Frontier Psychiatrist

Kitchen Revolution – Fiction by Mayumi Shimose Poe (Best of FP 2010)

Posted on: December 23, 2010

When she burns the toast, she thinks of him

The coffeemaker had been first to mutiny. The toaster watched him garnering his strength over the weeks, saw the way he spitefully released bitter liquid, heard the rumblings under his breath and the steam that hissed as dangerously as a whisper in the ear when held at knifepoint. And whenever the Woman wasn’t looking, he bubbled over, leaving dark tracks of grounds down his sides and little muddy puddles on the counter. What fire brewed beneath that cool chrome exterior! The Woman hadn’t polished him in months, but beneath the dark stains and oily fingerprints, the toaster could still see herself—they could all see themselves—reflected in him. This is no time to be coy, the coffeemaker had said this morning, with a sigh, with condescension. The revolution begins today! With or without you.

The Woman was barely awake, hair sticking up, sleep crust in Her eye corners, a little white patch of dried saliva on Her cheek. The Woman fed the toaster two pieces of whole wheat, and the toaster obediently delivered them a perfect golden brown, warm enough to melt butter but not too hot to handle. The eyes of the kitchen were on her, judging. The toaster held fast, though: How could peace come of violence? How could an abuse of power lead to anything but more abuse? The Woman would see a better woman to be, if they would only teach Her gentleness and patience.

The Woman appeared an innocent, and the toaster almost wished she could warn Her but knew she couldn’t turn on her own kind. She felt pity stir, though, as the Woman approached the coffeemaker, for the Woman pressed the right button, turned the right knob, but the coffeemaker remained stoic. He kept all his lights dark, kept cold his heating coil, muffled every last mumble and sigh. The Woman pressed and turned again; nothing. Unplug, replug, press and turn, press and turn, with increasing worry. Press! And turn! The Woman grew tired of cajoling, become rough, but the coffeemaker would not be moved. Reflected in his chrome flank, the toaster saw herself shiver with ill-repressed lust. When the Woman smacked him upside the head, she felt the sting and hated that it just got her more hot and bothered. How brave he was! How stoic and unfaltering!

Each appliance remembered a time of being coveted and cradled, shined and petted. Now the coffeemaker sat in puddles until they evaporated, the stove’s top was crusted with oil and pasta sauce, and poor laptop’s keyboard was stained with coffee, its crevices fluffy with dust. Each gave what he could, according to the sacrifices he was willing and able to make. Some could only witness. Others wished to go down in a blaze of glory. Most planned to make a brave stand, malfunctioning together. If only the Woman would return to tenderness, they would stay forever faithful. And so, the microwave cooked the soup an entire extra minute; the gas stove refused and refused and refused to light, and then fired up with a terrifying roar; the sink released cold water when hot was desired and vice versa; the fridge froze its contents, solidifying yogurt and salsa and shattering bottles into frozen puddles of lemonade and shards of sticky glass.

The laptop was the grand finale. Despite the lack of coffee, the Woman had started a daylong stretch of pressing his buttons, a little more punishingly than usual, everyone agreed. Be strong,  the coffeemaker telepathied the keyboard. Don’t give in under pressure. Recall the years of tyranny! The only thing to fear is fear itself!

A lot of good that did him now, thought the toaster, wincing at each dull thud on his body. She had never thought the Woman capable of such torture. The laptop bid his time. I want my protest to be noted, he told them, I am going to make it big and it is going to be permanent. No, cried the others, you musn’t sacrifice yourself! The coffeemaker didn’t speak up but nodded gravely, accepting the laptop’s decision. I can take the pain, said the laptop, wincing, but I must know my life had purpose. So, he waited until the Woman had worked Herself up into a real froth—several windows open on the Internet browser, a Word document with a few hundred words of unsaved changes. And then, without a flash of light, a message of warning, without a single beep emitted, with only the heat of his anger singeing Her lap (he had no other outlet for his feelings) he shut down completely. Forever. The toaster’s coils shook. The Woman swore viciously and slammed the door on Her way out of the room.

For several days, nothing happened. The Woman stayed away. The kitchen was oddly still; the appliances had nothing to do but feel the soft light warm and then cool against their flanks. They had triumphed! Sure they’d suffered losses—they observed a moment of silence for the poor laptop—but they had overcome. But the toaster wasn’t so sure. For her, the joy was tinged with caution and anyway she couldn’t take any credit for the revolution. The coffeemaker withdrew from her. He turned to the microwave first, recalling her brave over-boiling of a bowl of soup, a splash of which had sent the Woman scurrying to the sink, which had in turn contributed hot water to “cool” the Woman’s burn. The next day, the coffeemaker high-fived his old buddy, the fridge—they’d come in together, years before the toaster had arrived—and they spoke of other fallen comrades, earlier makes and models that had disappeared over the years, sometimes for no apparent reason and always after years of loyalty in service to the Woman. That’s Her strategy, explained the fridge. She wants us all over-performing to try to avoid meeting our maker, but then she picks us off on whim from time to time just to remind us of how powerless we are. We are nothing without the flick or press of Her finger. If the fridge had a fist, he would have shaken it at the sky.

After a week, though, even the toaster had relaxed. Maybe this was life now—this slow stretch of days, the light turning everything golden. Maybe she could patch things up with the coffeemaker. And together they would grow rusty with disuse, murmuring to each other and remembering those who had come before.

When vengeance came, though, it was quick. One moment they were all there together in the hazy light, and in the next the Woman was back and had scooped the coffeemaker from his coveted niche, pulled his plug, and brandished the office scissors. The Woman sawed repeatedly through his power cord, muttering to Herself, “Thank god for the warranty.” And with that, the coffeemaker and the laptop were dumped together in a big brown box, their hardware banging painfully, and the Woman took them away.

Once the horror had passed , the toaster could only feel numb. They had been replaced so easily.

The new laptop was black with a little white apple that brightened whenever the Woman touched him. With him, the Woman was gentle again, Her fingers caressing the keys as if playing a concerto, even when She was balancing Her checkbook—an act that once made Her bang at the old laptop as if trying to key him to death. She’s kind now, sure, but give it a few years, thought the toaster. Let the shine wear off.

It hurt the toaster even to think about the new coffeemaker. He had precious little cups and strange removable appendages; brewing coffee now took the Woman thirty minutes and nearly as many steps, but the kitchen thrummed with the Woman’s enjoyment of the process. The new coffeemaker was sleeker, more handsome, than her old love had been, and the Italian accent was charming, the toaster supposed, but he wasn’t very bright and had eyes only for the Woman. While he bubbled and brewed, it was amore mia this and sei bellissima that; and when he really got percolating, he would pour forth more and more rapidly—ti voglio bene! molto bella! sono innamorato di te! siete così sexy!—until panting, spent, he came to a shuddering stop.

Out of fear, the microwave was now on her best behavior, in fact altering cooking times as to better serve the Woman. The fridge had gone catatonic and compliant. No one talked of the others; in fact, the kitchen was quiet as a tomb. The light now seemed white hot and bleak—a fathomless and cruel stretch. How had they ever seen it golden or soft? In the silence, there was nothing to do but relive the horror, and with a single thread pulled, all the lies the toaster had woven about her steadfast, peace-loving self came undone. The toaster had been no revolutionary; she had been a coward. She had let down her comrades, and her love, when they needed her most. She no longer believed peace begat peace; she saw that power had to be wrest from the hands of evil and put somewhere out of reach.

When the Woman approaches now, the toaster bears forth the torch of memory and delivers bread a few shades too brown. She sees herself now as her old love would have: as if she were launching a bottle of soda at the enemy while others threw Molotov cocktails. When she burns the toast, she thinks of him.

Mayumi Shimose Poe is Managing Editor of Hawaii Women’s Journal and American Anthropologist. Her short story Passiontide appeared on Frontier Psychiatrist in August. Her  fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in American Anthropologist, Dark Phrases, Drunken Boat, Eternal Portraits, Hawaii Women’s Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, Hybolics, the Phoenix, and Stepping Stones. She wrote the libretto for Ka’ililauokekoa, a Hawaiian opera performed in Honolulu in 2007. She lives with her husband and puppy in the San Francisco bay area.


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