Authors: Rachel Vail
Tags: #General Fiction, #David_James, #Mobilism.org
HIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF
AND TO THE FOUR STRONG, SMART, LOVING WOMEN WHO MADE HIM FEEL LIKE THE LUCKIEST OF MEN
OUR TOASTER IS MOODY.
WALKING TO THE BUS STOP, past the new house still…
“GETTING PSYCHED FOR THE party,” a blushing girl named Melinda…
ALL ALONE IN THE SUDDENLY silent house, I wandered through…
I WAS EATING PASTA WITH BUTTER at the counter when…
“YOU OKAY?” GABRIELLE ASKED as we opened our lockers.
“SHH.” GOSIA WAS ON ME in a second, taking my…
“HELLO?” MY HEART WAS POUNDING from how startled I was.
IT WAS DARK IN THERE UNTIL I opened the refrigerator…
IT CAN’T HAVE BEEN MORE THAN a minute before Gosia…
“SO, YEAH, WE MADE OUT,” I heard myself announcing. Behind…
I WALKED INTO THE ARCTIC BLAST of my house from…
INSIDE, DADDY WAS SITTING IN his den watching baseball, grouching…
SUNDAY WAS GRAY AND GROSS OUT, much cooler than it…
FIRST THING MONDAY MORNING, Ms. Alvarez knocked on my desk,…
I KNOCKED ON QUINN’S DOOR and waited, because she said…
WHILE ANN WOBBLED ONTO the raft, frowning, I held it…
SUNDAY MORNING, ACTUALLY afternoon, my father sat beside me on…
NEITHER OF US SAID HELLO. I pretended not to see…
TUESDAY MORNING, JUST AS the sky started pinking up, I…
I WON, I TOLD MYSELF. I did it. And it…
BY THE TIME THE CAR PULLED UP the long driveway,…
MY WHOLE FAMILY WANTED to know what had happened, but…
I STOOD ON THE PODIUM, sweating despite the overzealousness of…
FLOATING ON A RAFT IN THE POOL, staring up at…
UR TOASTER IS MOODY
When I got down to the kitchen this morning, just my sisters were there. I said good morning to them. Allison grunted. Quinn said, “Morning. Waffles?” She was putting three frozen waffles into the toaster, one for each of us.
“Yum,” I said, but I couldn’t wait, so I grabbed a Smoothie out of the fridge. “Where’s my
“Should be in the trash. How can you read that crap?” Allison said, grabbing the Smoothie out of my hand to read the label. “You like these?”
I shrugged. “I wake up hungry.”
“I’d give anything for your metabolism,” Allison grumbled, handing the Smoothie back to me.
“Trade you for your white sweater,” I said between gulps.
“I wish.” She kicked off her sneakers.
“You’re both skinnier than I am, so shut up,” Quinn
commented without looking up from whatever she was doing on her laptop.
“I’m not skinny,” Allison said, yanking off her socks. “I’m
“Get over it,” Quinn said. “Grandma didn’t mean anything—”
,” Allison interrupted, stomping barefoot toward the back hall. “Whatever. Phoebe, did you take my new flip-flops?”
“No!” I yelled, trying to remember if I had.
The toaster lever popped up. “Phoebe!” Allison yelled at me from inside the back hall closet. “You’re standing right there! Could you get the waffles? Come on. Quinn and I have to go or we’ll miss our bus!”
“Oh, like the middle-school bus is so much later? Please!” I hate when Allison acts like she and Quinn are a team I’m too young to try out for. I am fourteen, not four, and she is closer to my age than Quinn’s by three months.
I tossed my empty Smoothie bottle in the sink, and then, slowly enough to totally torture my sisters, opened the toaster door to check. All three waffles were soggy on the edges and hard in the middles, with little ice crystals still clinging to the tops.
“Still frozen.” I closed the glass door of the stainless steel toaster oven and pressed the lever again.
Quinn’s head jerked up. “Seriously? Retoasting?”
“No way,” Allison yelled, coming back into the kitchen
with my new flip-flops dangling from her fingers. “You know the toaster gets insulted.”
“No, only you do,” I told her. “Those are my flip-flops.”
“They’re mine! You just stole them yesterday. Yours have the stripey thing, remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” I said.
I found the
in my bag and brought it over to where Allison was standing at the sink, wet-paper-toweling invisible dirt specks off the edges of her/my flip-flops.
“Want to see the dress I found for my graduation party?” I asked her, flipping pages. “It’s green. Do you think that’s—”
Allison cursed and pointed at the toaster. Smoke was curling out of it. I cursed, too, and dashed across the kitchen. When I yanked the toaster door open, a huge ball of dark smoke exploded out.
The smoke alarm started blaring.
“It’s not a fire,” Allison yelled at the smoke alarm on the ceiling. “Just more exploding waffles.” Dropping the flip-flops, she ran to open the sliding glass door to the deck and yelled back at me, “I told you, Phoebe!”
Quinn and I waved our arms in front of the smoke, guiding it toward the fresh air, until the alarm finally quit.
“Our appliances have scary amounts of personality,” Quinn said.
“Like the thing,” I said, laughing. “Remember? With Mom?”
My sisters both looked at me blankly.
“The electric tea kettle! Remember?” I unplugged the toaster from the wall and, holding out the cord like a sword, announced to my sisters, “Never be intimidated!”
They smiled then, too, at the memory of our mother’s epic battle against our old electric tea kettle the last time she was on one of her occasional quitting-coffee kicks.
“Want to see a failure, girls?” Mom had asked that morning last fall, spinning around to face us.
All three of us nodded. Sure. We wanted to see anything she wanted to show us. When my mother is in the room it’s almost impossible to look away from her.
She grabbed the electric tea kettle and thrust it out like a weapon, as water dripped guiltily from the spout. “A tea kettle’s spout should stick out,” she explained, her quiet voice controlled, intense. “But this one is snub-nosed. It’s indented. You know why?”
We all asked why, trying not to smile too much as our cereal, forgotten, soggified in front of us.
“Why?” she repeated. “So that boiling water will spill all over the masochist who is making tea instead of going to Starbucks like a normal person!”
My father laughed.
“It’s a design failure, Jed. Admit it—it drools!” She spun around toward him. “Look, it left a spot on my new silk shirt.”
The spot was microscopic, if it existed at all. In her
sapphire-blue silk shirt under her black Armani suit, my mother looked, as always, flawless.
“You just have to pour it slowly, Claire,” Daddy told her in his kindergarten-teacher voice. “Easy does it.”
“That’s so…tea-drinker,” Mom answered, a small smile tipping up the corners of her mouth. “I’m not Zen enough for this malformed tea kettle? Fine, then, I’m not. Out it goes!” Mom slammed the full glass tea kettle into the garbage can. “That’s it,” she said, and turned to yank the plug out of the wall outlet so she could dump the base into the trash after the kettle. “Garbage.”
Daddy smiled his crooked smile and murmured, “Oh, Claire.”
“Let this be a lesson, girls,” Mom told us, her chameleon eyes flashing deep sapphire. “We are the Avery women. Nobody—nothing—can intimidate us. We will never back down; we will never surrender. Especially not to moody inanimate objects!”
Daddy laughed again.
She pretended not to smile and continued. “We are warrior women! We are Valkyries! We will not—ever—allow ourselves to be bullied or mistreated! Right?”
“Right!” we answered her.
“You could have emptied the boiling water into the sink first, Brünnhilde,” Dad said softly, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind.
She leaned back against his chest and, grinning up at
him, said, “Nah.”
Then she turned to us, her smile broad and triumphant. “Go conquer the world, girls.”
We scrambled out to catch our buses, grabbing bags and backpacks from our nanny, Gosia, on our way. We were halfway down the driveway before Allison asked, “What the heck’s a Valkyrie?”
“No idea,” Quinn said. “And why did Daddy call her Broom Handle?”
We all laughed the whole way to the bus stop. I was still standing there grinning after my sisters were long gone, when my best friend, Kirstyn Hightower, reached the corner and asked what I was grinning about.
I shrugged. “My mom was in rare form this morning. It was awesome.”
“Mine was her usual lovely self—
do you really need that much cereal? Hundreds of calories!
” Kirstyn imitated. I rolled my eyes in solidarity. Kirstyn chewed on her pouty bottom lip. “You’re so lucky, Phoebe.”
She was right, I knew. I am lucky. Every time all that day when I thought of my mother throwing out the kettle, I had to smile and think of the word
, knowing what it really meant was me and my sisters and especially Mom.
So this morning, standing in front of the smoke-belching toaster, I announced to my sisters, “We’re Valkyries!”
“Sure,” Allison said, getting two Smoothies out of the
fridge. She handed the one she wasn’t shaking to Quinn and said, “We’re such Valkyries.”
Quinn had looked it up, brainiac that she is. Apparently Valkyries are tough, beautiful girls who ride winged horses into battle in, like, Norse mythology. Or maybe it was in operas. Whatever. I didn’t care; I was on a roll.
“Yes! We’re Valkyries!” I said, doing my best Mom imitation. I picked the toaster up off the counter and held it high. It was heavier than I expected. A few crumbs fell onto my face and the floor in front of me.
“Take that, you moody inanimate object!” I yelled, and dumped the toaster right into the garbage can. “Ha! Conquered.”
My mother strode into the room, the heels of her pumps clicking on the tile floor, and slammed her BlackBerry down on the counter.
“We are the Avery women!” I said, trying for, but I think not quite achieving, her level of complete confidence.
My mother pointed her long skinny finger at the toaster, which was bulging out of the top of the garbage can.
“What is this?”
“The toaster,” I said. “It’s…”
She yanked it out of the garbage. Coffee grounds, three Smoothie caps, and an orange peel rained off it onto the floor. “What the hell is wrong with you?” she asked me.
“It burned the waffles,” I answered quietly. An orange seed fell onto her black pump.
burned the waffles,” she said. “You don’t throw away a toaster oven just because you set the heating level too high.”
None of us answered. Nobody said, “No, it was on
,” even though it was. Mom slammed the toaster onto the counter and wheeled around to face me.
“Do you know how much a new toaster oven costs?” Her eyes were the same steel gray as the suit she was wearing.
I didn’t know what to say. How much? It had never come up before. My family never talks about money, never mentions how much things cost.
I shrugged, wishing Mom would crack a smile. I willed myself not to look at the small stain a bit of coffee ground had left on her bright white T-shirt.
“Guess,” she demanded.
How much a toaster oven costs? Seriously? No idea. Thirty dollars? Three hundred? “I don’t know,” I said, eyes riveted to her bare knees. She never spills on herself.
She yanked open the glass door of the toaster oven and grabbed one of the charred waffles out. “This isn’t even burnt. Grandma would just scrape off the black part….” Mom grabbed a butter knife out of the drawer and scraped black into the sink, to uncover more black. The waffle had become coal. “There. It’s fine. Eat it.” She thrust it at me.
“No, thanks,” I said, stepping back despite willing myself to stand still.
“Fine, I’ll eat it.” She bit into it and ash flew onto her white T-shirt, raining down in a flurry all around the coffee ground stain. She looked at her T-shirt, we all did, and the room was silent.
Cursing, she tossed the rest of the waffle into the garbage. “Spoiled brats,” she said. “Throwing away a toaster oven like it’s week-old roses.” She grabbed her BlackBerry off the counter and stalked out, toward the stairs, muttering, “Who do they think they are, a bunch of princesses?”
“No,” I whispered. The room was still reverberating. “Valkyries.”
A look passed between Quinn and Allison, a look like they knew something I didn’t. Neither of them grinned or laughed. After a few seconds, Quinn looked at me with terrible seriousness and said, “Guess not.”