If she was asked what led to her divorce – an uncommon question considering the delicateness of the subject – Gabby would laugh and say, “Mostly it was the ice cube trays.” It was a clever response because it gave the impression that she’d already answered the question too many times, her emotional exhaustion winnowed to a single, pithy punch line. It also gave the topic some levity, which doubled as silent forgiveness for the intrusion into her personal life. Most people would laugh along or nod understandingly, while others would make a joke of their own – “I never thought the extra cost of our automatic ice maker would pay for itself in marriage counseling savings.”
But in fact, Gabby was serious. It really was about the ice.
On too many mornings, she’d awoken to find an empty tray sitting on the kitchen counter. She and Josh kept two trays in their freezer, so it wasn’t as if they would run out of ice. What pissed her off was how his leaving it empty implied that refilling it was her job, even though most of the ice went into his glass. He never cooked dinner and rarely washed a dish, so the minimal contribution of running the tap into a neoprene tray for 15 seconds didn’t seem like high expectations. The ice even had a designated place in the freezer, so it wasn’t as though he had to reorganize the jigsaw puzzle of frozen leftovers and ice cream tubs to make the trays fit.
She’d brought it up many times, first kindly, then crabbily, but he failed or refused to honor her request. Each morning as she stood at the sink watching the water fill the tray, she’d loop one of the mantras she relied on to ease the clench of her teeth: it was his mother’s job in the house he grew up in and he’s oblivious to how he’s perpetuating the cycle; the vodka that necessitated the ice interferes with his spatial reasoning and he can’t recognize that the tray is empty; or if she felt less charitable, she’d resign herself to what she suspected was his real motivation – he’d gotten what he wanted and that was all he cared about.
Sometimes she’d chastise herself – if the task would be so little work for him, why was it such an imposition for her? Was refilling an ice cube tray just cause for a day spent silently seething? She’d saddled herself with this weight so many times that she’d settled into a ritual, a dull, numbing repetition that ended abruptly when, on one sunny morning, she realized the ice trays annoyed because they were a metaphor for the whole marriage: he took what he needed and left her empty, and she was exhausted by having to try to fill herself again every morning.
She had the divorce papers served on the same day she signed the lease on her new apartment, and now nine days later, she had a new place to call home. The apartment was bare to the point of barren, little more than an ancient radio from the Salvation Army and some long-neglected items from her parents’ attic. It might have seemed a little sad to someone who had no context, but Gabby felt happier than she had in a long time. On this first day of solitude, she spent a long evening in her folding chair, sipping whiskey after whiskey – always one shot outnumbered by three cubes of ice – updating friends who might not have heard the news.
When she was ready for bed, she stood up and scanned the sparse studio. The perk of a poorly furnished apartment is that there isn’t much to clean up. She carried her glass to the sink, screwed the cap on the whiskey, then noticed she’d left her one ice cube tray empty on the swirled Formica countertop. She smiled as she turned off her kitchen light.
She’d refill it in the morning.
© 2016 WPReagan. This is one story in the 2016 series, Everyday Stories: 30 Tales in 30 Days Inspired by 30 Stranger’s Photographs.