Even now, deep in the tangled woods, playing referee to its struggling appliance companions and growing numb to the continuing clatter of hundreds of empty plastic water bottles that faithfully tottered along following their reflections in its chrome, Toaster’s guiding thought was “home”.
As of this moment, on an ever more overcast day, their unlikely caravan was somewhere between the college dorms, Rob’s temporary home, and the cottage, which the appliances had imagined would be their forever home – the home that was sold out from under them – the home that would soon be torn down – the home that would soon break Rob’s heart when it fell under the bulldozer assassin’s blade since it had been built by his own father’s loving hands.
Out here in the great in between, the illusiveness of home and the likelihood that they would no longer even have one made Toaster unable to think of much else.
Along the journey, Toaster had noticed many examples of home – a bird’s nest, a fox’s burrow, a gopher hole that made the large robotic quadruped, which had escaped the college science lab to assist them on their quest stumble embarrassingly. It was carrying Blanky, Lampy and Radio on its back at the time and apologized profusely for throwing them face first in the dirt, blaming the sudden loss of balance on software riddled with sloppy student code. Kirby scoffed at them all. Being a vacuum, he saw eating dirt as commonplace. Home was evident everywhere and sometimes caused trouble.
Toaster stopped. So the caravan stopped. Rushing water in the stream ahead slowed to glassy stillness, spread itself wide and halted against a labyrinthine wall of sticks. And more sticks at the center of the still water – a tangled half dome reflected beneath itself to make a sphere. Next to Toaster, the Laptop snapped a picture and dragged it into Google image search. A beaver lodge. Another home.
Toaster nudged the small GPS unit fiddling with its reflection at water’s edge and inquired of the Cottage’s direction. When it pointed its arrow back the way they had come, Toaster knew they had to continue forward. Thankfully, several days prior, Toaster had figured out that the GPS was directionally dyslectic – a fact that cleared up many a confusing trip down dead ends. But how to continue forward in the face of this irony – a watery home blocking their own path home?
Beneath its shiny surface Toaster felt extra empty, and not just for a lack of sliced bread.
Who would have thought that empty things might repair the emptiness – but that’s just what happened. Waddling like manic plastic penguins, the empty water bottles swarmed past Toaster, vaulted themselves into the pond and bobbed en mass into the shape of a dingy. A dingy just the size to carry a brave little Toaster, a childlike Blanky, a slightly dim Lampy, a Radio who was always on, a stuffy old Kirby vacuum, a pioneering Lab Bot, a misdirecting GPS Unit, and a philosophical Laptop who was looking forward to blogging about this very crisis averted.
During the floating across, the beaver whose dam had caused this moderate lake paddled nervously nearby wondering if it had inadvertently nibbled hallucinatory flora. Radio’s exuberant, antenna-wagging salutation caused the beaver to panic, slap its tail on the water and flee to the safety of its domed home. Blanky tugged on one of Toaster’s handles and pointed wistfully to the beaver lodge. “He has a home,” whispered Blanky, sounding more like an insecurity blanket than the other way round. Toaster tried to hide the sadness in its smile. “Don’t worry, we’ll be home soon.”
The disembarking left them damp and contemplating the oncoming darkness. “I wish we were home right now,” sighed Blanky.
Upon hearing this, the bottles did their quickest best to stack themselves into the shape of a beaver lodge so the appliances could feel at home for the night. It wasn’t a bad facsimile, and just in time as a chill wind whipped across the open mouths of the bottles with a moody moan – “hoooooooooooome.”
As everyone found a spot under the protective plastic dome, Toaster felt supremely relieved that the bottles had not listened to it in the days before. Supremely glad that the horde of identical 12 ounce empties had kept a simple-minded resolve to follow the Toaster along no matter how frustrated it became or how loudly it declared that the kindred bottles they thought they were following were merely reflections in its own chrome. Supremely glad that these escapees from the college recycling bin had been joined by other bottles that lay scattered along roadsides and trails, temporary refugees from future landfills – more and more of them until they became a herd of the size that could come in handy for things like forming river rafts and faux homes. Their ability to groupthink was truly remarkable. But Toaster didn’t take for granted the particular efforts of one little 8-ouncer which had been partially melted and rendered permanently hunched – likely from being too close to a stove’s flame or a hot plate. Igor was the name Radio had given him, a name that Toaster considered entirely insensitive. But Igor seemed pleased to have a name at all and bounced with crooked glee upon hearing it. Igor, being the one bottle least matching the rest was also the one who got noticed the most and was often the first thinker of a groupthink, like in the case of making a lodge-like dome home. Toaster quietly thanked its bent buddy with a gentle pat on the hump.
This whole journey had begun with the realization, first by Toaster, and then by its companions, that home – not just their home in particular, but also the very idea of home – was worth fighting for. They all hoped that their Master Rob would come to that conclusion soon because time was ticking. But even if he didn’t, they were determined to be strong in his place. He would be thankful in the long run, they could sense it in every wire.
Before shutting down for the night, Laptop asked Toaster and its friends to say a few words for the online journal it had created to chronicle their journey. Exactly what did home mean to them?
Radio piped up first.
“Home is where you can crank the sound all the way up to peel-the-paint loud and open every door in the whole house. Cause everyone wants to dance to the Master’s bee-bop-blastin’ tunes!”
Toaster chuckled. That happened a lot when Rob was little.
Lampy, who was close to retiring and about to lay his head on a mossy rock, added his two watts.
“Home is where every single light is plugged into the same circuit. Reading lamps, ceiling lamps, nightlights, wall sconces and even that loner hermit bulb inside the refrigerator all feel connected to each other. And it’s all for one purpose – to allow the Master to see when things are darkest. That’s home.”
Hearing this, the whole group made sounds of assent. Lampy contently reclined, the moss muting the hollow clunk of his head on the rock.
Blanky had been thinking about all of this for some time and felt ready to say something, but looked round at the group first to make sure he wasn’t interrupting. Toaster nodded that it was okay to speak. Blanky did, in a softly sincere way that evidenced experience, not speculation.
“A home has mom. And Vicks VapoRub. Cause when the Master gets a cold, his mom puts the Vicks on his chest and then lays me across it to warm him up. Without a mom and Vicks VapoRub, I couldn’t get the Master through his cold. You need a home for that.”
More sounds of assent all around. Blanky glanced at Toaster with an expression that asked, “Did I do good?” Toaster nodded with a smile that answered, “Very good indeed.”
Laptop eyed Kirby, who was fixing to sleep standing upright in the way vacuums often do.
“I don’t hear from you much,” the computer mused. “Guess you hold things in.”
“Course I do,” rumbled Kirby. “Unless my bag’s full.”
“Touché,” answered Laptop. “Pretend it’s full. Spill something.”
Kirby huffed. And for a moment it seemed like that was all he’d offer. Until, “Well… home is different from a building. In a building you suck up trash. In a home you’re inhaling bits of personality that shake loose and fall.”
Lampy raised his head. “Okay, I’m pretty bright, but I’m just not seeing it...”
Kirby continued. “At home, when you see a gum wrapper on the floor, you know it’s going to be cinnamon – Big Red – and it’s going to be folded into a little boat or hat or ninja star, because that’s what the Master does. And if you find a spearmint wrapper that means Aunt Marline is visiting and gave him a flavor he doesn’t even like because she can’t even remember. And there won’t be a little boat or hat or ninja star, just an itty-bitty squished up wad. Inside my bag there’s an archive of moments from Master’s life.”
Kirby carefully ran his plug across the surface of his bag till he felt something beneath. Then, with a purposeful tap he coughed a small object onto the ground – a little boat made from a folded cinnamon gum wrapper. The entire group leaned close, mesmerized by the ancient relic.
Kirby’s cord kept the treasure encircled. “I don’t talk about him much, but I don’t need to. It’s all inside.”
It was a magic moment, and a moment in which all eyes shifted from this unexpected symbol of home to the one who was leading them home now – Toaster. They were looking to Toaster for warmth and maybe for a reflection of their own feelings.
Toaster gave the simplest but deepest answer of all.
“Home is the only place in the whole world where you can see every member of the family reflected in your chrome at the same time. If that happens at least once a day, you know everything’s good.”
Everyone agreed with this wholeheartedly and Laptop added, “I’m taking this all down, please go on…”
Toaster paused, thinking itself mostly done – then glancing round at its tender dependents felt a phantom glow in its coils even though they weren’t plugged in. And happily for its companions, and for us, a few more warm and toasty thoughts popped up.
“Some say that home is a thing of the past. The reflection of a lost dream. But I believe that it will always be dear to us. Home means warmth. And warmth is my function. And so, to home I offer a toast. Wheat toast with butter and jam.”
“Toast with butter and jam!” everyone cheered. Outside they heard the beaver slap its tail on the water again, spooked by their noise. They all burst out laughing, which soon turned into yawns, which soon turned into snores – except for Laptop who was posting Toaster’s last comments on its blog. Being months out of date, the computer was intent on making what could be its final posts meaningful – possibly even worthy of likes and shares. This entry, it thought, measured up.
While it was spellchecking and double-checking that the thesaurus had been duly used for flourishes and flavor, the chirping of crickets and frogs echoed from beyond the stacked plastic igloo and night fully fell.
Signing off, Laptop was struck with a fundamentally chilling thought – imagining a world with no homepages. What a horrid future that would be! They had to succeed. They had to save it.