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.