Abby Rotstein

 

Abby Rotstein went to UC Davis' writing program several years ago and now lives an  absurdly normal life in Las Vegas, NV.  She has work published or  forthcoming in Word Riot, Fresh Yarn, The Battered  Suitcase, and Foliate Oak.

 

How to Talk to Your Toaster (May 20, 2010. Issue 17.)

Having run out of people to come out to, I told my toaster I was gay. The conversation didn’t go as smoothly as I had planned. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been toasting a bagel at the same time. At any rate, my toaster malfunctioned, heating up rapidly and spitting out a deformed and burnt bagel. One time my toaster spit out Jesus. He was emblazoned on a piece of rye. At the time I was praying for a raise. I took it as a sign. Now I thought my toaster was a homophobe.

Immediately I called my sister. “You need to stop talking to your appliances.” This was sound advice. My sister was full of sound advice. I should floss more. Eat less meat. Stop dating unavailable women.

“It’s a sign,” I said. “Remember Jesus? My toaster knows things.”

“You didn’t get the raise,” she said.

“Looking back,” I said, “I believe my toaster has a keen sense of blasphemy.” I leaned toward my toaster, distinctly hearing the hoof beats of four ominous horsemen.

“I love you beyond words,” she said and hung up. That meant she was sick of me. There were no words to express her disdain. My toaster sizzled and sparked.

On National Coming Out Day I made it a point to come out to as many people as possible. I told all of my family, friends and coworkers between two and five years ago. From there I had to branch out. I didn’t mind stopping a stranger on the street. I told my mailman. He made it a joke. “If you say so,” he said. “No really,” I said. He laughed. “You wanna grab coffee later?” “What about me screams I’m not gay?” I said, screaming. He looked me up and down – not in that leering way men do, but a genuine appraisal. He shook his head. “You’re not really anything,” he said.

That was one year ago. Since then I’ve made him assess my gayness about once a week. “On a scale of 1 to 10,” I said shortly after his first assessment. “10 being super gay.” He opened a mailbox panel. There were over 200 apartments at my complex. “Not even on the charts, Wonder Woman.”

“You’re not looking,” I said. He told me the same thing for weeks. Over the year I’ve fluctuated between a negative five and a two. Today I was a one. Still, I believed my mailman was a sage. He knew more about the human condition than most psychologists. My sister told me I made everyone Einstein. “Don’t you mean Freud?” I said. “Or some other famous psychologist?”

“Freud believes in the penis,” she said. “You don’t believe in the penis.”

That was true. The penis wasn’t like Santa Claus. I knew it existed; I just didn’t want any part of it. For a while I thought I did. When I didn’t want to be gay I lay in bed at night fantasizing about men. I imagined kissing them and really believing I felt something. Then I’d envision a woman, kiss her, and think, “Nope. Nothing. Nada.”

It wasn’t too late to talk to Mailman Einstein. I had just checked on my gayness a half hour ago, so he should still be stuffing the mailboxes. I realized that was a sexual turn of phrase and vowed to add it to my daily discourse.

I carefully unplugged my toaster and headed for the door, when the phone rang. I picked up the cordless. “I’m setting you up,” my sister said. The toaster was hot so I had to set it down again. I didn’t say anything to my sister. “I don’t even care if you like her. You have to go out.”

I grabbed a towel from the laundry room and swaddled the toaster. “I go out,” I said.

“You talk to your appliances.”

I was about to tell her that speaking toaster didn’t say anything about my mental health. But then I cooed at the toaster, and patted it. I had to make nice. My toaster was a seer.

“Not everything is a sign,” she said and hung up.

If I wasn’t dating unavailable women, I wasn’t dating at all – two sides of the same coin, according to my sister. It had been five months since my last date. Not bad. But bad enough.

I grabbed the swaddled toaster, my keys, and headed for the door. Then I went back and grabbed the burnt bagel. With nowhere to put it I stuffed it back inside the toaster, fearing momentarily that the toaster would spit it out again. When I opened the door I was greeted by Janice, my upstairs neighbor and straight girlfriend. Her hand was in mid-knock. She chewed gum as if it had done her wrong. Janice was 35, slender, and perpetually taken aback. Her conversations were peppered with liberal helpings of “I just couldn’t believe it.”

Janice walked in and sat on my couch. I stood by the open door.

“I’m having a crisis,” she said. Janice was always having a crisis. “A real one,” she said. Janice was always having a real crisis.

I remained at the door, hoping to give Janice a clue about my impatience.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. She stared at me, waiting for me to ask questions I never asked. I listened to her because no one else would. “I was in a car accident,” she said.

“Oh,” I said because that’s all I had. I went to hug her but the toaster got in the way.

“I’m okay,” she said. She didn’t ask about the toaster. “It happened this morning.”

“What do you need?” I said.

“A ride to work tomorrow.” She started crying.

I nodded or said ok and quickly left. I didn’t close the door.

Einstein was talking to one of the old folks who lived in the building. I called her Marge even though her name wasn’t Marge. I called all the old women Marge. I made up lives for them too. This Marge had six kids; all but two didn’t talk to her. She didn’t inspire talking. But she smiled a lot, which was confusing. Only her family knew what lay behind the smile. I waited a few steps away, hoping they’d stop talking soon.

When I came out, there wasn’t any one girl, just a gradual accumulation of crushes, each one growing more intense, until I couldn’t deny it anymore. I had a lot of sex then, when I was just out of college. That was fun.

Einstein didn’t stop talking to Marge. Clearly they couldn’t see the enormity of my situation. I went over to the mailboxes and leaned on one of the closed panels. Upon closer inspection I realized I didn’t know this Marge. I reached out my empty hand. “I’m gay,” I said.

“I’m Irish,” she said. She turned back to Einstein. She didn’t shake my hand. I waited for five minutes before they finished their conversation and Marge walked away.

“I’m having a crisis,” I said. I held out the toaster. Einstein put a stack of coupons in the slot.

“I don’t like it when you see other people,” I said.

“I should charge you by the hour,” he said.

“My toaster’s a homophobe.”

He looked from me to the toaster and back. He said nothing. I watched him stuff the mail into boxes. He was tall and muscular and completely unattractive to me. That didn’t stop me from fantasizing though. He was a beautiful man. And I didn’t want to sleep with him. I fantasized about this over and over.

“You don’t leave people in your apartment crying.”

I looked up. It was Janice. She chewed her gum like she wanted to beat it to death. She looked at me like she wanted to beat me to death. I listened to Janice because no one else would. Einstein said nothing. He had an amazing capacity to ignore grand displays of emotion.

Janice was straight and lonely and prone to tears. She always had a crisis. And I walked away. That’s how it was. Protocol. Janice checked her mail and walked away.

“You’re still a one,” Einstein said.

I offered him my burnt bagel. He shrugged it off. He was tall and lean and muscular. “You like to stuff mailboxes,” I said.

“Oh baby,” he said.

“I’m gay,” I told him.

“Tell it to your toaster.”