Associate Editor James Ellenberger: In “Icebox” Joshua Jones explores a lesbian relationship between two aging women, focusing on a visit from one of their families after Sunday services. What I love about this story is how effectively the characters allow themselves—despite past hardships—to be happy. For instance, the mastectomy’s subsequent accoutrement (the “breasts in the icebox”), a literal symbol of the lover’s body’s slow but insistent deterioration, is met with laughter, understanding, and familiarity. It’s hard not to envision William Carlos Williams’s icebox plums too, and the gentle transgression of the note that comprises his poem. This early moment, brief in its utterance, reveals a deep and complicated history that—in the rushing syntax that pushes us towards another clause—we’re simply not privy to. The way in which this story controls its voyeurism, what we are and aren’t allowed to see, is masterful. Rather than being allowed to bask in the affection that these two share, we’re dragged into the realm of attempts (both by the family and “your girlfriend”) to define and situate queerness in a domestic space. The fact that the family stops by after church, too, adds pressure to the decision to go with “roommate” rather than “lover.” That’s a lot to cram into a single sentence, particularly as compellingly as Jones does here.
Your girlfriend keeps her breasts in the icebox, sometimes for two, three, four days at a time, and when she puts them on, on those days after it’s rained and the entire valley is left steaming, she purses her mouth into an O and blows out a long stream of air, then says Touch them, and you do, every time, saying Perky on cue, and she laughs, you both do, like you’re girls again and don’t have three marriages and two divorces between you, don’t have five kids and seven grands, though hers aren’t on speaking terms and yours visit too often, piling out of their minivan and onto your sectional in their church clothes, speaking of Brother Frank’s sermon and how you and your roommate—because isn’t that how you’ve described her?—should come one of these mornings, Really, you’d like it, they have a great choir and serve doughnuts between Sunday school and the service, but you say, No thanks, that you’re watching your calories, and this is true, you both are, you both look good, like you’re half the cast of The Golden Girls, and your family asks if your girlfriend is Blanche because they’ve heard rumors about her past boyfriends, but they never say the word girlfriend or lover, only say roommate or friend, and she laughs and says that she’s more a Bea Arthur kinda gal, and What does that make you, Betty White? they ask, as if it were that simple, as if when they leave she’ll stay in the spare bedroom (my bedroom, she’s started calling it) that she keeps so cold with the box fan on high, its hissing white noise loud enough to drown out the cries of coyotes, so distant that their voices could be just the wind.
Here’s an audio recording of “Icebox,” as read by Adeena Mignogna:
Joshua Jones lives in Maryland where he works as an animator. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Split Lip Magazine, Monkeybicycle, SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, Juked, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @jnjoneswriter.
Adeena Mignogna is a part-time voice-over artist and short-fiction enthusiast living in Maryland.
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