by Alex Eaker
I jumped into the alleyway to go pick up a pizza. I called to have it picked up instead of delivered because my oven and I got into another fight about my moving out. I had been living with her, in the apartment she was placed in, for six years, longer than any other tenant she’d been with. I didn’t want to admit to my oven that I needed to move out because she was becoming overbearing, and sometimes rude, quite frankly. I told my oven lies, like I wanted to move because the paint job was giving me headaches, or the neighborhood was losing all of its good culture with the tech nerds moving in, or that I was finally going to run off to France with some handsome new boyfriend.
“Whadd’ya know,” my oven would say. “Suddenly Jeannette cares about culture and men. And what’s this about France?”
I had just gotten back home with the pizza in hand when my oven yelled, “Excuse me, Jeannette, you left the kitchen light on again!”
I opened the pizza box, and realized they had forgotten to place the little plastic table in the center of the pie. Cheese was ripped from my pizza’s face and stuck to the top of the cardboard box like some crude painting.
“That’s not your fault,” my oven said a bit more sympathetically.
I smiled at her.
“We have a new neighbor moving in right across the hall,” I said, ripping bits of cheese off the box with the tips of my fingers and shoving them into my mouth. “He held the door open for me in the lobby. Said his name was Sage.”
“That’s a dumb name,” my oven said.
We both laughed.
Sage was a hair model. It showed. I should have guessed just by looking at him. He knocked on my door one day and asked if I felt the building shake. I told him tremors happen here all the time. I remember saying the words, “It’s a Cali thing,” and hating how they sounded coming out of my mouth.
He put his palm to his forehead and let out a big laugh.
“For a second, I thought I was going crazy,” he said.
I could tell he was still shaken up, so I invited him inside for a cup of coffee. He asked for tea instead.
When I asked my oven what we had, she let out a similar laugh as Sage had, “Lipton. If he’s not too good for it,” she said.
“Please,” I said. “He’s just new here.”
I boiled water in the small pan I usually used to heat up beans or canned vegetables. When I delivered the tea, Sage looked at it once and I could see the disappointment beneath his smile. Maybe he was used to something more elaborate, a jasmine or perhaps an Earl Gray. I suddenly felt insecure.
“I don’t usually drink tea,” I admitted.
“I told you, he thinks he’s too good for it!” My oven called from the kitchen.
Sage clutched his shoulder and looked away shyly, pretending not to have heard.
It was really that my oven reminded me of Mom. For example, I thought about bringing Sage over again just to piss off my oven, like I had done with boys in high school without any warning from school plays or after football games.
“What’s with these guys you bring over?” Mom would say. “With holes in their ears the size of onion rings. When did onion ring earlobes become a thing you’re interested in?”
Eventually, Mom and I’s fights hit their boiling points, one of us would just start to scream, loud and obnoxious, indicating to the other that we had had enough. It was reassuring in a way, just hitting the mute button on life all of a sudden.
There was a pie in my oven when Sage showed up an hour earlier than I invited him. He looked like he had been thinking about my invitation all day, like he had been thinking of me all day. I liked the idea that I could effect another person like this. The thought of me making them too anxious to wait around another hour, even another minute.
“I brought you a gift,” Sage said, still standing in the doorway. He held out an iron kettle in his palms, delicately like it were a bird waiting to fly off.
I sat Sage on my couch and went into the kitchen to make us tea and check on the pie.
As I turned the stove on, my oven said, “Had I known this pie was for two I would have burned it.”
I couldn’t tell if it were a joke.
“He’s harmless,” I deflected, and left the kitchen.
When I joined Sage on the couch, things got ahead of themselves quicker than I anticipated.
I didn’t hear the timer go off, maybe. I smelt the pie burning, so I ran into the kitchen to take it from my oven’s mouth, my bra still half off, wrapped around my stomach. In the haste of it all, I burnt my hands on the pie pan, let out a scream, and spilt cherry guts onto the floor.
When I asked my oven, “Did you do this on purpose?” I tried to hold back the tears.
I tried not to look weak in front of her.
For a moment she didn’t say anything. Smoke ran out between her lips, then a rusty shout, and I started to give it to her.
Alex Eaker has received his MFA in Creative Writing from the College of Charleston. He has had pieces published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Eclectica Magazine, and Cleaver Magazine. He is currently working on a collection of short-fiction while teaching English in Versailles, France.