Our Grandma Uzoma forbade us from going into her kitchen after midnight. She claimed the freezer was possessed. She said one time a bag of frozen mixed vegetables pushed a carton of vanilla ice cream out of the freezer and onto the floor—where the ice cream turned to liquid by morning. She said the two food groups never got along well.
One hot August night in 1982, when I was seven years old, I had trouble sleeping and disobeyed Grandma’s rule. I slipped out of bed and made my way to the kitchen. I needed a cherry Popsicle to cool my throat. But when I opened the freezer door I found my Grandpa Uba’s head resting inside. It was sandwiched between some ground beef patties and an angel food cake from the supermarket. His blue eyes were looking back at me and I shut the door right away.
I ran into Grandma’s room to ask her about it. I shook her shoulders and when she woke up, she asked, “What is it, child?”
“Grandma,” I said, “Grandpa’s head is in the freezer.”
“Of course it is. Who do you think put it there? Now go back to bed and don’t bother me again.”
The next morning, after we finished breakfast, she took me aside in the kitchen and said, “Now, Ikenna, don’t you worry about what you saw last night. Grandpa’s just getting his frozen therapy, as prescribed by the doctor. It helps with his sinuses.”
“OK, Grandma,” I said and started to walk away, toward the living room, where my sister Ngozika was watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Then I stopped and turned around. “Grandma, where’s the rest of Grandpa now?” I asked.
She finished rinsing a pan in the sink, draped the dish towel over her shoulder and smiled at me. “Don’t you worry about that,” she said. “You just go and watch TV with your sister.” I sat on the couch next to my sister as a number of follow-up questions ran through my head. I knew Grandma wouldn’t answer them, though, so I kept quiet.
I crept into the kitchen again that night and opened the freezer door. Grandpa’s head was still inside, but this time, he opened his eyes and said, “Hey, who’s there?”
“It’s me, Ikenna.”
“Ikenna, my boy, can’t you see Grandpa’s trying to get some sleep?”
“Yes, I know. I’m sorry. But I have to know, where’s the rest of your body?”
Grandpa laughed. “Oh, Ikenna, you must be joking. I have no idea. Your Grandma never tells me where she puts things. Try the freezer downstairs.”
“OK,” I said. I was about to shut the door and leave the kitchen, when I said, “Wait a second, Grandpa. How can you live without your body?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Somehow I just do. I guess you can get used to anything if you have to. Now shut the door and let me get back to sleep.”
“All right, good night, Grandpa,” I said.
I shut the freezer door and turned off the overhead light. I was going to head back to bed and check the basement freezer in the morning, but I realized Grandma would be awake then and I wouldn’t be able to sneak downstairs. I knew my chance to act was now. I walked around the corner, opened the cellar door, hit the light switch, and closed the door behind me. I went down the basement steps and saw the large GE freezer tucked in a corner near the gas furnace. I opened the freezer door. Frozen ground beef patties, hot dogs, and buns rested on the bottom shelf. On the top shelf, I saw what looked like human body parts packed in clear plastic bags and stacked on top of each other. On the edge of the shelf was a strip of masking tape with black Sharpie writing. It read, “Uba’s parts.”
I shut the freezer door. I couldn’t believe what I had seen. I had to look again to make sure. I opened the door and what I noticed this time was even more frightening. There were two empty shelves just below Grandpa’s shelf; both were labeled with masking tape and Sharpie writing. One said, “For Ikenna” and the other read, “For Ngozika.”
I slammed the freezer door. Just then I heard the cellar door creak, followed by a loud voice. “Ikenna, what are you doing down there? You get back to bed right now.”
I didn’t say anything. My heart raced and I struggled to catch my breath.
“Ikenna, I know it’s you. Answer me.”
“Sorry, Grandma,” I said, my voice sounding like a frog’s croak. Then I lied and said, “I just wanted to see if we had any more Popsicles.”
“No. I keep them upstairs,” Grandma said. “If they’re all gone, I’ll buy you some more tomorrow. Now come to bed.”
I started walking upstairs and saw Grandma’s dark figure outlined at the top of the stairs. When I got to the top step she switched off the cellar light and closed the door. As we walked back to bed, she pulled me close to her and whispered, “Don’t worry about that freezer downstairs. I just use it for extra storage.”
Francis DiClemente is a video producer and freelance writer who lives in Syracuse, New York. He is the author of three poetry chapbooks and his blog can be found here. He’s also on Twitter @FranDiClem.