sweet: 3.1
Our Daily Toast
Brenda Miller

Today, for no good reason, I ate two slices of toasted cinnamon/raisin bread at 9:30 a.m., a mere two hours since breakfast. I slathered the first one with whipped butter, and even as I ate it I made up a reason to have another. It was that Ezekiel, biblical bread, made with sprouted grains touched by Jesus, so it couldn’t be that bad for you, could it? It might even lead to a brief bout of cinnamon-scented clarity. So I toasted the second one and ate it slowly, slowly, biting off the crust first to leave a perfect round to nibble until I reached the center. The center eaten, and then there was a perfect nothingness—see? Enlightenment. And then a little nap.

Okay, I admit it: I have an unhealthy preoccupation with toast. Do I eat toast socially? Yes. Do I eat toast when alone? Yes. Do I lie about my toast consumption? Yes. Do I hide the evidence of toast consumption? Yes, Yes. Do I make up lame excuses for toast consumption? Why yes, yes I do.

My dog loves toast even more than I do, a fact that makes for an ever-ready handy reason to get out the bread sack and fire up the Sunbeam. My dog, contrary to popular belief, can be a little stand-offish at home, preferring to nap on (or under) my bed, or to disappear altogether upstairs, when her job (clearly laid out to her when she was hired) is to keep me company at all hours of the day. So, rather than endure union negotiations, sometimes I resort to bribes to get her to sit next to me on the couch. Popcorn’s always a good one; as soon as the Redenbacher starts whirring, I can hear Abbe’s feet scrabbling down the stairs, and then her eager face appears in the doorway to the kitchen. No matter how many times we do this, she goes into a posture of worship below the kitchen counter, staring at the popper with such intensity you’d think this billowing cloud of popped kernels really was a miracle. And as soon as those white drifts start spilling into the bowl, she jumps up on her hind legs, tail wagging, glances at me wide-eyed, tongue out as if to say: Do you see this? Do you SEE?!

For popcorn, my dog will jump onto the couch and put her head on my lap, eyes rolled up to watch every blessed movement of hand to mouth, and I’ll feed her a few pieces, one by one. She chomps every piece with gusto, her lips wide open and smacking, a lusty girl who loves with abandon. It makes me laugh, this face, and thus I eat a lot of popcorn. And I watch a lot of TV to justify the popcorn eating, but that’s another story altogether.

Toast is a different matter, makes us a little quieter in our devotions. More like communion than a tent revival. More domestic. Toast is thoughtful, whereas popcorn is scattered, hare-brained. Toast is private. After all you don’t order a bag of toast in the movie theater (though believe me, I would love to!) Toast is something eaten in your pajamas; toast lends itself to the contemplative perusal of each bite, the way one’s teeth make pretty little scallops in the surface. My dog takes the bites of crust I offer her delicately, politely, and ducks her head as she eats them, then looks up and places her nose right in my ear to say thank you. Abbe and I could eat toast all day and be very happy girls.

It occurs to me that confessing I bribe my dog for love can appear a bit pathetic. It may be just my history of love, a love that even in childhood always felt a bit like barter. You give me this, I’ll give you that, and everyone’s happy. Toast seems to have always hovered around the edges too: rye toast made from the fresh loaf bought at the Delicious bakery, my mother calling out, do you want a piece of toast darling?, a call that could always bring me back from whatever worlds I had wandered into while playing. I sat placidly at the kitchen table and ate rye toast with butter, keeping my mother company as she put away the rest of the groceries. I kept my eyes on her to see where everything went, on the look out for Mallomars and Suzie Q’s. As I got older, I would make my own toast after arriving home stoned and a little giddy, the toast making the most pleasing crunch in my mouth as I posed at the window, my lips still tender from kisses. I could hear my parents turning out the light in their bedroom, able to sleep now that I was home. The smell of toast meant all their children were safe.

And even later, when I lived with one man and then another and then another, toast could allay even the most bitter arguments. When I lived with Francisco in our mildewed canvas tent at the edge of Lake Powell, we made toast on the iron skillet, a process that required patience and watchfulness and diligence. We spread it with cheap margarine, ate it in silence in the early morning cold. When I lived with Seth at Orr Springs, we made toast on a griddle pan, from loaves we made ourselves, big heavy wheat bread always a little too moist in the middle, studded with hard specks of millet. Toasting made it better, and we spread the slices with homemade apricot jam, made it something to linger over in the mornings before all the chores—wood to be chopped, leaks to be fixed, weeds to be plucked—crowded in to oppress us.

When I lived with Keith, we toasted bread at all hours of the day as we both wrote in our rooms in that little house in Green Lake. He would say, in passing, this is my life! and sometimes this cry meant: “I can’t believe my good fortune, eating toast with you in this house on the hill!,” and sometimes, if the writing weren’t going so well, it meant: “I can’t believe this is what my life has come to, eating toast with you in this house on the hill.” But in any case, we enjoyed the toast, made with grainy, slightly sweet bread bought at the co-op down the road. Eating toast made everything good enough, for a little while at least.

For about a year I embarked on a diet (excuse me, I mean lifestyle change) that didn’t include much bread at all, and one day I realized I hadn’t used my toaster in over a month. I put it away, swept off the crumbs that had accumulated underneath, proudly announced on the Weight Watchers message board that I had committed this virtuous act. I got lots of congrats and virtual high-fives, but after a while I looked mournfully at that empty spot on the counter, my dog looked mournfully at me, and I caved. The toaster got trundled out, and I made one Thomas’s Light Extra-Fiber English muffin. Then, a few days later, another. And then a piece of cinnamon toast. On the Weight Watchers board I blamed my dog, but no one bought it. I still lost 25 lbs and kept them off, but toasts of all varieties gradually wormed their way back as a daily ritual.

This daily toast doesn’t often lead to epiphanies, not of the startling kind, just inaudible sighs, moments of fleeting gladness. Often I hardly notice I’m eating at all, not until my dog puts her paw on my knee, reminds me something momentous is happening: look, toast! Do you realize you’re eating toast? I could eat some of that toast. I peel off a bit of crust, the part coated with sesame seeds, and offer it to her just out of reach, so she needs to stretch a little, showing me she wants it enough. She always does, the tip of her snout touching my fingers just for a second, and then her eyes stare into mine, holding me caught in her love as she chews and chews and chews.

Brenda Miller is the author of Blessing of the Animals (EWU Press, 2009), which received the “bronze medal” in Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award. She is also the author of the essay collection, Season of the Body (Sarabande Books, 2002), and co-author of Tell it Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction (McGraw-Hill, 2003). Her work has received five Pushcart Prizes and has been published in Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, The Sun, Utne Reader, Georgia Review, Seneca Review, and Witness, among other journals.

She is a Professor of English at Western Washington University and serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Bellingham Review. Her favorite dessert these days is frozen bananas topped with a chocolate-cinnamon sauce.