by Frankie McMillan
There was a man she used to see on Tuesdays. He sold refrigerators from the back of a warehouse, a warehouse so cold she named it the Tundra. He brought a heater and sometimes—afterwards—they’d stare at the glowing red bars in the gloom of the building. ‘Aren’t we lucky,’ he’d say, stretching his bare torso out to the warmth.
She called him the Woolly Mammoth. She said he must have grown all that hair over his chest to keep himself warm. But absurdly, or so it seemed to her, he also grew a thick pelt of hair over his shoulder blades. ‘What exactly,’ she said, tugging at the hair, ‘is the point of that?’
He called her Madame Yeti. Because of her long skirts, her big, heavy feet. But more her eyes that always seemed on the edge of things.
She wished all of it were true.
She began walking by on Thursdays. Sometimes, right outside the warehouse door, she’d suddenly feel a stone in her fur lined boot and have to stop to pluck it out. It was gloomy back there, in the Tundra. She didn’t know what was back there on those days. Sometimes, leaning in, she thought she heard animal sounds and she imagined arctic hares bounding over the stacked refrigerators, muskox scratching their heavy sides against the appliances. Once she heard him on the phone to a customer. He was saying what to look for in a fridge. ‘A freezer on the bottom is better than a freezer on the top,’ he said.
Sundays came and went. Madame Yeti had her own spiritual beliefs. She visited her parents’ graves, took long stemmed lilies and little offerings of food. ‘I didn’t know what it was to be old,’ she said, and ‘I’m sorry.’
Mondays were better days. Only one more day before she could see him again. She washed her hair, wove the long plaits around her head. She inspected her nails, her feet, looked inside her mouth and with the edge of a spoon, scraped her tongue clean.
He never noticed her walking by. Tuesdays were his busy day.
She tried to slow her pace. Tugged at the strings of her fur lined hood. The Woolly Mammoth dipped his massive head. His tusks scooped the air, made her giddy with longing. She wanted to climb all over him. She wanted to be rocked in the curve of something bigger than herself.
Frankie McMillan is the author of five books, the most recent of which, The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions was listed by Spinoff as one of the 10 best NZ fiction books of 2019. She co edited Bonsai : best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. (CUP, 2018) Her flash fiction appears in national and international journals and anthologies, notably, Flash Fiction International, 2015 (WWW Norton), Best Small Fictions, 2017 (Braddock Books) and Best Microfictions, 2020 (Pelekinesis Press). In 2014 she held the Ursula Bethell writing residency at Canterbury University and in 2017 the University of Auckland/Michael King writing residency. In 2019 she was the recipient of the NZSA Peter and Dianne Beatson Fellowship.