The Broken Toaster | Kelle Schillaci Clarke
Updated: Mar 28, 2021
Neither of them knows what to do when it breaks. He’s of the mind to take it in and get it repaired, or, better yet, fix it himself. She’s already wrapping it tight in its own cord, heading to the trashcan.
“Where would we even ‘take it in’ to?” she asks, as he takes the toaster from her arms and places it back on the counter. “Who fixes toasters?” He shrugs, and they stare at it, a wedding gift from a cousin who hadn’t even come to their wedding. It had lasted nine years, longer than the average American marriage.
He plugs it into a different outlet, wiggles the cord, pushes the lever.
“I think there needs to be something in it for it to work,” she says.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” he says.
Soon, they both give up and go to work.
That night, the fire alarm chirps in the guest room, waking her. The cat weaves between her legs as she enters the cold room, the heating vents sealed tight for winter. The now-silent alarm casts the room in a pale green glow. She sits in the rocker, pulls the crocheted blanket over her feet and stares at the flat box still leaned against the room’s east wall. The cat spins a circle in her lap and settles in.
“We should hire someone to put it together,” she’d said when the crib had arrived months ago. She’d somehow assumed when she’d ordered it online that it would arrive exactly as it had appeared in the catalog, fully constructed, down to the gray and white chevron bedding and the decorative bumper she knew to immediately remove. Choke hazard. Why do they even sell them? It arrived as a flat, heavy box.
“I think we can do it ourselves,” he’d said, and went to Home Depot to buy a tool set and a drill with a thousand bits.
The words ‘FUCK YOU’ are scrawled into the dust across the face of the baby pictured on the box, in the crib, on its back, bubbly-smiling at the camera. She used to write seductive notes to her husband in shower steam, leave love poems in his lunch bag. She can’t remember writing these words, but it seems like something she would do.
The next morning, she finds him beside the toaster clutching a Phillips head, a trail of crumbs along the linoleum floor. How many years’ worth of toasted bread and bagels and hamburger buns is she walking across, she wonders, the crumbs sticking to her bare feet. How old are these crumbs? Have they ever emptied the tray, ever?
“Where’d you go last night?” he asks, coaxing the screwdriver into the hardware holding the toaster walls together.
“The fire alarm in the nursery needs batteries,” she says. “We should replace them all so they’re on the same schedule.” She has no idea what size battery the alarms require. Or why she’s gone back to calling the guest room the nursery. Neither of them is good at fixing things.
“It’s just kind of weird you would start sleeping in there again,” he says. He gets up to fill his coffee mug. She wets a folded piece of paper towel and gets on her hands and knees to press and lift toast crumbs from the floor.
“You don’t have to do that,” he says, stepping over her to return to the table. “You shouldn’t be doing that.”
“It’s fine,” she says, “I’m fine.”
He returns to the toaster and grabs a smaller screwdriver, as she goes after every single crumb on the tile, scrubbing the grout until the paper towel begins to disintegrate.
He is finally able to detach one side of the toaster and lift off the panel, revealing a complication of coils within. She gathers the crumbs, the wad of filthy paper towel, dumps them in the trash.
“How bad do you need the toast, really?” she asks.
“I don’t even know what I’m looking at,” he says. “No idea.”
His voice cracks, and the hairs on her neck prickle. She knows he will begin sobbing now, but that there will be no actual noise to it, just a jagged shudder of bones. She places a hand on his back, but feels only spine and ribs, nothing more, the opposite of her own body, as if every part of them is acting in opposition. He clears his throat, straightens his back.
“Could be an issue with the wiring,” he says. She withdraws her hand.
The cat shows up, his overfed belly swaying back and forth as he makes figure eights between her legs. Despite his enormous size, the sound he makes is tiny. He is always hungry. The more hungry he is, the more she feeds him; the more he eats, the more he purrs.
“You’re not going to fix it,” she says. “No one expects you to fix the goddamn toaster. No one asked you to.” It wasn’t worth saving, they both know it. It wasn’t a great toaster to begin with. It never should have lasted this long. She imagines him sending the toaster crashing through a window and prays silently for any sign of rage. But instead, he disappears through the basement door. She reaches for a can of tuna, unable to look across the counter, where he has left the red toaster open and raw, gutted like an abandoned patient, vulnerable and exposed.
He returns wearing protective eye equipment he’s used once before to break geodes in the driveway with their young nephew. He offers her a hammer, but she reaches for a meat tenderizer instead, smooth as glass on one side, sharp metal teeth on the other. He offers her the goggles, which she also refuses, choosing instead to squint and wince as they attack the toaster together, metal parts flying every which way, exploding the silence.
Tonight, she will cradle her stomach, but she still won’t cry.
Kelle Schillaci Clarke is a Seattle-based fiction and creative nonfiction writer with deep L.A. roots. Her recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Superstition Review, Blood Orange Review, Barren Magazine, Pidgeonholes, and Lunate. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, but left the desert in favor of the rainy Pacific Northwest, where she can be found tweeting @kelle224.