We don’t have a toaster in our house anymore. Not since you left. Every time I walked past it I’d notice the dial was set differently, never where I’d left it. Sometimes it was set to an odd number, sometimes halfway between numbers, if you can imagine doing such a thing?
I always had to make two pieces of toast at a time – an even number – but they were never toasted quite the same. The subtleties in shade and colour would be disregarded or just missed by most (normal?) people but to me they screamed like blackened scorch marks on fresh white linen. Cried like angry facial contusions. The remainders of an equation that would not resolve itself. Variables which always added up to failure. Always too many variables.
So I had to get rid of the fucking toaster.
I put it in a box. A real-life box, not one of the tiny compartments in my mind which I use to lock troublesome things away. I put the toaster in a real-life cardboard box with the rest of your things when you moved out. And for a little while, it actually helped.
Molly still wants toast of course. In fact she’s just asked me if she can have some ‘toes’ with ‘peagnut burrer’ as she’s started calling it.
So I use the grill. There’s no flame – just the hot, glowing metal bars in the top of the oven. I like watching the toast toasting, seeing the gradient change ever-so-slowly and knowing I have the power to save it before it turns black. It’s satisfying. I love the bright orange colour of the metal bars when they heat up. It reminds me of the scene at the end of Terminator 2 (which you made me watch) where Arnie gives the thumbs up as he dissolves back into the liquid metal. Because sometimes I need a thumbs up. And sometimes I feel like a futuristic cyborg, sent back through time to make fucking toast and learn to replicate human emotions.
The toast is done (perfectly) but as I reach in to take it off the rack, the top of my right hand touches the red-hot bar. There’s a faintly audible hiss as it scorches the skin and I pull my hand away, dropping the toast on to the floor.
I start to cry. Not because of the burn, it doesn’t hurt that much, but because I dropped the toast on to the floor.
‘Are you ok mummy?’ Molly asks.
‘Mummy’s fine.’ I say, dabbing at the tears with my burnt hand, reassembling myself as quickly as I can for her sake. I don’t know how many times Molly has seen me burst in to tears like this. I think of you – how you would’ve helped me clean the floor if I’d let you. I think of the empty space where your toothbrush used to be, the cracked bathroom tile which will never be white no matter how much I scrub it.
I look back to check that Molly isn’t watching me, but it’s fine she’s absorbed in some cartoons on TV. I take a moment to steady myself. Then slowly – with controlled breaths – I touch the back of my left hand to the bar of the grill. It makes the same hissing sound, and leaves an almost identical red mark to the one on my right. I immediately feel calmer, balanced. It’s as if I’ve righted a car that was spinning out of control – steer into it, that’s what they tell you. I lean into the pain, letting it fill me up ever so briefly before switching it off like a lightbulb.
I hope the burns will stick around for a while, I want to enjoy watching them heal.
When I packed the toaster away in the box with your things, I put the letters I wrote you in with it. Then I put the box in the attic.
I lay awake at night thinking the toaster might somehow switch itself on and set fire to the box, and the letters. I imagined the whole attic catching fire, flames bursting from the roof. And then all of the words in all of the letters I could never send would rise up on the smoke and turn to ash in the night sky. In front of a pale moon they would flutter down gently though the freezing air, and maybe somewhere you would taste one on your tongue, and know that I once wrote you a snowflake.