Cairo and I were making breakfast one morning, when my toast burnt.
I turned up my lip and dropped it on the floor for our dog Dapper. She began cronching it with the kind of vigor only a corgi can have--if you own one, you’ll know. I sighed and pulled another slice of bread out from the humid plastic bag, lowering the toaster's temperature a bit before popping it in.
While I waited for the bread to toast, Cairo and I sipped his monstrosity of a mug of coffee (half of it was hazelnut creamer, and the other half was honey), passing it between us as was our custom on Sunday mornings, and any other morning, really, except that one time when I was mad at him for killing a stinkbug that’d made its way into the apartment. Not that I was particularly sympathetic towards insects--in fact, I hated them--but I knew, I just knew, that one day, when the turn tables and all the bugs get giant and come ravaging to step on us humans like we’ve killed their ancestors countless times before--I knew that would be the day that Cairo’s unforgivable deed would make us all pay.
Call me crazy, but I’ve seen it in their little bug eyes. They know the day will come, and they are awaiting it with evil anticipation. When they come to smash us to glooey bits, I hope they’ll give me a second to glare at Cairo and say, “I told you,” before we become mush underneath their bendy black legs.
Cairo thinks I’m insane. I say he’s just irresponsible.
We make a good couple.
I swallowed some of Cairo’s “coffee” and passed the mug back to him. We don’t talk much--it could be due to the fact that my parents say I have poor communication skills, or maybe it’s because Cairo is almost completely deaf--but we manage to get along. What isn’t passed instantaneously through our brains, we convey through the quiet mouthing of words or vague yet oddly specific hand motions. Cairo knows ASL, of course, and I could learn if I wanted to; but there’s really no need when we understand each other perfectly already, wouldn’t you say?
The bread popped up from the toaster, scaring first me, due to the sound it made, then Cairo, over whose hand I’d just sloshed a scalding tablespoon of hazelnut-cream-honey-“coffee”-water when the toast made me jump. I flung a Kleenex at him from the box on the counter and ran to grab my breakfast, hungry from the extra two minutes I’d had to wait. The toast was still somewhat black, despite me having turned the temperature down, but at this point I was done with it already, so I spread a few cubes of butter over the crumby surface and called it a day. (For the record, the only butter Cairo and I own are those little packets they give you at Panera when you order a bagel or baguette or something. Sure, we could buy the stick of yellow wonder at the grocery store like a bunch of rich weirdos, or, we could get it for free at the place that charges six dollars for a single twelve-ounce smoothie! Frankly, the choice is quite obvious, in my humble opinion.)
I again took my seat on the barstool beside Cairo, munching my toast with considerably less enthusiasm than Dapper had, but still savoring the warm, slightly burnt and gritty, buttery flavor. Saturday night, we said we’d go to church in the morning; but there we were, at 10:33 a.m., Cairo wiping the last smudges of spilled beverage off the counter, Dapper whining as if I hadn’t just given her food a few minutes earlier, and most ominous of all, the crusty toaster, staring my down from its place by the fridge, as if to say, Ha. As if to say, I won.
From that day on, our rivalry only deepened.
Every day--not just on Sundays--Cairo had his “coffee,” and I my piece of toast, every morning for breakfast, before he would go to work and I to school. In the middle of the day, there was a brief period of time when we were both home, then Cairo had school and I’d go to work and the cycle would continue.
That’s what it was; a cycle. Everything was better than clockwork in our lives, from the specific hours that we’d visit Panera to stock up on butter, to the number of kibbles Dapper ate every day for her afternoon snack, to the exact measurements of honey and cream Cairo put in his “coffee” and the exact loaf of bread I used for my toast. Being very much antisocial creatures, hardly anything ever threw off our routine; so it was much to my surprise when, on Monday morning, both sides of bread emerged from the toaster looking the hue of a sickly raven’s eye.
That is to say, not-the-color-that-it-should-be.
I scowled and flung the toast like a dejected frisbee to where Dapper was panting excitedly on the linoleum. She snapped it up, and I glowered at the toaster before pulling a bruised apple from the near-empty fridge and biting into it, not even bothering to wash it beforehand. I chewed viciously in the toaster’s direction; I could almost see it sticking its metaphorical tongue out at me. I paused chewing to stick my tongue out back. Turning from leaning against the fridge to go sit down with Cairo and take one more swig of “coffee,” I saw him staring concernedly at me.
Are you okay? his dark eyes questioned.
I pretended to be confused, turning out my lip, wrinkling my chin and brows. Pssh, yeah, my face conveyed. Why wouldn’t I be?
Cairo widened his eyes, raising his eyebrows, and swirled his cup of “coffee.” The lines in his forehead told me, You’re a real nut job, Parker.
And what’s wrong with that? the look in my eyes replied.
Cairo just sipped his beverage and stared into the distance.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday--my toast got blacker and blacker, until on Friday it crumbled in my hands as I tried to lift it out of the toaster, the rough crumbs involuntarily lodging themselves under my fingernails. In a flash of fury, I yanked the plug from the outlet and flun the cord dramatically on the kitchen counter. “Enough!” I yelled. “We’re getting rid of this stupid toaster!” I turned to Cairo, who, as always, was drinking his “coffee,” his phone lying dark next to his hands cupped around the bright red mug. “Did you hear me?” I repeated. “We’re getting rid of it!”
Cairo sighed and stood up from the counter, weaving his way around the tiny, yellowly-lit kitchen. He grabbed a slice of bread from the bag and popped it in the toaster, then silently resumed sipping his “coffee.” Two or three minutes later, during which period of time I responded to one (1) email, the toast popped up from the toaster. Without even looking at it, Cairo grabbed deftly between two tweezer-like fingers and handed it to me. The bread was perfectly brown. I was hungry--I always am--but still I dropped it to the floor for Dapper, who by this point was beginning to anticipate our little morning routine. Cairo shrugged and finished off his “coffee.”
I got home from work a little late that day, and pulled into the apartment complex’s parking lot to see half our building engulfed in flames. The firemen were just getting started, spraying water futilely at the mass of orange fury before them. Cairo, who’d gotten off just before me, was standing several paces behind the truck, coughing and staring in mild horror at our lives quite literally burning to the ground in front of him. Dapper, thank god, was somehow safe, a familiar prickle of orange sitting, stunned, next to Cairo's ankles.
A few hours later, it was all over. The three of us had watched the havoc from my car, huddled against the windows, waiting first for the fire to die, and then the tenants to disperse, and then the firemen (one of which had saved Dapper from the flame) to pack up their gear and slowly leave, as if they weren’t sure that everything was taken care of. It wasn’t, of course. As soon as we were sure they left, we crept out of the car, pulled up flashlights on our phones, and went to explore the ashes.
Everything was still warm and wet and grey and smoky, and we trod through the wreckage carefully, raising and placing our feet as if, beneath us, was something much more delicate than Earth. Cairo and I peered through the wreckage awhile, lightly kicking piles of unidentified debris, glancing at the mangled piles of steel and wood and seeing if any of it could’ve ever belonged to us. Neither, I think, felt particularly sad; just a numb, aching kind of what comes next, lodged somewhere in between the stomach and the throat. It was clear from Dapper's body language that she was not having a good time; so eventually, we turned to go, taking final furtive glances at the cold, murky heaven above us, addled with stars. Just as we were about to head back to the car, the flash of my phone’s light against a shiny surface caught my eye. I turned to look at it. It was the toaster.