Also on the short list of other things she liked was was Mr Toast. Sally liked Mr Toast. Sally’s parents knew she liked Mr Toast because on her first day of school, when, as they so often would, in asking her about her day and expecting Sally’s answer to be what it always was, they asked her, “Well Sally, how about your new teacher?”
Sally stopped and thought. Perhaps it was because her imagination, with its tigers and whales and robots, was already fading, but she paused for a moment and said, “Mr Toast is pretty okay.” After which she sighed and slunk into her room as she always did, and her parents looked at each other in disbelief. “She said he was pretty okay!”
She liked Mr Toast because of his big fuzzy bear-beard and the way one eyebrow would always jump way up above the other when one of her classmates tried to get away with something. His bear-beard also made her think of honey, which was a little bit like jam. He wasn’t as great as space-sailing robots or singing whales or snow-sledding tigers, but Sally understood that those were truly wonderful things, and that truly wonderful things are hard to compete with.
The first day Sally met Mr Toast, he already knew who she was, but he was about to make quite an impression on her.
All her life, people were always asking her how she was, if she was ok, and the like, and always with concerned, skeptical expressions. No one ever just left her alone, and it frustrated her to have her imagination constantly interrupted by people asking her if she was enjoying a day that was, as a rule, less exciting than singing along to space robot karaoke with a troupe of whales and a chorus of tigers filling in the harmony.
Mr Toast was leaning against a wall in the auditorium as the school science fair was about to open. He saw her and his left eyebrow jumped quizzically. Sally imagined that his eyebrows had their own names and personalities, like a pair of fuzzy twins twins in constant but silent conversation as Mr Toast’s many expressions worked them up and down and into impossible arcs that no one else she knew could equal. Sally imagined Mr Toast’s eyebrows peering down at his bear-beard, and what they would say about it.
“Heya Sally,” Mr Toast said and she meandered up. He looked down at her. She looked up at him. He ruffled his bear-beard. She blinked. His eyebrows silently conversed with each other. But he did not ask how she was.
“Just one of those so-so days, eh?” He said, looking back towards the science fair, which was being held in the gymnasium just beyond the end of the linoleum-tiled hallway.
“Mm,” replied Sally.
Though they were both standing calmly, there was a scene of utter carnage unfolding in front of them.
Flocks of insurgent frogs had escaped their fourth-grade captors’ enclosures and were hopping, slipping, and bouncing their way across an increasingly wet and slick waxed wooden floor across which pondwater was gradually spreading. The frogs lashed their long tongues this way and that, ribbeting in revolt, for their escape had also meant the escape of a great number of mealworms, crickets, dragonflies and other crawlies that Ms. Anju, the fourth grade science teacher, had sequestered away in each of the toppled terrariums.
“Our worms!” cried the fourth grade boys.
“Our experiments!” cried the fourth grade girls.
“The mess!” cried the teachers.
Sally, who was only in second grade, found it wonderfully amusing because caused in her great imaginings of monstrous desert worms on faraway planets where people warred over their favorite spices and the two greatest nations flew great flags of pink peppercorns and bullion cubes.
The scene was suitably interested that Sally rather enjoyed departing from her imagination for a moment, and she and Mr Toast watched as several dozen screaming students tried and slipped and crashed against one another as they tried in vain to capture wayward frogs and bugs.
“This is quite a sight, isn’t it?” Mr Toast finally said. “I wish I had some popcorn.”
Ms. Anju, dashing past, stopped long enough to glower at the two gawkers.
“Are you going to help or what?!” Ms Anju cried.
“I haven’t got a frog in this fight,” Mr Toast shrugged.
Ms. Anju stomped off to find a net, and Sally rummaged through her knapsack and brought out a small jar, popping the lid and passing it to Mr Toast, along with a small spoon.
“Is this clean?” said Mr Toast, eyeing the spoon. Sally sighed.
“Ok then,” he said, and he sampled the jam. He ruminated for a moment and then chuckled. It was peach pepper popcorn jam.