“Waffle Iron Heights,” by David Trautrimas, from the series Habitat Machines. Courtesy of the artist
The Domestic Front
By Van Diamondfinger
I believe the conspiracy started with the toaster, which, I might add, was not a doctor or medical professional.
I believe it started because I had been asking it to print toast with images of myself being defecated on by various historical despots. It probably also noticed I wasn’t eating the toast.
—Are you sure you want to do this?
I told the toaster that I was. I had spent the whole morning running the image through filters before deciding on grayscale, 300 burns per inch, so you could see the manila rope around Saddam’s neck and my abject and expectant expression beneath him Photoshopped from the selfie I’d taken on the kitchen floor where I’d spent the night.
—You could at least use a public domain image. This image will cost seventy-nine dollars to burn. Are you sure you want to proceed?
This was so like the toaster. In reality it didn’t want to print the picture at all. It wanted to pop up with warm images of Grandma and cozy kittens like every other toaster on the block.
It wasn’t being sentimental. It was built by Oster but had been supplied by my HMO, TransHumana Wellness, which had underwritten my kitchen suite and probably flagged things like this. Having breakfast lowered my risk of heart disease some 27 percent, but having it at 2 P.M. with stale beer from 4 A.M., lying on the floor, negated these gains somewhat. Taping the toast to the wall probably didn’t adjust my premium, unless they factored in the content.
I didn’t know, but sipping warm overnight beer made me irritably bold. I told the toaster to proceed. I was ready for Saddam Hussein to take a dump on my face already so I could smear red, red raspberry jam over the whole image and start my day.
—You don’t have to yell.
The toaster complied and started printing. I wondered if I had any jam.
I looked over at the fridge. Reflected in the shiny black surface of its sleeping display, I looked like a caveman, but it was just stubble and black crumbs from older toast on the floor. Then the mirror of the fridge door swirled to show me ads for things I might eat, as if it didn’t know that there was not much more than a near-empty jar of bread-and-butter pickles inside. It showed me visions of healthy meals I could make in half an hour for under fifty dollars. Yet I knew this magic kingdom of kale and sundried tomatoes was a door I’d never open again.
I should just order a food printer.
But you’d wanted a kitchen. For fresh things. Healthy things. We’d go to the farmers’ market. We’d buy vegetables grown in heirloom soil and choose artisanal cheeses from craft makers with their photosynthetic tattoos. And when we got home, you would roll your own dough into gluten-free vegan pizzas, crimped little dumplings, and baking sheets of sugar-free cookies, standing in this kitchen, hilarious with flour, smoking, in steamy glasses with your hair in a bun. There was nothing you couldn’t make, and I’ve no idea how you made any of it, since by definition there wasn’t anything in it, and the more things you made the thinner you became. And I thought I was helping you the whole goddamn time.
I managed to crawl over to the fridge and rest my head on the display door. Through my closed lids, I could see the glow of the LCD pixels, probably showing me a live feed from the curved white interior of the fridge, old margarine and flaccid celery, a slideshow of my life now. The flashes of the LCDs made little pink trees appear inside my closed eyes. I was amazed at how detailed and fleeting they seemed, like I was whipping past them in an ambulance at night.
I heard my toast jump. I opened my eyes, but I couldn’t bear to look at it. I asked for a Pop-Tart instead. The toaster complied, glad that we were moving on. Another tile of toast fell from the wall because toast is hard to tape. This one was public domain: a flash-burned shadow from Nagasaki. I felt suddenly tired. I had one of my naps.
I awoke to the sliding jig of my phone on the floor by my head.
—Hey, guy, is your refrigerator running?
This was the feature of my appliances I liked the least. I hated it when they called me on the phone and woke me up.
—Hey, buddy, how about you come over and I’ll fix you something?
I suspected the fridge meant the bent foil starter packet of serotonin pumps, crumpled like a smashed airplane wing next to the wrecked bar of margarine. Maybe it had a tasty recipe suggestion for pushing the capsules into the stale yellow cubes of margarine so I could swallow them like a dog.
I didn’t blame the fridge. In truth, I’d left us both few reasonable options. But I wasn’t going to drag myself clear across the kitchen from where I’d gotten good and settled in on top of the recycling. I checked my nightly reorder of beer on my phone and added a pint of Heaven Hill.
I then used my greatest power and tried to get back to sleep. It was touch and go, but I managed. I dreamed you were pressing the button that would explode every day in every calendar in the universe.
I’d been living in the kitchen for a while now. If I was going to live in only one room in the house, the kitchen was the logical choice, because that’s where the beer was. I was getting a lot of flak from the bathroom, so I didn’t spend a lot of time there. I knew there were things in my urine. I was the one who put them there. I didn’t want my toilet narcing on me. I’d piled all of your stuff in the living room, so that was no go. That left a lot of empty space in the bedroom, but I was never going back there. The mirror gave me the most pitiful looks and maxed its slimming filters whenever I walked by. And ever since the insomnia started, the bed whispered positive affirmations and the walls bled a therapeutic runny salmon color designed to treat low energy. The recording of gentle waves sounded to me like a drowning mummy.
I remembered the last night I spent in our bed. I’d thought I was done, but the room spun too fast to sleep. Where did you go, I cried, where did that car take you? The ceiling screen tried to answer with reports of wild cars abducting their owners to Detroit and your last known position on Restricted-75. I threw a bottle at the screen and it came right back down at me.
I woke to smoke, alarms, and flashes. We were spinning out of control.
—Small fire in kitchen extinguished. Exhaust fans on.
—Foreign object in toaster. Please remove.
—Warning! Fragments of broken glass on floor and counter are too large to remove.
—Floor is wet. Please use caution.
—Somebody took a dump in the sink. Be advised.
—Don’t call the fire department! Silence alarms. Strobe off!, I shouted.
The klaxon stopped. The strobing continued but not as intense.
—Strobe off, warning lights off!, I said.
—All lights off.
I closed my eyes but continued to see flashes. The strobing was internal. So was the spinning.
—ID-10T error. Please remove foreign object from my slot.
The brownish lumps in the toaster were still smoldering. Had I taken a dump in the toaster, too? No, it was a melted hairbrush. One of yours. I must have gotten pretty wasted to go into those boxes. I’d done a real number to circumvent the toaster’s safeties. I guess I’d wanted to really hurt the toaster.
That was the toaster’s last slot. Its partner was stuffed with a charred coaster and I’d burned the front two trying to smoke oregano rolled up in some toilet paper.
The toaster was done for.
I didn’t say anything. I avoided its glance.
Above my head, the smoke detector blinked innocently, but somewhere my premium was being adjusted.
My phone rang. It was the fridge. I took it anyway.
—Hey. You haven’t been eating much. Do you want me to order something from your favorites?
—The toaster’s finished. I hurt the toaster.
—There’s things besides toast. How about some nice soup?
—I fucking killed it. I’ll kill all of you!
—We could order a pizza.
—The Roomba fucking choked to death on my puke!
—You just need to get something in you.
—You don’t understand!
—I do. We do. We want to help you. We all want to help you. We want to keep you alive.
I realized this was true. They had seen everything. Help would be coming. It was inevitable.
That was the conspiracy.
So I dropped my phone, grabbed the closest six-pack, and headed to the basement. I could still cut the breakers and do a factory reset. It was my only chance for privacy. And my last opportunity to kill myself.
In the cold of the unfinished concrete basement, I realized I didn’t have a clear plan for killing myself, which I guess is why I’d been doing it so slowly all this time. I could figure it out once I’d killed the house, but then how would I look it up? I felt suddenly tired again and lay back against the dryer. It was the dryer from our first place. It couldn’t communicate with the others. It was old, like me.
—Attention: fault in starter detected. 100 percent failure within 72 hours.
The dryer barely spoke at all, and then with some difficulty. We had both been born in the old world where things spoke little and only to the point and had little plastic buttons that clicked and men and women matched their own socks and didn’t talk much either. He spoke simply and plainly, without the burden of understanding or intelligence.
In the moment, I loved the old dryer for that.
I should just drink these last beers and crawl inside, I thought. Or shove in an unbalanced load—a brick, some old print books, your two-pound dumbbells—and let him tear himself apart from the inside. I should eat every pill I could find and do the same. We could watch each other die. Our warranties were long gone.
I checked the lint trap instead, but it was empty. I sat back down and rested in the gentle dent of his side.
Where do you think she went? Where do you think the car took her? I asked the dryer. I did not have to fear that he would answer.
Someplace good, I bet.
When I’d finished the last of the six-pack, I knew it was time. I found the breakers and threw them all. I felt a million tiny fans stopping. The house was dead on top of me. The remaining beer in the fridge would stay cold long enough for me to finish it.
As I ascended the basement steps, I was the sole survivor leaving his shelter to emerge into a new, dead world with all its silence. It was with some surprise then that I heard the clack of the breakers’ auto reset and the hum of the house restart above my head.
I turned around and sat down on the basement steps. It had been naïve of me to think that there was such a thing as death anymore. That boundary had long been erased. And foolish to think that suicide was a thing you could just do once and be done with it. There was no simple self to kill and no way to be alone.
Above my head our home was coming back to life, reconnecting, re-synching. My every choice and preference was happening again. They would remember me as I was. As I had been. As I am.
I hope you will be kinder.
Voices, none human, waited to greet me.
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