A Matter of Toasters
By sean mcnulty
Moloney soon settled, happy with the brandy they had given him, though he didn’t say much and almost slouched as Elder went off in a long defence of the unreasonable. Everyone else settled too, finding their ways back to a normal tenor, forgetting that a shotgun was lying there between the farmer’s legs. A study in contrast, they were now strolling around, going to the toilet, playing records – all things which at gunpoint had been far from their minds. Now that the terror brought upon them by the rural intruder had receded, their thoughts and parley returned to more agreeable topics such as the future of Europe, the plight of the gays, the usefulness of certain gemstones, the future of serial killers etc.
The conversation flowed until Mr Brennan, after a trip to the kitchen, came back with the toaster in his hands and a short interregnum ensued.
What are you at, Brennan? asked Elder. Have you gone off your rocker finally?
I thought I would show you all the toaster to prove to you that it spoke to me.
It’s okay, we believe you. Didn’t we just hear the telly speaking in tongues! You don’t have to bring it in here.
Abby bristled upon seeing the toaster.
What’s the matter with you? asked the enthusiastically observant Crispin Collins.
Those things unnerve me. I near died once because of a faulty one. I can allay the fear when I know it’s in its place, where it should be, where it can be avoided.
Ever since the accident in her college digs, she’d been wary of toasters. Nobody, not even her kitchen-buddy Sullivan, had noticed that she stayed well clear of it all the time, and flinched whenever a round popped.
With Elder’s rebuke, Brennan was on the verge of blubbering. He clenched the appliance to his chest and scuttled off to the nearest available corner to be alone with it, as if he was a schoolboy who’d just had his favourite toy mocked and rejected at the end-of-year party.
Elder, realising Moloney was stupified either by the brandy or all the big words, invited others into the conversation, extending the reach of his blether. The house was overwhelmingly on Elder’s side with these things but a divide on the frontiers of reason certainly existed and was visible on some faces, clearer on others.
Take Ms Tasse here, he said. She came all the way from France to be nearer the mysteries of this land. It is no secret in the wider world that mystical energies prevail in this country. And with the acceleration of technology, these energies are only becoming more emboldened, perhaps indeed these energies are all that can save us from falling into technological chaos. We must learn to better understand what people from an older time than ours were able to see with less cynicism. I believe if Lady Gregory and Yeats were alive today, they’d have by now sparked a new renaissance in popular thinking to include modern concerns such as visiting craft, psychokinesis, altered states.
These are really the concerns of modern Ireland? enquired Imogen. With all the strife up north?
Of course, those are troubling issues, moonflower, I am not trying to downplay anything. But we cannot deny forces beyond our control. There have been sightings up there too, I promise you that.
Sightings of what? UFOs. I’m quite sure they have other things on their minds than to spend their time looking up in the sky for Martians. Let’s ask Devin if he’s seen anything.
Eh, I never looked, to be honest, so I couldn’t tell you for sure.
There have been instances recorded, even recently, of sightings over your very own city, my boy. Abductions, even.
I’ve heard talk of abductions, yes. But no aliens have come up.
Imogen said, I’d contend your UFOs are simply tricks played by the sky. Go out and have a look now, why don’t you? There are probably spaceships as far as the eye can see with all that lightning in the air.
I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest, said Elder. Let me ask you, moonflower, you who has witnessed electronic voices like the rest of us, and can entertain at least something of the supernatural in events around us, why then are you so averse to believing so scientifically reasonable a thing as visitors from other planets?
Imogen paused, sensibly questioning her own positions; she noticed Ismay shaking her head slowly, disappointed.
I’ve little faith in this island as a landing spot for anyone other than plunderers of the very human sort.
Well, you remain to me and to us all I’m sure a beautiful spirit despite all your spry scoffing. Ahem.
And then, Moloney spoke up for the first time in a while, his eyebrow having been raised upon the mention of lightning.
You have a metal rod? he asked.
I have, replied Elder. The finest.
A divining rod? asked Imogen.
No. I have one of those in the study but it snapped. This one is materially diviner. A great foil for the Gods. Protects against those almighty bursts from the heavens we have over us now. Seizes on the lightning bolts and redirects them into the ground.
And that’s in the study too?
Sure what use would it be in there? No, that’s attached to the roof. Sure isn’t that where the lightning tends to strike.
Will it frighten off your extraterrestrials?
I tell you, it’s something I have pondered and worried about from time to time. I would hate to think it might interfere with their technology, or send their communications into turmoil or something.
You need a good strong rod, added Moloney, sipping his brandy and going quiet again.
Happenstance. Coincidence. These are natural events though at the point of meeting they come over unnatural, aberrant, a twinkling alarm in the brain. And then they are gone. Normality recommences and the brain switches from malaise to Well, such is the world. Happenstance was to announce itself now, waylaying the talk of lightning strikes, and one might have thought: If there are devils in machines, surely there must be one in the house now grinding its gears.
There was suddenly a frizzle in the room and a loud bang from elsewhere in the house. The sound came not from the fireplace, nor from the weather outside, but from a socket close to the front door; Mr Brennan was kneeling there with the toaster plugged in, tendrils of smoke blowing over the wires. He was looking up with fear, as though a schoolboy who in a sulk had committed a small crime that in his head was way worse than it was.
What did you do, Brennan?
Elder made a dash towards the kneeling postmaster.
Did you blow a fuse or something? Haven’t you been listening to anything that is going on around you? Aren’t we insecure enough, electrically?
I don’t know. I just plugged the thing in and the thing went.
Well, said Imogen. The electric is still on, so I don’t think it was serious.
It was something, grunted Moloney. That was a loud one. I think your rod failed.
My rod could not have failed. It’s among the top rods you can get.
You probably don’t have it mounted proper. I can’t imagine you’d have done a good job of it yourself.
I didn’t install it myself. Darragh McCusker.
I wouldn’t trust a McCusker with a metal pin let alone a rod. They’re a gang of con men.
Some minutes later, Devin’s nose began to twitch; his acute sense of smell had been aroused. He could smell smoke in the air but it seemed much thicker than that which had come from the socket. Fire? he whispered.
Overhearing him, the other sniffer-of-talent in the room Frances Buckley stuck her nose up too, and she agreed.
In the study! she cried.
Elder darted to the door of his study with Imogen quickly behind him. Opening the door, they were greeted by a grey froth of smoke coming from the back of the room and their faces glistered before an already fast-whipping fire.
No! Elder cried out. The computer exploded. And before I even got to use the bloody thing. Knox, get the extinguisher!
Knox immediately ran out back to the kitchen where they kept a small fire extinguisher.
The back of Elder’s study was already covered in flame and it was growing, the desk blazing away with half-blackened papers flying and part of the bookshelf closest to the computer in the early stages of flaring up. Hysterically, Elder grabbed a clump of books from the nearest shelf to hand and flung them at Imogen in a move to rescue something; she simply swerved to one side, not being ready to catch them, and the books landed on the floor outside the doorway. With the small extinguisher from the kitchen, Knox was able to put it out quickly but half the room had gone up already before he got there and there was much damage. With the fire dead, the whole south side of the room was now coal-black, fumy and burnt, and that marvellous never-used Heathkit H89 All-In-One computer system, where it all appeared to have started had turned into a busted shell, a giant hollow in its screen.
Immediate survivors of the disaster, which lay on the floor outside, were an old copy of Bhagavad-Gita, which was crispy, not from exposure to the fire, but by age and use, and others with titles like The Morality of Mediumship, Harlotry: An Augustinian Perspective, The Rise of Woman, The Fall of Man, Meanness and Its Mates, Transcendence and Foreign Policy, and by chance, the book which Imogen remembered most as a child, Death and Other Ecstasies.