“So, back to the hotel then?” said Matilda wryly.
“It’s a lovely pond,” I replied. “Might as well sit and enjoy it a bit before we go.”
“I suppose,” grumbled Gertrude.
We made our way down the sidewalk to the pond. When we had gotten closer, however, we saw that there was already someone sitting on the bench.
“Who’s that?” whispered Heather.
I shrugged. As we drew nearer, we were able to make out that it was an older gentleman with tousled grey hair wearing a mint-green sweatsuit and dilapidated sneakers. He was lounging on the bench with his legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed, and he leaned his head back against his interlaced fingers. He had his eyes closed, but despite his leisurely posture, his face bore a look of intense concentration. I almost felt guilty disturbing him. I cleared my throat.
The man’s eyes popped open, and he sat up straight, blinking around until his gaze settled on us. “Ah, you’ve arrived,” he said. He jumped to his feet and approached us quickly. Somewhat alarmed, the beloved quartet and I tensed up a bit, but he only offered his hand to shake. Somewhat hesitantly, I took it.
“Just wanted the opportunity to meet you in person,” the man said pleasantly. He turned to Matilda, Heather, Sara, and Gertrude, extending his hand. “And to meet all of you as well,” he said. The beloved quartet, as bewildered as I, shook the man’s hand with blank expressions.
The man stepped back away from us towards the sidewalk. “Well, unfortunately, I can’t stay and visit,” he said, “but it was nice meeting you. So long.” With that, he turned and began jogging down the sidewalk, leaving us to stand and stare after him.
When he had passed out of sight, we turned to one another, looking for answers where there were none. Finally, Gertrude shrugged. “Must’ve just been some weirdo,” she said. We turned back to the pond.
But the pond was gone, replaced by our house, looking as though it had never been missing. “Whoa,” said Heather. Then the beloved quartet started up the walk to investigate. I hung back a moment, looking in the direction the man had disappeared. I was beginning to have an idea of just who the man might have been, and it gave me pleasure.
“Andrew,” Matilda called from the porch, “there’s something here for you.”
I moved quickly down the walk and up the steps. Indeed, there was something there for me. It was a medium-sized box wrapped in colorful paper with ribbons and a bow. The beloved quartet stood around it, eyeing it apprehensively.
I picked up the present and tucked it under one arm. “Let’s go in,” I said, and we did. In the living room, I sat down on the couch and began tearing the paper away.
“Are you sure it’s safe?” said Matilda.
“I’m sure,” I replied. “Don’t worry, I think I know what it is.” I peeled away the wrapping to reveal an unlabeled corrugated cardboard box. I opened the box, and there it was: a gleaming stainless steel toaster, of a size and configuration that signified that it had come from the One True Toaster Factory.
“Classy,” said Heather. I was certain she was only commenting on the appliance’s smart appearance. Neither she nor any of the others knew the significance of the toaster or where it had come from.
“There’s a card here,” said Matilda, picking up a white square of cardboard from the floor. “It says, ‘To Andrew Millik and family with love.’ Signed by someone named Goldstan.”
“Goldstan,” I repeated thoughtfully.
“But what does it mean?” said Sara.
“What it means, my darlings,” I replied, “is that we’re having toast for dinner.”