Illustration by Paul Rogers


The evening after their return from Las Vegas, Mrs. Karp served a dish of meatloaf whose fetid taste no one could stomach. “Don’t blame me,” she said, still woozy from jet-lag and the phenobarbitol of the night before. “I’m not the cook.” Nettie was the cook, a hard-bitten, church-going woman with swollen ankles, who had once barged into the bathroom where Bernie sat in flagrante with a lingerie ad torn from a newspaper. “I ain’t seen nothin,’” she assured him, and slammed the door, though she tended to avoid him ever after, as Bernie did her. Sometimes she could be heard muttering under her breath about the trials of working for “Jewrish” folk—though there was nothing especially Hebraic about the Karp household unless you included the old-world relic in cold storage, which Nettie, if she knew anything of it, never mentioned. But she was familiar enough with the deep freeze, and had taken out the ground beef for the meatloaf that very morning, still (as Mrs. Karp attested) frozen solid.

Mr. Karp tugged at a drooping earlobe as if to aid his powers of deduction and asked his son, “Bernie, was there any kind of an electrical failure during the storm?” For he and his wife had returned from their weekend trip to find evidence of the tempest’s damage strewn all over town.

Bernie replied that yeah, there had been a kind of an electrical failure, then immediately had second thoughts.

“Eureka!” declared Mr. Karp in full gloat. “The meat in the freezer must have thawed, then spoiled, and froze again. Mystery solved.” He showed horsey teeth, then frowned at the realization that the family trove of turkeys and roasts, now tainted, would have to be jettisoned wholesale. “Tell Nettie to clean out the freezer bin in the morning,” he advised his wife, who told him to tell her himself.

The next morning, having complied with orders, Nettie toiled up the carpeted staircase to report the outcome of her appointed task to the missus, who was reposing in her aerosol-scented bedroom with the curtains drawn. Mrs. Karp, still in her dressing gown at half-past eleven, looked up vacantly from the steamy pages of a novel by Arabesque Latour, as the bull-necked servant informed her,

“He gone.”

“Who gone?”

“The man in the ice box.”

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