Title: Toast and Foghorns
Toast and Foghorns
“Mommy does it a different way, she uses the microwave.” There was no condemnation in the little voice, only a forward curiosity.
“She makes toast in the microwave?” I found this rather appalling but nobody ever could tell my sister anything.
“Yes-- she puts it under a wet paper towel and ZAP!” Fingers and eyes spread wide to demonstrate.
“It comes out soft and hot. We have it with honey.” Tiffy gave a missing tooth smile.
“Sounds good--” I said. “But I want my bread crunchy so I am going to use the toaster.” She came closer to see. The nightgown of last Christmas was almost up to her knees. She was getting tall.
“I never used a toaster.”
“Do you want to put the bread in? Like this--”
“And you push down on this part.”
“I like your kitchen Aunt Priscilla.”
“Oh well. Me too.” I looked around my ordinary kitchen.
Outside the sky was gray but there was a patch of watery sunlight on the floor. The day would clear, we would go outside. But not yet. Right now was the heat from the toaster rising and the scent of toast and the little girl face intent over the glow of the coils.
“Oooh--” She jumped but she was laughing already.
“Here,” I said. “You have these two. I’ll make more.”
She finished them while I was nose deep in my coffee. She licked her fingers delicate as a cat. She went to the window.
“The rain is done. But I heard the horn-fog all night.”
“Fog-horn,” I said. I had heard it too, lonely and perfect and far.
“We have three days left of your visit,” I said. “What would you like to do today? We could go into town or--”
“Can we take the boat out? I want to
Her words were an urgent rush, she leaned close as she spoke and she smelled of toast and sleep. I smiled. I had expected the question.
“The life-jackets are in the attic,” I said.
The attic was crowded and close, smelling a little of mothballs and cardboard. There were spiderwebs in the window. It never seemed to matter. Tiffany certainly did not mind.
I walked on my knees to the corner under the eves. It was small here, even she had to stoop.
“Here,’ I said. “in the sea-chest.”
“What is a sea-chest?” Her face wrinkled.
“This,” I pulled it free. “It is like a trunk, But meant to go on long ago sailing ships, when sailors- spent years at sea, away from home. They would keep all their important things in here.”
“Oh.” Her voice was hushed.
“Did they keep their phones in the sea-chest?”
“No. They didn’t have phones back then. It was very long ago.”
“So they couldn’t call home?” Her hand went to her mouth, she worried at a fingernail briefly.
“Nope. But they really didn’t feel bad about that. Nobody had phones back then. They wrote paper letters. And they loved to get letters back-- the same way I like to get letters from you. There were a lot of things didn’t have because nobody had thought them up yet. They didn’t have microwaves either.”
“Did they have toasters?”
“Not even toasters.”
“Here we are,” I lifted the life- jackets free.
“What is this?” Tiffany had pulled a thing from the jumble in the bottom of the sea-chest. I kept an old blanket in there too, to protect the papers from sand, but this had worked its way to the top. I had been meaning to go thorough them. They had come with me when I closed my mother’s house. Somehow I just took the life jackets every time and went sailing instead.
“Careful Tiff. That one is really old. It is a daguerreotype.”
Her face wrinkled, she handed it over. It was heavy, made like an enormous locket, padded inside with faded velvet. I opened it to show her the picture inside.
“Who is she? She looks mad.”
“Let’s go over by the window so I can see better,” I said.
“I don’t thinks she is mad. She is just being serious. Getting a picture taken was special back then. You can see the man is not smiling either.”
“He looks nice though. I like his beard.”
“There is a little paper here. It might say who they are.” I squinted at the tiny handwriting. Tiffany looked too.
I can’t read that slanted kind. Only the regular letters,” She said.
“It says ‘Captain Cleveland and Saphronia, his wife. You can tell they are married by how they are standing together with his hand like that on her shoulder. 1841. Wow Tiff, these people are our family from long ago. I remember my mother telling me about Captain Cleveland. Her grandmother’s grandmother had actually met him. He was a sea-captain, he was in a war.”
I touched the little picture gently. “We better put them back,” I set the old couple down carefully. Really I should go through the papers. Tiffany was at the other end though, gentle, but elbows deep.
“I found a painting but it is just of an eye,” she said. “Why would anyone paint just one eye?” She put it back, lifted something else free.
“Here is another one,” she said. “Is it another dagger-o-thing? Oh. This one is two men. I can read this one. It says ‘Mr HH and Mr AK. I wonder who they are.’
“I don’t know,” I said. “They look about the same age as the Clevelands.”
“Yes, pretty old.”
The faces of the two old men stared out, from behind the dusty glass; remote as the distant fog-horn.
“You said that people stood that way for pictures when they were married,” Tiffany said. “But my teacher said that in long ago times men did not get married together.”
“That is true-- I don’t know Tiffany. But you know what, maybe you can help me go through the trunk tonight. Maybe we can learn more about them.”
“Ok. So put that down where it was and lets go sailing.”
I smoothed the protective blanket back into place, and closed the sea-chest up. The brass nails on the top of it gleamed. I ran my hand over the soft wood and the two letters made of nails, CC.