Breadcrumb #286

CHRISTINE QUATTRO

Date a boy. Any boy will do, but if he’s good looking and has a car that’s bigger than yours, this is best. Actually, a truck would be best: back and front seats lifted off of the ground so people cannot see in. Without effort, they have to stand and peer and crane their necks and wonder: does that girl have a bra on?

    If he’s Italian, you know he’s wrong for you. Your father is Italian and all these men regardless of age are so damn angry they can barely help themselves. But, he is beautiful with shiny black hair, symmetrical bone structure, and he loves you as much as any man who hates women can love you.

    Dark tinted windows, scrambling up and over the center console because this a primal need. Somehow, a face with blood drained from it and flushed lips resembles a look of love when it is anything but. You’ll feel just as drained as those lips, as if something you didn’t want to give has been taken from you. Not that you didn’t make this choice, but in your making the choice you forgot that being with the wrong person is worse than not being with anyone at all.

You’ll feel just as drained as those lips, as if something you didn’t want to give has been taken from you.

    One day, the truck will be parked facing an open vineyard on a dead end street and a man who probably lives on that street will walk by and put his hands to the darkened window. “Who owns this truck?” he asks aloud. No one answers because he is alone and the two of you have flattened yourselves on the floor of the backseat. If someone sees you with your wrong choice, it means it counts.

    Mediterranean men, once again, are terrible choices for you. You know this! Why do you keep doing this? What you’re looking for here is a freebee. So instead of all this Italian business, you consider inviting a Greek boy over to make out while your mom is at work. Dark curtains that close are best. No one around to watch you blunder through this dating pool, is best. His body is chiseled, his face is okay, and his parents definitely want him to marry a Greek girl. If he’s Greek you’ll think he’s less wrong for you because he isn’t Italian, but he has a slimy parrot tongue that jabs around offensively. You’re trying, but he’s not. Or is he?

• • •

Breadcrumb #285

ELISE FISCH

Mom and James and I go hiking through a sparse wood, making our way between broken birches, careful to avoid snapping twigs beneath our feet. We walk in a line, me in the middle because I’m the youngest. Mom comes to a stop up ahead, signaling for us to do the same. James half raises his rifle, alert, my hand hovers over the pistol at my side, but then Mom gives the OK and we continue walking. This is all we can do, keep moving on. It is almost the fall and there are dead leaves on the ground, there are dead bodies in the river, the stench and screech of the undead all around us.

    When we reach the shallow part of the creek, we find a deposit of half-eaten bodies. The flesh and the innards is what they eat, leaving the rest behind for us to pick through. We descend on the scene like vultures, ravenous for anything we can get our hands on, the shock of death having long been lost on us. There isn’t much to scavenge from this lot, no tools or weapons, no materials save for a few shoelaces, a leather belt, some buttons from their torn and bloodied shirts. Things we can use to mend or replace our own tattered clothes. Mom stands watch on the edge of the riverbed.

We descend on the scene like vultures, ravenous for anything we can get our hands on, the shock of death having long been lost on us.

    As I dredge myself up from the shallows, a brightly colored, cardboard object catches my eye from beneath the wet leaves. A soiled box of cigarettes reveals itself to me, red and white and black lettering. I quickly pocket the sad trinket before mom or James takes notice of my loitering. We make our way again through the woods at a brisk gait, making as little noise as possible. None of us says a word.

    We find our way back to a wooden shack, half-hidden by broken branches and moss cover, built and abandoned by someone else. It has been our camp for the last couple of weeks, but not for much longer. We were grateful to find it, and lucky that it was uninhabited. Luck has been a great asset to our survival, and we never ask for more than we receive.

    Marnie runs up to James and throws her arms around his waist, just as she does every time he returns to camp, and he ruffles her hair in reply. Of everyone, these two have been with mom and I the longest. James found Marnie while searching a deteriorated house for supplies, starving and trapped there, so he unquestioningly took her into his care. The pair had traveled together for a long time before joining my mom and our small group of survivors.

    Marnie is the closest to my age, so we’re best friends. I flash her the cigarette box as we reunite and she gives me a discreet high-five. There’s only one in there that isn’t too damaged to smoke, so we agree to share it tonight when we take first watch. Mom and James and the others usually let us take first watch because we’re teenagers, or we just go right to sleep. Sometimes I sleep with my boots on. We must always be ready to run.

    When we can’t sleep at night, which happens to be much of the time, Marnie and I whisper to each other about our hopes, the little things we know we need to carry with us in order to survive. She tells me she hopes we find an apple tree so she can taste the sweet sensation of biting into the hard skin of a fresh fruit, her favorite from a former lifetime. I tell her I hope we find a dog to travel with us.

    One night she says she had always wanted to try a cigarette, just once, she says, maybe. Me too, I say, and tell her that my mom would probably kill me, but maybe it wouldn’t matter to her anymore. My father couldn’t live without them, but luckily for him, he never had to. She thinks for a minute and decides James would be unhappy about it too, and then we are silent, gazing up at the stars, breathing out clouds of fake smoke in the cold night air.

    Now the summer is almost over and some of the leaves are withering and falling, but tonight is warm and comfortable. We are giddy through dinner, trying to hide our smiles while digging our teeth into the flesh of a scorched trout. Currently, there is an even number of people in our group so everyone eats two to a meal. Marnie and I share a fish. Mom and James share too, ceremoniously handing it back and forth as they each take one bite at a time.

    Night falls and we hear the screeching wail of the undead rise from the furthest reaches of the forest like a rooster at daybreak. Marnie and I assume our duty on watch as the others huddle in the shed before it’s their turn to take guard. Mom stays behind to stoke the fire a little longer, reluctant to leave us two alone out here, but I reassure her that we’re ok. She warns me not to stray too far before finally turning in.

    We sit side by side against a tree near the campfire. I slide the slim, white, paper prize from within my shirtsleeve. Marnie produces a pack of matches, a resource she’d always collected on her travels. Only a few beat-up matches remain, but the sacrifice feels worth it as we strike it into flame. We watch the satisfying glow of the ember garnish the end of the cigarette as I inhale, breathing the smoke out of my lungs, up into the night sky.

    We pass it back and forth, becoming light-headed, feeling the sudden and unaccustomed rush of nicotine as it enters our brains for the first time. We try to blow smoke rings but don’t even come close. At first the stale smoke isn’t too harsh, but then Marnie starts to cough, hacking and wheezing uncontrollably. I try to help her breathe it out, quiet down, but she is unable to stop it.

    We hear something move. A loud rustling alarmingly nearby. Marnie covers her mouth with one hand, draws her pistol with the other. The undead have come for us, just as they always have. My gun is in my hand before I know it. The noise approaches at a hastened gait, aggravating bushes closeby, about to tear through the darkness in a hungry fervor. I stand to meet it, raising my weapon with both hands. It emerges, a dark, wild shape. I pull the trigger.

    Marnie lets out a yelp as the body of a deer collides with the ground at my feet. My arms and legs are shaking visibly. Mom soon appears, weapon drawn, eyes on fire. She sees me first, then the deer, then me again, then erupts into a hushed rage. She reminds me that the noise of a gunshot will only attract more attention. This was not a life for death situation, she points out. Marnie is beside me, her hand holding mine. We stand before her dumbfounded, too startled to speak, still buzzing with nicotine.

    Mom then embraces us both, telling us how grateful she is that we’re ok. She hesitates before pulling away, a puzzled look on her face. Have you two been smoking? She asks, but doesn’t allow space for a rebuttal, dismissing the thought as she remembers the deer. We share a look of triumph as we turn to head inside.

    Marnie and I are in an elated state, so we stay up all night retelling each other the story, feeling empowered by our small accomplishment. We laugh until there are tears in our eyes, already reminiscing about the night we had together.

• • •

Breadcrumb #284

SUSAN CLARKSON MOORHEAD

What I want from you
is to take the clench
of the day off me.
To arrest the tap tap tap
at the plate of my chest
and to hold it at bay
when I find myself in
all the different corners.

What I want is for you
to meet in the middle,
to know that when
I'm at either end,
I am still with you. 
To know that
just you there
is enough.

Stand with me
as I look up that climb
of impossible sky, reaching
for a grasp of green: spinning
trees under careless clouds,
trying to anchor these hours
to something outside
ourselves.

To make it all count,
our so short and so long
time here.  Let us be
like breath, the in and out
of these moments, our
lives here before us, this
now, passed, and gone.

• • •

Breadcrumb #283

HILARY MARIE SCHEPPERS

Before the sun turned over

     on winter’s soft heaps, you heaved

the door open

     and packed white down with each step;

the wind blew

     your chin to your chest,

your eyes to your boots,

     and then you were

on the ground.

     A metal post before you,

a splitting pang on your face, your back

     on the ice, cold flurries prickled in-

side of your waistband

     and you became your fourteen year old self

who didn’t know

     the weight of her body

in his hands.

• • •

Breadcrumb #282

SAMANTHA SETO

The wild flowers are tall and reach my waist.
A map is pointing north in two – diverge.
The ink just smears like blood; I will release
crumpled paper into the blue river.
Like God put trees on earth, a tear may drip.
A veil of lavender covers my face,
it trails over the ground in bright sunlight.
The berries ooze into my hands like sweet
honey, the pond has round water lilies.
My hands submerge in crystalline water.
I trace the moon, it’s bigger than my palm.
A waning, holy light of fading hues
like Michelangelo is painting frescoes.
The willow sheds its leaves in branch water,
the birds are chirping, bells that ring in ears.
My eyes are glassy, a rose inside a vase.
The cacti wither away in heaps of soil.
I gaze at twinkling stars in darkened sky,
my skirt is gently carried by the wind.
I remember the awe of last sunrise.

• • •