. Even though she knew it was a trite and borderline-offensive bourgeois expression, Zoe Rose felt with every fiber of her being that she was blessed beyond belief and she was so, so very grateful for it.
Sanjay sat at her desk, fiddling with her computer. His long dark hair was pulled up into a man bun, which was his disguise. It was so funny how he could hide in plain sight just by putting his hair up in a bun and being a mild-mannered tech support guy. She told him that once, that she couldn’t believe people didn’t recognize him right away – his face was everywhere, on billboards and in TV commercials and plastered onto the side of city buses and smiling from the cover of People Magazine. He joked that the best disguise of all was being Southeast Asian, it was like he was invisible, no one even looked at him twice, and she thought that was really sad and wanted to beat up the whole world on his behalf.
Personally, Zoe wanted to look at Sanjay constantly. She wished she was invisible so she could follow him around and stare at him while he went about his day fixing computers and sitting in meetings and eating lunch; the most mundane details of his life, Zoe wanted to witness every one of them, except for maybe the bathroom stuff. Maybe.
Zoe thought Sanjay was the most beautiful man she had ever seen and that was when he was just being Sanjay and not the other guy. When he was being the other guy she couldn’t even breathe when she looked at him.
He glanced at her with a sexy smirk playing on his full lips and Zoe thought she might die, literally might die in that second. “What do you even do to this thing?”
“Whatever it takes,” she replied, which was true. She would go into the settings on her computer and start clicking randomly till her computer stopped working, then she would call tech support and Sanjay would come and they could see each other during the work day. Zoe often felt she couldn’t make it through the day without seeing him, without reminding herself that he was actually real and not just a daydream.
“Well, I fixed it.” Sanjay stood up and his dark eyes traveled up and down Zoe appreciatively and she was really glad she’d wore her shortest tightest skirt. It was amazing how different it felt when Sanjay let his eyes rove than when someone like Chuck did. “Don’t let it happen again, Miss Rose,” he joked. Then he wrang his hands in front of his chest, which Zoe knew from firsthand experience was exquisitely muscled, but as usual he wore a loose-fitting shirt which covered it up.
He seemed nervous; he always seemed nervous when he asked her out, even though they’d been going out, or more accurately, staying in, for several weeks now. They couldn’t be seen in public, of course, not only because dating coworkers was frowned upon at the station, but because of the other complication.
Staying in had its perks, anyway. Did it ever. “Thank you.” It was flabbergasting to Zoe that someone as mindblowingly phenomenal as Sanjay Biswas might have any nervousness regarding her whatsoever. Even though she knew she was successful and considered quite attractive – tall and willowy, brunette hair cut in a flattering chin-length blunt style, a made-for-TV face like a grown up version of Selina Gomez – even though she knew in an ordinary relationship it would be understandable for a man to be intimidated by her, it was still flabbergasting. Compared to what Sanjay was, she was nothing, nothing at all.
“Meet you outside then?” he said, his hand reaching towards the man bun.
“Yep.” Zoe felt a gust of wind and when she blinked he was gone.
She had started wearing her ID, debit card, and keys on a lanyard around her neck since carrying a purse was an enormous pain in the ass when Sanjay picked her up. Slinging the jingling mess around her neck, she rushed down the hall to the door that led to the fire escape, tucking her stuff down inside her pale pink silk shell as she did. She cringed as the icy metal of her keys hit her skin, and buttoned her suit jacket shut for warmth.
As she opened the door she realized she’d foolishly worn the wrong shoes; she’d worn slip-on mules that while comfortable for a day of work, could fall off her feet and probably kill a pedestrian, so she slipped them off and left them on the fire escape to retrieve the next day, or maybe someone would find them and steal them, she didn’t particularly care.
Then Zoe climbed up onto the railing of the fire escape and jumped off. She was on the 16th floor so it was quite a ways down.
As she fell she saw him just for a moment silhouetted against the full moon, his shoulder-length black hair flowing loose in the wind, his crimson suit so tight it left absolutely nothing to Zoe’s imagination, his gold cape reflecting the moonlight. His one leg was straight, the other bent at the knee like a ballet dancer in mid-spin. In the very next moment she was in his arms. “Thanks, Captain Obvious,” she said breathlessly.
“You need to stop doing that, Zoe, what if I can’t make it in time?”
“You’ll always make it in time,” she said, and kissed him.
As she removed her tongue from his mouth he swallowed a couple times. “You ever been to Lake Geneva?” he asked with his voice all husky, and Zoe laughed because he was always asking her things like that about random and unusual locations. He never took her places like Paris or Hawaii, he took her better places, peculiar places, places off the beaten path, places where villains probably wouldn’t be hanging out. He took her to Banff and the Isle of Man and Prague and Namibia. He took her to the Mitchell Corn Palace in South Dakota. He took her to the Bikini Atoll. One time he took her to Antarctica and they fed penguins a can of sardines. Even though he was called Captain Obvious because it was a meta joke that raised his cool factor considerably, he actually despised being obvious, at least where Zoe was concerned.
“I’m not wearing any shoes, though,” she complained.
“I’ll carry you. Whereever you want to go.”
And that sounded lovely so she said no she hadn’t been to Lake Geneva, and off they flew across the Atlantic, headed for Switzerland. They were there in five minutes, even though what Sanjay would very much have preferred was to head straight back to his lair and pound the shit out of her, only tenderly and with a lot of consideration for her needs.
There were stronger superheroes than Captain Obvious – the Flying Brick, Idaho Spud, the Manatee. There were faster superheroes – the Pink Cheetah, Shelby Cobra, the Millennial Falcon to name a few. There were superheroes that had way more firepower than he did like Champagne Supernova and Black Betty. There were definitely grittier superheroes like Batverine, True Grit, and the Soiled Dove. But Captain Obvious was the absolutely coolest superhero. He didn’t just think that he was, even though he did think that he was. He’d been officially deemed the coolest superhero by People Magazine for seven years running, stealing the crown from OK Boomer who had never bothered learning how to use social media.
Part of being the coolest hero was that you never did what people expected. Being the coolest meant you set trends, you didn’t follow them. So while he did tend to take Zoe places where villains wouldn’t be, because DUH, it was really more about him not wanting to be, well, obvious. Inviting a girl to Paris was so fricking predictable Captain Obvious would never have let himself do it so whenever he had a minute to spare when Zoe wasn’t with him he was scrolling desperately through Atlas Obscura looking up places to take her to on dates.
Lake Geneva was pretty awesome though. Even though it was dark, the moon was full, so they had a lot of light to see by and Sanjay flew them over the water and they took in the beauty of the snowcapped Alps in the distance gleaming in the moonlight, and looked at the fancy houses and there were even castles and fortresses dating back to the Middle Ages on the shore.
After awhile, though, Zoe started shivering. He hadn’t figured a way around that yet; she always got cold when they flew places unless it was someplace tropical. Zoe was the first woman he’d dated as Captain Obvious so he didn’t have the finer details worked out.
Since his lair was in the tropics, it was a nice excuse to get her back to his place anyway.
The secret fortress of Captain Obvious was beneath an abandoned temple half-eaten by jungle on a small island not too far from Sri Lanka. He had an apartment in Los Urbanos of course, as Sanjay Biswas, ordinary citizen, but his lair was really his home. He kept his prize possessions there – memorabilia from the cases he’d solved, photos with celebrities, his Teen Choice Awards. And of course, since it was a lair and everything, it also housed his command center – surveillance equipment, a fully-equipped crime lab, top-of-the-line computing system, and his weapons collection, which he fortunately rarely needed, since he was a weapons collection himself.
The living quarters were masculine, even a bit spartan, since the lair was where Captain Obvious came to work, not hang out. The lair, despite all its technical bells and whistles, didn’t even have Dish Network. But Zoe found she felt very much at home, probably because there was nothing to focus on but each other.
While Sanjay disappeared off into the kitchen to make her some hot tea, she snuggled into a blanket on his couch, although to be honest she hadn’t been anywhere near as cold as she pretended to be. She was just ready, beyond ready, to be alone with him and for some reason she had a hard time just asking for what she wanted sexually, she felt like she had to trick people into it, or else she’d come off like a slut.
Zoe had been to the lair many times; it felt safer than either of their apartments since Sanjay was so emphatic that no one know about her for her protection. Even though she thought he was being a bit silly about it, since no one knew who the secret identity of Captain Obvious even was, let alone the girlfriend of the secret identity of Captain Obvious, she loved it because it felt like they were the only two people on the face of the planet. When they came to the lair, it felt like she had Sanjay all to herself and didn’t have to share him with whatever passers-by were in trouble right that minute. Even though she understood when he had to run off and perform a heroic rescue during a date, it was still disappointing when it happened because she wanted to be with him as many hours in the day as was possible.
The first time he’d kissed her had been at the lair. She’d done a one-on-one with him at the station, visions of Peabody Awards dancing in her head. They’d hit it off right away; Captain Obvious was as humble and down-to-earth and earnest as his reputation had led her to believe. She met a lot of arrogant assholes working in media, and it was refreshing to find that the one guy who actually had the God-given right to be self-important, wasn’t. Anyway, she found herself laughing and blushing and fawning over the guy in a way she normally didn’t during interviews; she fawned over him the way she cringed at when other female journalists fawned over celebrities. But I mean seriously, he was Captain Obvious, fawning over him was different than fawning over Justin Bieber or some sportsball-playing-douche, right?
At the end of the interview he offered to show her around his lair on one condition – no cameras. No one had ever seen the inside of the Captain’s lair before so it was a massive scoop for her to land after she’d only been in town a few weeks. She agreed and sent the cameraman home and Obvious swept her off her feet, literally. They talked for hours like they were old friends. By the end of the night she was shocked to find herself making out furiously with Los Urbanos’ resident superhero which seemed really unprofessional on both of their parts, but neither of them cared.
He came back in with the tea and set it down on the coffee table and then they forgot it was there.
Some time later, because Zoe was thirsty, Sanjay left the bedroom and got her tea and heated it back up with the fiery beams from his eyes. When he came back Zoe was sitting up in his bed with her always-perfect hair all messed up and her lips swollen from kissing so much. Mascara had smeared down below one of her eyes and the sheet slipped off her chest and she didn’t bother to pull it back up. He felt a rush of an emotion he had never experienced before and it took him a moment to pin down what it was.
His confusion must have shown on his face. “What?” she asked him, as she sipped her tea, which was turmeric and ginger, like Sanjay’s mother used to make when people caught a chill.
His long hair hung down into his face and his brown eyes were wide and intense. He shook his head like he was surprised. “I love you,” he said. “I love you, that’s all.” He laughed in disbelief. “It’s amazing. You’re amazing.”
Zoe was so happy she could have exploded.
The next day, Zoe took a half-day off work because she was so full of joy she didn’t think she could read the news without smiling, which would be terribly inappropriate if people had died or something. So she decided to surprise Sanjay. She got an Indian Cooking for Dummies cookbook at Barnes and Noble and went shopping at the farmer’s marketplace for ingredients. And then she bought a big bouquet of flowers even though she knew giving a man flowers was frowned upon because it made you look needy. She didn’t care, she didn’t care at all. She wanted Sanjay to know she needed him, so, so very badly. She didn’t want him to have a single doubt.
The night before, after he had told her he loved her, he gave her a key to his place, and so she let herself in. Sanjay’s apartment was clean and spacious and airy, converted space from an industrial building. It had hardwood floors and an open floor plan, high ceilings with the beams exposed and the far walls were made of bricks painted white. There was exercise equipment in one corner; while it seemed weird to Zoe since he was superhuman and his muscles worked different and everything, Sanjay still had to train hard to keep ahead of the other superhumans. The kitchen was in another corner and the bedroom and bathroom were through a door at the far end of the large room. Framed posters lined the walls and a ficus plant grew against one of the windows.
She wondered if she’d move in someday or if they’d get a place together, and she knew she was counting chickens but she couldn’t help it.
Sanjay had a friendly black cat named Midnight. As Zoe came in, Midnight rubbed against her leg. She set the bags down for a moment and locked the deadbolt behind her. Then she scratched Midnight under his chin and he purred appreciatively.
She carried the bags into the kitchen and started to unpack them. Then she heard a really weird buzzing hum like electricity arcing and turned around. The front door was glowing and then she saw a foot step through the door and then a whole body followed the foot. The glow on the door died out. Standing there was a short squat guy with a strange broad but thin body, like someone had taken a regular human head and stuck it on a brick wall or something.
He was mutated, she realized. Mutated. “What?” she heard herself say, even though he hadn’t said anything.
“What?” she repeated, and realized her heart was beating about a million miles a second.
“I know you’re his girlfriend, or his wife, or something. Captain Obvious. Where is he?”
“I can smell him on you,” the strange man said, and sniffed through his nose as if to illustrate the point. “I been tracking him for a week. I caught his scent but when I followed it, it wasn’t him. It was you. He’s been all over you. And I mean ALL over,” he said, and then he laughed way down low in his throat.
“Oh,” she breathed and noticed she was really really dizzy all of a sudden.
“I’m guessing since he hasn’t blasted me yet, he’s not here?”
“Um,” Zoe said.
“Well, well.” He laughed again and he started walking towards her. “Well, well, well.”
“Are, are, are, are are…are?” She paused and regrouped. “Are you gonna kill me?” It didn’t seem right that you could get killed when you’d spent the entire day dreaming about your happily ever after.
“Well,” he said, and he smiled, and Zoe was really, really sorry to see that he didn’t have teeth like a human being, they were pointy teeth like the cat had. “Not just yet.”
She tried to scream but no sound came out at all.
When Sanjay got home that night after work he was in the best mood, like, ever. He’d gotten a text from Zoe that she’d taken the rest of the day off – normally she had to work late, since she read the evening news and everything – and that she had a surprise for him at his apartment. He hoped it involved nudity.
He’d even taken the chance of using his powers uncostumed, zipping back by 5:01 rather than taking the subway like he should have, because he just couldn’t wait any longer to be with her. He loved her so much it felt like the time he had to fly into the sun to defeat Dr. Coppertone, being burned alive and crushed by a massive gravitational pull, only good. So good. Good, like he had never even imagined what it could be. Now he understood what the people making all those sappy cringeworthy love songs were actually singing about, even Bryan Adams.
He stuck his key in the lock and pushed the door open.
The lights were off and he flicked the switch on. Across the wall of his apartment it said ‘Catch me if you can’ and it was written in rusty red letters.
In red letters. Red letters. Red. His brain dispassionately noted there was a wilted bouquet of flowers on the kitchen table.
Poor Midnight was hanging on a noose from the chandelier but as Sanjay looked around he saw blood everywhere it seemed like and it was just too much blood to come from a cat, no matter how he turned it around and around in his head he knew it couldn’t have come from a cat, not all of it and that meant only one thing. But no, it couldn’t be, it couldn’t be, please no, please, please don’t let it be that thing, he prayed to any deity who would listen; his brain even invented new deities to pray to like the God of Superheroes, there had to be one, surely, please, some higher power out there looking out for people like him who had to face so many terrible things.
Oh, my God, PLEASE.
He darted from room to room in a tenth of a second but no one was there. Then he spotted the groceries on the floor, noticed that a bag had tipped and some vegetables and a bottle of fish sauce had broken on the floor which no one would leave broken on the floor without cleaning it up because it reeked to high heaven.
It felt like he died and came back to life again only he wished he was still dead.
The blood, he realized, wasn’t random, it was a path of blood, with drag marks and footsteps in it, and the drag marks led all across the apartment from the bedroom
the bedroom, the bedroom, oh my god
…into the kitchen. So he followed the trail and realized that there was a puddle of blood in front of the refrigerator and more blood was leaking from the bottom of the refrigerator door. He walked over and even though he didn’t want to, even though he would have rather done anything else in the whole wide world, Sanjay pulled the refrigerator door open and when he saw what was in there, he shrieked a sound that wasn’t even human and his eyes blasted fire. He squeezed them shut and didn’t dare open them again because he’d end up burning the whole building down if he did.
He reached into the fridge and touched the terrible thing just to be sure it was what he thought it was.
And it was.