Paula and Iris are drinking coffee in the office kitchen.
“We’re giving them a toaster as a wedding gift,” Paula says cheerfully.
Iris turns away suddenly, shielding her eyes from Paula’s view with a coffee cup that says World’s Greatest oM.
Paula leans in and puts her hand in Iris’ shoulder.
“What is it?” she asks.
Iris turns, tears leaking into the acrid hazelnut brew.
Paula asks again.
“What is it?”
“I'm sorry,” she says wiping her damp cheek with a multicolored Postit® note. “It's just that I’ve often thought that if Stan and I had had the right toaster, our marriage might have been saved.”
Paula nods, then shakes her head, then nods again, which confuses Iris.
“What makes you think that?” Paula discontinues, sliding the chair closer, a loud screeching noise emanating from the metal feet, which disturbs everyone in the meeting next door, and makes Paula question her choice of that last bagel and cream cheese. She should have gone with the nonfat spread, she knows in her heart.
Iris extinguishes her irreverie.
“Stan used to get up in the middle of the night and make toast,” Iris whispers. “The toaster we had would leave crumbs on the counter and he would never clean them up. So every morning for seven years, I would get up and clean up the crumbs on the counter. And every morning I would complain about the crumbs, and we’d start fighting and finally he left.”
“Did he take the toaster?”
Iris shakes her head, then nods, then shakes her head again, which confuses Paula.
“I gave it away,” she explains
“Too many memories.”
Paula sits back and swirls the brackish liquid before her, wondering briefly why her cup doesn’t say World Greatest oM. Then she leans forward.
“We gave you that toaster, didn’t we?”
Iris places her hand on Paula’s bare knee, both comforting and discomforting her.
“I don’t blame you,” Iris says. “I suppose if it hadn’t been the toaster, it would have been some other appliance.”
Paula hangs her head, making it difficult to sip.
“I'm so sorry. We didn't know.”
Iris gets up, moves to the sink and drains her cup of the vitriolic emulsion.
“Neither did we. Neither did we.”
(An excerpt from The Marriage Gift: A Very Short Novel)