The Relativity of Toast
For her, a well-endowed piece of toast was a thing to be contemplated, then acted upon with single-minded focus. Each properly browned corner, every tiny nook of the bread’s surface must be touched by the butter, the knife working like an artist’s blade. Then too, the raspberry jam—all natural, of course—must be applied with just the right weight and depth so that the butter was twisted into yellow swirls within it. Only when this was accomplished, examined and deemed perfect, was it possible for her to allow her smallish china-white teeth to ease down slowly and delicately upon it, only the faintest sound acknowledging the contact.
He, on the other hand, could, quite frankly, give a shit about how his toast was browned, buttered, jammed or gnashed. Two good slaps of butter and some Smucker’s jelly—none of that bullshit organic natural jam—and his toast was ready to be devoured, usually in no more than three bites. The pleasure for him was in the warmth and the sudden battle between the elements for the attention of his taste buds, which were more attuned than she would ever allow.
And therein, in a single simple and shared act at the counter in the kitchen, was the crux of their bloodied relationship. There was no conversation shared as toast was prepared and dispatched. He slopped coffee into a chipped mug he’d owned since college, its innards so stained that she had long ago declared it a bio-hazard and refused to touch it. Two heaping spoonfuls of real sugar—again, none of that fake chemical crap for him—blow across it three times and take the first big slurp, which never failed to cause a small quiver of pain to crease her forehead. If he sat the mug down, it inevitably left a residual ring that had her reaching for a hand towel she always kept handy, primarily to wipe away traces of his presence.
He almost couldn’t help laughing out loud each time he watched her swipe away the tiny ring of coffee, literally, it seemed before his mug had even fully cleared the surface. It was if she was already poised, had been on guard and couldn’t wait to resolve the issue. Too bad they couldn’t resolve their other issues as easily, he happened to think one morning as he went about for the thousandth time observing her turn the making of a cup of tea into a multifaceted program that reminded him of a step-by-step high school chemistry experiment. The water brought to a precise boil that she measured by listening carefully to the percolation in the kettle, never, god forbid, allowing the whistle to even chirp a warning. Into a bone cup, perfectly sized she had assured him, went the water onto, he swore, no more than ten particles of fake sugar, followed by the careful dipping and folding of a tea bag that was allowed to swim only long enough to turn the water slightly green. Then, and this also never changed, she would test it by letting a few drops into her spoon and then releasing them onto her tongue. The act of creation was complete, and all was right in her little world.
Normally, at this point, he turned away, pushed his face into the newspaper. But today, for some reason, he found himself examining her as she remained entranced by her toast and tea, and realizing suddenly that he didn’t know who she was. He was sitting in his kitchen—at least it looked like the kitchen he remembered as his—with a woman he didn’t recognize. He cocked his head and worked to pull her into tighter focus, scanning her face for clues. His wife’s hair had been strawberry blonde, more red than yellow. But this woman’s was pulled tightly back into a severe bun, and it was definitely more of a silvery tint. His wife’s skin had been unlined, silky, but this woman’s face bore hard wrinkles around the eyes, which were not the clear blue he remembered. Instead, they appeared dark and menacing, especially when she sensed his examination and glanced over. Her lips pulled tight into a pucker that implied something distasteful, while he tried to remember the last time he had kissed them.
“Is there something wrong,” the woman asked in a voice he didn’t know, at least two octaves lower then the lightly gracious tone he once had found hypnotic.
He wasn’t sure what to answer, or whether even to try. It was now obvious that his wife was gone, perhaps spirited away and replaced by this alien creature staring at him with a blank scrutiny that implied nothing. He suddenly felt that he was in danger, and, without a word, got up and scrambled out the door to safety.
Gary Carter’s fiction and poetry have appeared in a number of publications, and he also writes for a variety of magazines and websites on a range of topics. His recent novel, Eliot’s Tale, is a reverse coming-of-age road trip dealing with things done and left undone. He lives and works in Asheville, North Carolina.