Breadcrumb #208

SARAH SCHNEIDER

He told my friend I needed a clipboard and a couch.
She told me
embarrassed, reticent.
I made a show of brushing it off, but I felt my insides tighten around the memory of a quiescent past

So familiar,
that confirmation bias,
that self-fulfilling prophecy. 
It’s all consuming, intoxicating, validating.  
Am I giving in because It’s comforting? Because It’s scratching some itch I’ve learned to ignore?
Or is it my sick need to people please?  My unconscious, spot-on aptitude to conform to whatever it is that people (men) want,
to be his damsel in distress,
his punching bag
his inflater of ego.   

But I know this game.

I made a conscious decision to not sleep with anyone that night. 
Not with that bartender who lives down the street.
Not with him.
I sat in my computer chair
drunk
and ate 7-eleven macaroni and cheese in my underwear.
I filled a different hole.

That means I’m not crazy, right

• • •

Breadcrumb #207

CHRISTINA MANOLATOS

There’s something deliberate about wasting time. 
You know when you sit down in front of the television after a full day of work, after a full night of partying, 
that you are not going to do anything else for rest of the night. 
Not your laundry, or that phone call to your mother, or starting that novel you said you were going to write when you were 15. 
Heck, you might not even get up to pee. 

But when you sit down with your shitty take out, 
and your ‘hair of the dog’ mixed drink, you think of all the things you’re definitely going to do after this one episode. 
You go over the list of responsibilities in your mind, and as you press play, 
you damn well think, ‘Yes. After this one.” 

The night before on the subway ride home, you listen to the same album, again. You said you would use the commute to read that new book you bought, 
which by now is no longer actually new.  
Instead, it stays in your backpack as you doze off. You wake up just as the doors are opening at the stop for your apartment.

On the walk from the train, you visualize yourself having a quick shower, 
and then going to the gym and getting dinner before happy hour at 8. 
But you walk through the front door, 
and your shoes come off, and so do your aspirations. 
It’s a good thing she took the dog, 
or you’d also have to fit walking it onto the growing list of shit you’re never going to do.

It’s just after six now, and your gym bag is still in the closet, and you’ve got Reddit open on your phone; then Tinder, Instagram. 
Then you’ve got whatever the fuck it is now
where you can glaze over faces and faces and glaze over faces that aren’t yours, and they’re not hers. 

It’s a quarter to 8 and now you’ve got something; you’ve got walking 3 blocks to the bar, and you’ve got well drinks for 3 dollars, and you’ve got some shots for 3 dollars, and you’ve got it. 

You go to the bathroom around 10 and after a nice shit, you wash your hands in the sink. The black soot and dirt from the day wash down the drain in mesmerizing swirls.  
She used to yell at you because you would wait hours after work to wash your fucking hands, and now she’s not here to complain. 
Your drunk is kicking in pretty good though, so you pump more soap onto your hands anyway, and rub them together until the water runs clear. 
The dirt comes off and so does your conscious.

Back at the bar stool, there’s a pretty enough young enough thing that’s now seated next to you and you think about passing her up. 
You imagine going home and doing your laundry. Instead, when she asks you to buy her a drink, you say “Yes.” And then you think, “Yes. After this one.”

It’s maybe, what, 1? 2? And you and the thing have put down
probably another half dozen, and you’re walking her back to your apartment. 
You’re carrying her and half dragging her; or are you the one being carried? 
You walk through the door and this person is already in your way. 
Moving past her and into the kitchen, vague memories of feelings punctuate your foggy train of thought. You think about starting your novel. 
Grabbing a beer from the fridge, you think, “After this one.” 

You hear the thing yell from down the hall and the sound snaps you out of your drunken pondering. The lights are off when you walk into your bedroom. 
In the undying light of the city that comes through your window, 
you see a shape moving on your mattress. 
You put your drink down on the nightstand, 
and your pants come off and so does your memory.

It’s the next morning and the thing is gone. You sit upright in bed. 
The glasses and bottles from the night before litter the dresser top. 

When you lived together, she would always stick a coaster under your drinks so the furniture wouldn’t get ruined; 
but now she’s not here and every flat surface in your apartment has a water mark on it. 
You feel like you want to call your mother. 
Fuck, you feel like you want to crawl home to your mother.

During the ride to work, you reflect on the night before and all the things you would have done differently; all the things you would have done instead. 
You promise yourself when you get home that night, you are starting that damn book.  

5 o’clock comes, then six, then eight, 
and you haven’t penned a word, but you’re walking to the bar. 
Somehow in your head you are still telling yourself, after this one drink you will go back home. 
You get your beer, and finish it, and then the bartender asks if you want another round. 

You do not pause when you reply, “Yes.”

• • •

Breadcrumb #206

DAN POORMAN

Here he is, for what might be the last time again, at Lewton’s Earth Snacks, corner of Alexander and Kempf. 

    Tonight, in the Pasta Products aisle, Dale’s examining a six-dollar box of armadillos and cheese. He turns it over to check the nutrition facts and mission statement. Farm-to-fork, gluten free, non-animal enzymes—and something nice happens with the proceeds. All good, Dale acknowledges, and he switches to face the cartoon beast on the box’s front. 

    This little gray fellow is in fluorescent bike shorts. His pupils are fully dilated and he’s beaming. He’s unaware that, as Dale’s steely, prophetic ex once said on some pot-peddling acquaintance’s porch while buttoning her coat, “Nothing’s static.” 

    Dale gives the box of armadillos a shake, as if to reset the thought, Etch A Sketch-style. Now, a decision: Classic Cheddar? Blanco Cheddar? Cheddar Jack? Bitin’ Buffalo? 

    “Armand’s,” Kara had said earlier, her disappearing arm dangling from the bed, her bony finger tracing splits in the hardwood. “Just get me Armand’s, Dale. I don’t care what kind.” So he went.

    These days, Dale’s wearing his keys more often than his underwear. In the car, he’d actually told his trusty air freshener, for what must have been the seven-hundred-fifty-two-thousandth time, “Everything will be fine.” Alas, the hanging fir had no response. It was, itself, long faded. 

    Really, it was something of a miracle that Kara was hungry at all. The doctor had noted last week, in a particularly clinical moment outside her room in the ICU, “Well, your sister’s dying.” This was in direct response to Dale when he’d probed: “Why won’t Kara drink her kombucha?”

    Translated, it meant, “Nothing’s static.” 

    “You can’t write this shit,” Kara had said on the first ride home. “I’m dying with no tits. I think Susie Hampton told me this would happen in fucking second grade.” Only the shitty can tell the future, she’d added. Then, she’d mused up her tombstone—laughing, coughing. 

    Hospice made her curse more; made her limply embrace clichés. She was freer than the fragrant, college kid kind of free she’d subscribed to for much of her years. Dale had even caught her throwing out her dream-catcher her first night back. The sight was almost adulterous. It had made him jump. 

    At Lewton’s, Dale exhales. 

    “Okay,” he says. He’s choosing Blanco Cheddar, and he hopes she will like it. He has to hurry home. If he’s too late, she might refuse it. He hustles to the register. His rain jacket’s making some noise. 

    The cashier at Lewton’s tonight looks familiar. Dale can see in this gentleman’s face a sense of happiness likely sought out by the designers of mac and cheese mascots. Fitting, he thinks. Swap out Armand the Armadillo for a significantly fleshier, jollier Percy the Person You Pay. 

    Last time Dale was here, Percy was in training; this was two, three weeks back. And as if by magic, Percy is now much thinner. Not sick thin, though; not Kara thin. But thin—like a handsome bust easing out of marble, quite frankly. 

Dale can see in this gentleman’s face a sense of happiness likely sought out by the designers of mac and cheese mascots.

    “Evening, sir,” Percy says. “Will that be all?”

    “Yes,” Dale says, and he fumbles for his wallet, but he can’t stop staring at Percy, and though he doesn’t have much time he asks him how the job’s going and if he’s lost some weight. 

    “That’s very flattering,” Percy says, bagging up the Armand’s, and he gets real candid. “You know, it’s funny you mention those two things together like that, because ever since I started working at Lewton’s, I’ve been feeling a lot better. I’m new in town, and I got myself a membership at the Y and all, but I don’t have much time to make use of it. My manager and I, we’ve got this joke that it’s all the stocking and receipt-ripping that’s got me sweating. But you know, sir, it’s just so funny you noticed, and so nice, because I can’t quite figure it out for myself. Guess this place is the real deal, huh? Receipt in the bag?”

    “Sure,” Dale says, and he wants to hang in Percy’s tale of health food store mysticism for a while longer, but he can’t, really. He’s got to get home. 

    But when he picks his nose up over the counter, he notices a dog, just lying there at Percy’s feet. 

    A German shepherd, like Lollie, the old one he and Kara had had as kids, all amber-eyed and regal. It was Mom who had let Kara name Lollie, Dale remembers. A stupid name, but he smiles.

    The Lewton’s dog is no Lollie. She’s old, unleashed, on a fleece blanket, panting in front of a box fan, kind of stinking up the place. She’s in transition, Dale notices, one that runs counter to Percy’s transition; to Kara’s transition—in that she looks like she’s getting fatter. 

    “She’s a beauty, ain’t she?” Percy says. “Guess she came in here a few weeks ago. No tags on her, and she’s not chipped or anything. She was very sick, sir. Emaciated. Covered in mange. Ernie Lewton, bless his heart; he fed her, put her on that throw, gave her some air.”

    Percy guesses that Ernie tosses the dog a ball after closing time. Dale can see it, bouncing down the yellowed tile, knocking over bottles of supplements. He sees Ernie, an old man, dutifully fetch it himself.

    “She’s kind of with us now, you know?” Percy says. “We call her Lucy.”

    Dale thinks he might ask about Ernie’s potential adoption plans regarding Lucy, because he’s curious. “What’s the point of rehab?” Kara had intoned just yesterday. Dale, too, wondered. 

    But that’s when the door to Lewton’s opens. The bell sounds and in walks a family; the kind that might have a few bumper stickers on their minivan. A mother and two girls. One’s maybe eight; the other, thirteen. The eldest is in muddy soccer gear.

    Dale wants to leave—needs to, even. But as he slowly takes his bag from Percy, he’s watching the family meander around Lewton’s. “You can each get one treat,” Mommy says in exhaustion. Her mind is probably somewhere else, like picking up her husband’s vitamins and getting back in time for “Survivor.” This clan subsists on such moments, Dale thinks. He just knows it. 

    What Dale doesn’t know is this: Soon, Soccer Girl’s going to approach the register and ask Percy about an energy bar, and in doing so she’s going to see Lucy, panting on her blanket, getting fat. And when she sees this dog, Soccer Girl will scream. She will scream in pure, unapologetic love for this creature, and Percy will tell her Lucy’s story—but no, her name’s not Lucy, it’s Sandy, and she ran away last year, and goodness, we thought Sandy was dead.

    And Dale’s going to watch Soccer Girl’s weepy collapse, a scene so alien in its joyfulness, in which Mommy and Sis gather around in disbelief; in which Percy reaches for his ghost belly so as to mount the booming yuk he lets out in the image of everyone who’d ever said, “Well, would you look at that?” 

    Paul Simon’s going to come on the radio. It’ll be a sickeningly synchronistic number: 1972’s “Mother And Child Reunion.” It’s a song that had often played at the sleepy café where Dale used to work; a song that went on once in the car as he unyieldingly kissed Steely, Prophetic Ex; a song that Kara always hated, and one which, now especially, foretold of an approaching truth, assuming you believe in Heaven. 

    Dale’s going to get real overwhelmed and run out; Blanco Cheddar Armand’s rattling around at his side, his rain jacket noisier than ever. He’s going to speed on the way home, cutting through puddles, shouting all the way to his air freshener, “Everything will be fine!”

    He’ll be eager to tell the whole town of this inverted Bermuda Triangle at the corner of Alexander and Kempf. He will dream of erecting a new sign outside Lewton’s, one promising not just Earth Snacks, but instantaneous best case scenarios. “LEWTON’S,” he imagines, “A PLACE WHERE THINGS GO TO GET STATIC AGAIN.”

    But when Dale enters the bedroom—all wet and breathless, saying, “Kara, come with me”—he will find that she has gone already, on her own terms. 

    He’ll drop the bag and sit at her feet. Lewton’s will close. Then tomorrow will start up, yanking its own leash; every hour fraying it. 

• • •