This piece, like most of my projects, started with a question: Do all things expire? In particular, I was interested in the expiration dates of non-food items: relationships and interests, for example. I typed a note in my phone before bed on a brooding night in May 2019. Then, ten months later, when the pandemic shut everything down, I returned to this question, opened a Google Doc, and asked it again.
The first draft of this piece was a simple list. I moved methodically through my refrigerator—its wilting cilantro, its forgotten clementines—before casting a wider net around moments—bedtime and playdates with Barbie. I considered the near past as well as decades in the past, and in doing so, my childhood brushed up alongside the childhood of my children, a time they are quickly leaving behind. I’ve had Pupper Snuffer, my first stuffed animal, since 1983. The giraffe bookends were a shower gift before our first daughter’s birth in 2008. And this past spring, in an attempt to wrangle some order—however small, however short-lived—I sorted through our basement bookcases again, wondering if it was finally time to pass along our board book collection. But it wasn’t. The bare shelf was too much. Over the next several drafts, I worked on pushing list items further—into more feeling, more specificity—rooting through the dark recesses of family life. The couch on cartoon night, for instance.
Finally, I added a frame narrative based on a banal Tuesday in early summer. The list needed an exigency that trash night provided. After dinner, I cleaned out the refrigerator with my oldest daughter. Later, we watched Titan Games on Hulu as a family. I pulled away from the show for a moment, and time seemed to pause, a breath from expiring. But it was enough time to touch, to feel, to hear. I used to do something similar at the end of a summer camp stay, too. At our Candlelight Ceremony, I would press my palm into the concrete we sat on around the pool and think this, just this, this concrete, this place, I am here. Until one summer, finally, after fifteen summers, when I wasn’t.
During a time when the world was and still is facing unprecedented loss of lives and ways of living due to COVID-19, working on this piece gave me a way to confront loss within life, as a fundamental component of everyday life. Ending the piece proved to be the most challenging. I went through countless versions of the final paragraph, the final lines, the final sentiment. I ultimately returned to the refrigerator—and that blinding whiteness when it’s all cleaned out and wiped down, when it’s just you and the sensory memories you have, the imprint of time spent with those you love, in places you cherish. And that is what carries forward, what fills you even as time takes the rest away.
LINDSEY HARDING is the Director of the Writing Intensive Program at the University of Georgia. Her flash fiction and stories have appeared in apt, Spry, Soundings Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Boiler, and others. She lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband and four children.