Love In The Time of Toasters

Etgar Wright was a hopeless inventor.

An alarm clock designed to greet morning risers with a song forecasting their day would only play nonsensical tracks like
MacArthur Park and I Am The Walrus. A toaster meant to burn the face of one’s ‘true love’ onto each slice of crust-framed bread always ended up over-charring into square, black portraits. And now his remote control allowing people to speed through or backtrack through their relationship as if it were a ‘best of’ compilation was being undone by hitches.

Etgar’s shopping list of ever-failing inventions didn’t impress his best friend, Marta. Then again, she was slightly slour about having to supply the multigrain and white bread loaves that he experimented on and then dispatch his incinerated artworks to the nearest pigeon congregation spot.

“I still don’t understand,” she said, as she filled another bag with Malevich-inspired toast. “If you were going to make money from alchemising food into art, why not forge some potato that looks like Jesus?”

“Well. I like the idea of a toaster that can tell you what the love of your life will look like,” said Etgar. “If you’re some sadsack who has had their heart trampled on a few times, every morning you know you’ll be OK because there on each slice of toast is the face of that mysterious someone who is going to reverse all that past misery. Or if you’re part of some ancient couple and you’re reassessing if you really should have turned down that potentially life-changing fling in high school, it’d be nice to know that you made the right decision.”

“Because the Love Toaster said so,” said Marta dryly. As she loaded up her bags for her daily pigeon meet-and-greet, she wondered about Etgar’s mooney-eyed romanticism.

“What if you have been married for someone for years and then one day the toaster starts spitting out bread with the face of the milkman? Or the hot dad of your son’s best friend? That’s not going to go down well at the breakfast table.”

Etgar shrugged as he walked her out the door. It wasn’t his fault that Cupid didn’t always play with straight arrows.

“Or what if you are a lonely sadsack and your toast comes up blank every morning? Nobody at all in the entire world is going to love you,” she sighed. She locked up her slightly crumb-infested van and got into the front. She turned to look at Etgar, who gazed at the ground, conveniently riveted by the individual braids in his welcome mat.

“Or what if all that turns up on your breakfast plate is the portrait of a dog? Or a goldfish? Imagine! More than 6 billion people in the world and the only being capable of returning your love is someone living in an abandoned pebble castle.”

Marta was lucky. Her true love was not a goldfish but a pigeon breeder she met at the local park while dumping another batch of blackened bird feed. Suddenly she didn’t mind Etgar’s experiments so much. Which was good news for the inventor because it meant he could give his relationship remote control a work out.

“So. I can literally rewind or fast forward to any part of this relationship that I like?”
“Yes. Think about it. All the giddy highlights you can replay over and over and all the hellish moments you can zap right through. It’s the ideal relationship. Plus it makes me feel less remorseful about all the relationships that might turn to dust because of my Love Toaster.”
“So you can zip through the tough bits of breaking up with your husband of ten years and get straight to the part where you get it on with your son’s best friend’s hot dad?”
“Um. Yes.”
“I thought you were a romantic.”
“Of course I am. What could be more romantic than smoothing out the rocky parts of reality and hurrying up the best moments of life?”
“OK. But you know there is a really dirty word for people who think like that.”

After 10 test runs, Marta’s patience ran out. The remote control backfired in many ways. Instead of being sent to that first fiery moment of meeting her current boyfriend, she ended up in the wrong century, stuck in an impoverished Victorian English town, cleaning the grates of some uppity society lady’s home. Her pigeon breeder lover had a kindly cameo in the episode, but the fact he was the uppity lady’s husband didn’t soften Marta towards him. When she returned to the present, Marta became slightly suspicious of her boyfriend’s interest in Victorian literature, wary that he nursed some strange fetish for Miss Havisham that perhaps she could never live up to. Another time she ended up permanently stuck in a ferocious argument with her lover that she nearly had a breakdown afterwards. It was a four-line argument that went on for three weeks. After that, she said Etgar could be his own guinea pig.

The only problem was he wasn’t in a relationship, so there were no memories he could jump to and test out. He placed an ad in the classifieds of a woman’s magazine. It ran above an ad requesting Victorian literature classics that had been mysteriously lost. While the latter incident almost spelt the end of Marta’s relationship as her lover accused her of cashing in on his precious collection, it turned out that his exceedingly precocious pigeons had in fact spirited them off, one volume at a time, ripping up the pages to create a communal nest two blocks away. The gilt lined pages added a classy touch to their print-heavy abode.

Etgar was surprised to receive a reply to his ad. It was, of course, a mistake. It was from a lit student who was hoping to sell off her Dickens and Brontes now that she had finished uni. He met her anyway. Her name was Ada, and she liked inventing things. She filled in the clairvoyant spots on a women’s magazine, but due to the overspill of study into her work, these horoscopes and predictions would end up mirroring the plot of
Great Expectations (“on Wednesday the identity of a benefactor may actually become an unpleasant revelation”) or the turgid discourse of Hegel (which strangely made a lot more sense if you occasionally interspersed it with phrases like “on the cusp of Jupiter”). She helped him finetune his alarm clock invention so it began to play a wider range of music than obtuse baby boomer hits. She worked the toaster so it burnt bread in a subtle, chiaroscuro palette – paler marks for fine facial features, dark blotches for men’s mutton chops. And she corrected the relationship remote control so it only played the golden hits in a pair’s history, ensuring no memory was left meaningless from overexposure. “Like a no-repeat workday,” she explained to him.

Etgar was left strangely listless after Ada had smoothed out all his challenges. There was nothing left to his days that he even considered going to church. So one day he armed himself with his inventions and sought counsel with a Mother Superior. She didn’t quite answer his questions but in demonstrating his creations to her, he ended up with something much more priceless. A slice of toast resembling Mother Theresa that left him rich enough to fund new wayward dreams.

Lee Tran Lam

Voiceworks, Spring 2006