Daniel and I were finishing dinner, turkey tacos. As he helped me put away the leftovers, he accidentally knocked over my Diet Pepsi. It spread over the shelves and ran down the back like an icy brown waterfall, collecting in the crisper drawers. Since everything was coming out of the fridge anyway, I thought I would spend some time deciding what would go back in. I chose an arbitrary cut-off of January, 2009. Anything that had expired since President Obama took office would have to go. Out went a bloated yogurt cup, what had once been a lemon and a jar of pickles I must have inherited from someone’s will. We had a bottle of wine vinegar in the back. It had no expiration date, but we had bought it at a grocery store that closed down about six years ago. I’m not sure how you tell when vinegar goes bad. I cracked the top and took a sniff. It still smelled vinegary.
“You can’t throw all the old food out,” said Daniel. “What will the ghosts eat?” That stopped me a moment. We live in a haunted house, according to my ten year old. Daniel has told us tales of a white owl outside his window and a man with no face who floated up our stairway. After his first pet died, a goldfish named Goldy, Daniel told us how she still tried to swim like a normal fish, but kept passing through the glass of the aquarium by accident.
If I had to hazard a guess, I would say ghosts tend to eat expired food. But how does food become ghostly? Does it transubstantiate the instant the expiration date is passed? Or is it more like a radioactive half-life; over time, more and more of the food molecules becoming supernatural? That might explain why a lot of old stuff I was throwing away had sort of caved in on itself, developing a wrinkly hide and pulling away from the sides of the container. And where did this process end? Was it limited to food? Do ghosts play ancient Atari games on the tube televisions that were replaced by HDTV? Maybe ghosts are decked out in the latest fashions circa 1992, or boo-ing away on old rotary phones.
In the end, with the choice between the living and the dead, I had to side with the living. Some of that stuff was downright scary looking and possibly dangerous. Daniel eyed the pile in the recycling bin with grave concern.
Daniel didn’t even crack a smile.
“Look,” I said. “Old stuff gets thrown away, but new stuff takes its place. No doubt we’re going to forget about something in the fridge sooner or later.”
Daniel brightened. “Maybe we’ll forget the turkey tacos!” he said with just a little too much excitement. Still he felt better and – to be honest – so did I. Given the choice, I’d like to think our cast-offs are serving time in Heaven rather than just lying in the limbo of the neighborhood landfill.