James Holden: The Poetry of the Toaster

I walked in exhausted after a long day at the bank. I was the only one working since Carl was made redundant, although he’s since found work as a temp. At the time he decided last week that he’s going to put his English degree to use by becoming a poet. I flopped onto the sofa and shouted out “put the kettle on.”

When there was no answer I sighed and got up to go into the kitchen myself. When I walked in, Carl was stood there looking at the toaster.

“Hey darling, how are you?” I asked, taking the kettle of its’ base and filling it with water. “Did you not hear me?”

“Shush,” he said, not moving his gaze away from the toaster.

I sidled over to the counter and peered into it. “Carl, there’s nothing in it.”

He looked at me, and raised an finger to his lips.

“What’s going on?”

As I spoke, the toaster popped. He sighed. “I was listening to the toaster?”

“You were listening to the toaster?”

“Yes,” he said, as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

“But why?”

“So I know what it sounds like.”

“Why do you want to know that?”

“For a poem I’m trying to write about our kitchen.”

“Surely it just goes ‘pop’?”

He tutted at me. “Sometimes I think you don’t understand poetry.”

He’s right, of course. I don’t get it. I find it doesn’t really engage me the way novels, or even short stories do. I find it abstract and opaque. It’s hard work – and I’m not prepared to invest. Carl shows me his work and I nod in appreciation, but I daren’t admit to him that I don’t understand it.

He put the toaster down again, and I listened really intently but all I could hear was a vague hum, though it could have been my imagination. Carl had a smile on his face, his head cocked, and I tried really hard to hear what he was listening to. But then the toaster suddenly burst into flames. Well, one flame, but it was still there, licking the top of the plastic casing.

“Oh God,” I shouted. “What do you use to put out electrical fires? Is it damp tea towels – or is that chip pans?”

I watched as the flame threatened to lick the underside of the kitchen cabinet and then suddenly the fire burned itself out and died, no crumbs or old bits of bread left in the bottom of the toaster to feed the flames. Scared, I went to hug Carl, but he was stood there with an intent look on his face. “Now, how would you describe that sound?”

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About James Holden

Brought up in Yorkshire, James has washed up on the shores of London. He spends his days working as a political geek. His short stories have previously been read by the Liars League.
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