Kid Fridge PrinceApril 14, 2016
One of the exciting things about publishing an issue progressively is that you can’t always anticipate the shape it will take. Our impetus as co-editors of Moving Target has been to bring together Bay Area artists and poets whose work shares a certain something—a treatment or approach, an obsession or thinking-through of a certain topic, some j’ne sais quoi—to see what their collaboration results in. Form is suggested, but not dictated, and the process always varies. It is a working methodology that perhaps shares more with the off-duty chef who finds herself cooking in a stranger’s kitchen than the curator working on behest of an institution but it has yielded wonderfully unexpected results, such as this story.
Like an exquisite corpse or a song cycle, “Kid Fridge Prince” stretches ligaments into new limbs and refrains into verses, exhibiting the kind of funky intuition and perversity that are as much hallmarks of the work of the piece’s three authors as of the songwriting style of its titular pop star. Here, Prince is cast somewhere between Milton’s Satan and Dante’s Virgil (there’s even a dark wood) but he is also both avatar and conduit for the contributors’ third mind, which emerges as story begets illustration begets story begets illustration.
The Purple One once sang: “What started as an experiment / turned into a heaven-sent message that saved your ass from dyin.’” This story may not save your life but it will significantly improve your afternoon. Enjoy. —Brandon Brown and Matt Sussman
Cori woke up depressed. However, Cori didn’t think to call it that. The feeling was familiar, but as far as they were concerned, it had no name. What Cori knew was that their dreams often provided shelter from that feeling and that this morning they had not. They had been sparse and ordinary, just shadows of waking life and no kind of shelter.
It was raining, but this was not a unique event that would set this day apart from others. The rain was not a reflection of Cori’s inner life. It was Washington. Later, when Cori was older and lived somewhere else, they would miss the rain and everyone would think that was funny, but Cori would not.
Lately, the adults had been acting foolish, so the best thing to do was avoid them. After pulling on some barn boots and a raincoat, Cori left the house and headed for the woods. It wasn’t that the woods understood Cori or that they seemed to care; it was their indifference that provided comfort. Maybe a better word for it was unconcern. The woods were unconcerned with the problems of the house. What Cori knew was that after passing a certain fence line, their attention shifted and all that foolishness didn’t matter. It was still there, but quieter.
The cat, Raisins, followed Cori across the field, through the fence into the woods. They often played a game of follow the leader, taking turns picking a path through the trees and underbrush. Today, the cat led Cori further along the fence line than they had been before. No sign announced it, but Cori knew they had crossed into a neighbor’s property. The adults had pointed out the boundaries where one fence met another and warned Cori not to cross there.
Raisins slipped easily underneath the wire fence and Cori lurched over, one boot on a low-strung wire and the other thrown over top. After a few steps into a small clearing, Cori noticed two things: first, a gnarled old apple tree, whose branches were spotted with bursts of green leaves, white buds, and pink flowers, and second, standing under the tree, a bright white refrigerator. Cori approached and pulled at the appliance’s door handle, which opened easily, releasing a soft puff of air as a small light blinked on inside. Cori stepped into the empty refrigerator, turned around once, and sat down with their back against the hard plastic—a perfect rain shelter. Cori looked up at the big leaf maple branches above, covered in thick moss, and at the cedar bows hanging nearly to the ground, all of it dripping, sky to branch to leaf to ground, and they felt their whole body relax and a different kind of shifting feeling take over as their gaze followed the path of water down, down, down. During this descent their eyes fell on an approaching figure—a person of short stature and indeterminate age, wearing a long purple coat and a white ruffled blouse with their thick black hair swept up into an impressive pompadour. The person stepped lightly through the sword ferns and salal, gently pulling blackberry vines out of their path with two fingers. They seemed perfectly at ease, unconcerned by the rain.
“Hello,” said the person.
“Hello,” said Cori.
“Is this your cat?” Raisins had climbed to a high branch of the apple tree and was now looking down at this person with interest.
“That’s Raisins,” said Cori from inside the refrigerator.
“They’re very handsome,” said the person as they reached out and scratched the cat behind the ears.
“She’s a she,” Cori corrected.
“Ah,” said the person, raising an eyebrow. “Raisins is very handsome.”
The two people looked at each other, and the person in purple reached out a black lace–gloved hand, whispered a few words under their breath, and gave an apple a soft yank to release it from the tree.
“I am Prince. Would you like an apple?”
Cori had skipped breakfast, but hunger did not prevent them from having questions about this strange person offering food. For instance, why had this person said they were “Prince” and not “a prince”?
If it’s not already clear, the small, richly dressed person standing before Cori holding an apple was Prince, the famous musician, but Cori did not know that. Cori was not allowed to watch MTV. Cori had watched several episodes of “Unsolved Mysteries,” though, and had learned to distrust people. They liked Prince’s purple velvet coat that seemed to stay completely dry despite the rain and their shiny black boots and the way Prince seemed perfectly comfortable in the woods and that Raisins seemed to like Prince too. Cori’s stomach growled audibly as they considered. Sensing Cori’s apprehension, Prince tossed the apple to Cori in the refrigerator. They smiled, looked over the red streaked skin of the apple and took a bite. Prince watched Cori closely and smiled.
“Did you know that if you cut an apple in half horizontally, there’s a star inside?” Cori asked, wanting to impress Prince with some specialized knowledge.
“I think I heard that somewhere, yes,” said Prince, who seemed to appreciate this fact.
“My name is Cori,” said Cori.
“So nice to meet you, Cori. I hope to see you again.”
Prince then nodded, said a few inaudible words to the cat, turned west in the direction of the creek and left. Cori sat up to watch Prince leave but soon lost sight of the purple coat amongst the cedars and firs.
Heaving a sigh, Cori finished off the apple and chucked its core deeper into the woods. The food landed in their empty belly and churned there uncomfortably. A feeling of vertigo overtook them, and they pressed their eyes tightly closed against the discomfort. They leaned out of the refrigerator, vomited up a pile of wet apple chunks, lurched back into the shelter of the fridge and slept.
Upon waking, Cori was unsure if they were truly awake. It was dark like the backs of their eyelids, and the darkness was filled with bright shooting lights. The rain had stopped, and the sky was clear. It was the cold and remaining damp that fully convinced them of their body. Gathering their coat around them and standing up, Cori stepped out of the refrigerator, still lit in the dark, and tightly closed the door behind. Cori called to the cat, who responded in turn, and they began the walk back to the house along the fence line. Someone would notice they had been gone all day, but as Cori passed that certain fence line, they realized that the heavy feeling they had woken up with did not return. The clear night sky continued to streak with silver as Cori’s boots squelched in the mud, and Cori didn’t worry about anything anymore.
He climbed on top and took in the scene. He had a clear view of the sky. During summer dusks like this he liked to sit up there, very still, and wait for a deer to walk by or a fox to creep through the underbrush, and sometimes they did. But what the boy was really thinking about now was the stars. They were up there; you just couldn’t see them in the day, and so he’d wait for dark and watch them come out one by one. He sat quietly as the dimness descended.
From his perch, he could see where the old one-lane bridge crossed the creek. He heard a car stop on the bridge and music coming from the open windows, a song he heard on the radio often…I don’t care where we go, I don’t care what we do, I don’t care pretty baby, just take me with you…. It was a beautiful idea. Going away. Running away. He wondered where he would go, and a girl’s laughter rose with the music as a car door opened and then slammed. He saw an older boy get out of the car and walk out of view. The girl’s blond hair glowed in the passenger seat. He was distracted momentarily as a bird flew through the scene and his eye followed it. The bird landed on a fence post where the woods opened into a small prairie. Even in this light and from a distance he could see from its silhouette and color that it was a bluebird, almost purple. Bluebirds frolicked in dusk and loved to sit upon fences that ran along open fields where they were free to catch bugs in their beaks and keep an eye on all that surrounded them. Just then, that was how the boy was feeling, like a bluebird on a fence post surveying the scene, with a clear view to watch all that fluttered around him.
From past experience, he figured the teenagers in the car were drinking and smoking, and he decided to get a better view from his other hideout near the creek. He hopped down from the refrigerator and followed a well-worn cow path to where he had built a twig tree house in the trunk of an old elm that had fallen over the creek. In the daytime, from there, he would watch the men who came to collect minnows from their minnow boxes in the cold, shallow creek water, and at night he would spy on teenagers as they smoked cigarettes, drank beer from cans, kissed, and peed through the rails of the bridge into the creek.
He snuggled into his perch, invisibly, watching the older kids.
“There’s a meteor shower tonight,” the blond girl said. “Let’s go watch it in Randall’s pasture. I know where the electric fence opens and we can drive in.”
“I don’t want to. Let’s go to Tony’s party—his parents are gone,” her friend replied. The girl considered it quietly. She fiddled with the radio and found the same song playing on a different station…drive me crazy, drive me all night, just don’t break up the connection…. The girl laughed some more, and the boy wondered what it was all about. What connection? The telephone? He would think about it atop the old fridge while he watched shooting stars.
The car door slammed again, and the teenagers drove away. The boy listened as the music and laughter got quieter and quieter until they were gone. He made his way back to the fridge and crawled on top. Alone again, he waited for darkness and for the show to begin.
Bruno was having such a fun time exploring and was in no hurry to return home, as his dinner that night was the same as his dinner every night: goulash. A big bowl of bland goulash. Bruno hated goulash. Bruno’s parents had never made him eat goulash. But they had passed away.
They died a few years’ back. Bruno’s parents had been circus performers. Their specialty had been the high dive. One afternoon, when performing a trick (one they had done a million times before), they got all messed up. In what was supposed to be a synchronized somersault done while diving from ninety feet up in the air into a small tank of water, they accidentally got their arms all tangled up. And while trying to correct their mistake they got their legs all tangled up. And they were stuck this way. The parents were thrown off course and missed the tank by a good ten feet. It was the worst day of Bruno’s young life. He had to leave the circus and live with cousins Linus and Lori, who were nice for letting Bruno live with them. But they were kind of boring, and all they ever wanted to eat was goulash.
Bruno was dropping rocks into a large puddle when a new smell rushed up his nose. It hit him hard. He put his nose in the air in order to investigate. After a minute, he recognized the smell: split pea soup! Bruno hadn’t eaten or even smelled split pea soup since his mom had made it for him. She would always make it for him, when it rained or when he didn’t feel well. It was his favorite food. Bruno became excited. He let the smell guide him and he hurried after it, as fast as he could, letting his nose lead the way.
“I can’t wait to eat a bowl of split pea soup,” said Bruno to himself. “Maybe I’ll eat five bowls. Or maybe ten bowls. Or maybe a hundred bowls.”
The smell got heavier and more intense with each step he took. He went another hundred yards past a grove of redwoods, carried by his nose, and then left the trail. He ran through the heart of the woods. Suddenly, the smell stopped completely.
Bruno stopped dead in his tracks, spooked by the smell’s sudden departure. He looked straight ahead. He saw nothing unusual, just regular old woods. He looked to the left; he looked to the right. Again, he saw nothing unusual. Bruno slowly turned around. And there, right behind him, where he had just been running, was a refrigerator.
Bruno walked up to the fridge and examined it. It was like any other fridge. It was even humming. Bruno looked for the cord and found it. It was plugged into a small gray rock sitting beside the fridge. Bruno then unplugged the refrigerator. And as soon as he did, everything in the world went off—the whole earth went dark and every sound ceased. Bruno quickly realized his mistake and plugged the fridge back into the rock. And all the lights and sounds came back on. Bruno let out a sigh of relief. Bruno then decided to open the fridge, and what he saw was truly amazing. It was outer space. It was stars and galaxies and meteor showers and planets! It was incredible.
Bruno then heard a voice speak to him from the refrigerator. “Hello! Bruno? Is your name Bruno? Is that you?”
“God!” Bruno exclaimed. “Is that you?”
“Well...actually it’s not,” said the voice. “I’m like a very good friend of God, but, technically, no, I’m not God. My name is Prince. I play music.”
“Your name is Prince?”
“Yeah, ever heard of me?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I mean maybe.”
“You ever heard of ‘Purple Rain’? ‘When Doves Cry’?”
“Nah, I don’t think so.”
“How old are you?”
“What about ‘1999’? That was a big hit. Still gets a lot of play.”
“Sure. That sounds like...yeah. I think I know that song.”
“OK, don’t do that. I don’t need that. I don’t need you to pretend like you know my music. I have lots of fans. All over the galaxy, rabid fans. It’s not a huge deal anyway. Listen, Bruno, let’s cut to the chase. This isn’t about me and my mind-altering music. This is about you, Bruno. Today I saw you out walking in the woods. Right away, I noticed your purple rain jacket. It’s fantastic; it looks so good. I said to myself, this is a kid that knows what’s up, this kid is cool, super-cool. People that wear purple are the coolest people. We are. We know things that no one else can even fathom. So I thought this kid, you, Bruno, I should offer this kid a chance to explore in outer space.”
“Really? Outer space! But wait. Is it OK? I mean, I do wear clothes other than purple clothes.”
“Yeah. My shirt is green under my jacket. I do really like purple a lot.”
“Well, shoot. Listen, you’ll be fine. Just maybe don’t bring the other colors if you happen to run into any other purple outer-space explorers, you know what I mean?”
“I can do that!”
“Perfect. Thanks. And I just want to make sure, you are interested in traveling in outer space, right?”
“Yes, very much so. It’s safe, right?”
“Oh it’s safe. Very safe. You will be protected by the New Power Generation.”
“Alright, then. How do I go?”
“You have to enter the portal.”
“You mean the fridge.”
Bruno then tried to walk into the open fridge, but it was like walking into an invisible wall. He tried again with the same result.
“Prince?” Bruno whined.
“How do I go into the refrigerator?”
“You know how.”
“No, I don’t; I just tried and I couldn’t.”
“You know how to do it, Bruno. You have to listen to your heart.”
So Bruno paused and closed his eyes. He closed his eyes as tight as he could and listened as hard as he could.
Some time went by, and Prince asked, “Bruno, are you still there?”
“Yes, Prince. I’m listening to my heart, but I don’t hear anything.”
“Bruno, here’s the problem: You’re not listening. You’re thinking. Don’t think; listen. Open your eyes and feel the answer.”
Bruno did just what Prince said; he opened his eyes and took a deep breath. Then it all became crystal clear. “I got it!” exclaimed Bruno. Bruno carefully put the fridge on its back. He opened its door and made sure it was going to stay open. Then Bruno started to climb the closest of the tall pine trees. He climbed and climbed and climbed. He had to go very slowly because the tree was so wet. Finally, Bruno reached the top of the tree and it was so high up. And the wind was heavy. Bruno had to hold on tight to the branch. It was scary, but Bruno took a deep breath, and even though he was scared, he was positive that this was correct. Bruno walked out on the widest and sturdiest branch of the top branches. He stuck his arms out to balance himself. He walked slowly, and finally he reached the end. He looked out, and he could see for miles and miles. It was beautiful. It wasn’t quite as beautiful as outer space, but it was definitely second place. Bruno looked down. The fridge looked the size of a gum wrapper from up there. The smell of split pea soup returned to his nose. This made Bruno smile, and he closed his eyes and dove headfirst right off the branch.