Breadcrumb #298

CHRISTINA MANOLATOS

Margaret washed herself in the shower at the same time almost every day. Being off work on disability, she had the luxury of sleeping in until noon and then lounging around her apartment for a few hours. When she heard the school bus coming up the street, she would languidly remove her robe and walk into the bathroom. Cracking open the tiny window, she would hoist her naked mass into the shower and turn the water on as hot as it could go. 

    There was a gentleman that watched her from a window in an apartment across the courtyard. He was most likely in his mid-forties with a terrible haircut and thick rimmed glasses. He always appeared at the window shortly after the school bus stopped on the street corner. From this only Margaret could presume he had at least one child – maybe he had multiple children. Though Margaret’s apartment had no view of the street side of the building, even if it had, she would never have cared to see what he was like meeting that school bus every day. All she knew, after she heard it arrive, that was her cue to head toward the bathroom.

He always appeared at the window shortly after the school bus stopped on the street corner.

    She always took one cursory glance out the window to ensure he was looking before she began. Once she caught his gaze – and only ever for a moment to confirm his presence – she began her ritual. It was always the same. Her swollen hands lathered the soap and began caressing her body. She always started at her neck and worked downward methodically. She was tender and slow and patient, working her fingers in and around the rolls and curves of her form. This act of bathing herself in view of another person was in no way sexual for Margaret. It was simply the only thing left to do.

    The emotional void a man’s gaze fulfilled for her long surpassed any need for physical affection or sexual attention. She had given up that ghost years prior. Years before her accident, years before the accident rendered her immobile. Years before the lack of movement made her gain more weight that she would have imagined. Years before she regained mobility through torturous physical therapy, but just could not muster the motivation, the desire, the concern with reclaiming her now massive body.

    When she is finished, when she is clean, she never looks to see if he is still watching her from his window. She is unsure how she would react if he saw her in any other way than in those ten minutes. Indeed, she didn’t exist to anyone else in the entire world outside of those ten minutes. When she is finished, when she is clean, she puts her robe back on and crawls into bed.

• • •

Breadcrumb #297

MAYA MENON

I apologize in advance if this is too self-congratulatory,
but for someone who’s been afraid
of alone for at least a decade,
I’m pretty proud to say I’ve become self-sufficient.
I make my own vegetarian meals, packed with protein
so all of the concerned friends I’m blessed with
could shut up already.
I eat them alone, and messily,
sometimes while walking to work.
Nothing deters cat callers on the street
better than Thai green curry sauce on my face
and my mouth full of tofu and quinoa.
I go to museums alone, and take as much
or as little time as I want staring
at graduated drips on womens’ breasts on walls
I read the descriptions, I skip rooms
if I please, I take the stairs,
I sit at the bar alone and order an expensive drink,
and tip the bartender handsomely
I travel across the city alone, for hours,
never once thinking of the ease of a passenger seat
despite the aches in my calves and feet.
So long as I’m reaching my step goal.
I sit at parks alone and stare at dogs, and ask the owners
if I could pet them, confidently.
They almost always say yes, and if they don’t hear me
I smile and wave goodbye to the pupper at least.
I take walks through the neighborhood alone,
and observe the bird calls
and the mushrooms along the paths
the sunshine as my only friend, and reminder that
the ozone layer’s depleting
so I twist and contort my back enough,
to apply my sunscreen alone,
I look at the super moon alone,
and see that its crowded by evergreens,
and thankfully I’m so lucky to be just a single speck
amongst the darkness by the water,
while listening to music alone,
Kevin Parker’s haughty voice matches mine,
when he says “Company’s okay, solitude is bliss”
Christopher Breaux tells me to hand him a towel
he’s dirty dancing, by himself, going off tabs of that acid,
just as he’ll be singing “Solo” to me tomorrow,
when I go to a festival alone,
and I hold onto the music and the voices and the whispers
telling me this is just fine, when I turn 25 this weekend,
dancing alone, drinking alone, vibing alone.
I’ll be proud, and I’ll be self-sufficient as I am to you, tonight.
So no, I’m not lonely, just blissfully solo.

• • •

Breadcrumb #296

DAVID KLASOVSKY

The Chadron to Chicago Cowboy race, a sidelight of Chicago’s 1893 World Columbian Exposition, was won by one James Riley. Riley, a mixed race native of Newton, Kansas was a known gunslinger (and, intriguingly, a nephew by marriage of editor and author L. Frank Baum). What became of him is unknown, but his moniker was later used as an alias by one Doc Middleton, a notorious horse thief of the era. On Middleton’s Death Certificate, the Riley name is just legible, but overwritten in a longhand scrawl. The correction has been initialed “J.J.” (likely by “Jersey Jeff” Walsh, a U.S. Marshal who knew Middleton well).

    The following is the considerably condensed, free translation of an anonymous tale found in the November 1910 edition of Western Aegis, a short lived, multi-lingual literary magazine. Published in Oakland, California and dedicated to aggrandizing the pioneers, poets, hucksters and gunfighters of the rapidly vanishing frontier, “The Aegis” seems rather to have been intended for distribution on the Indian Reservations of the Great Plains. This story, “James Riley: Son of Kansas”, was written mostly in a free verse version of the Cegiha Siouan language, with rhyming couplets at the end of each stanza; I’ve done my best to preserve the story elements while enhancing the “readability.” i.e. I’ve removed the rather forced rhyming scheme and somewhat modernized the language. Portions written in Ogallala and Lakota dialects were also rendered into English.

1

    along a weedy railroad spur, on the outskirts of a small town, kicking up dust: zephyrs at play. They’re part of an airhead crew who doze and nod in abandoned factories, or up among the rafters of formerly fine homes. Left to themselves, these breezes poke about quietly, investigating nooks and crannies and corridors. They’re putterers by inclination.

    But imagine: not far away: rising voices, a cough of bitter laughter; and then, BANG! a noise like a twig breaking, only powers of ten louder. Some of the lonelier winds drift over to check it out. 
Out back of the livery stable, a zephyr brushes over a twisting coil, a pulsating knot of something that feels elemental, like a sister wind bound-up in the dust of the world. 

2

    The Gordian knot at her feet, fallen in a pile of straw and horseshit, that’s me. Leaking tears and blood, piss and vomit; crying for the first time since Kansas. I’m trying to stuff my innards back into the hole in my midsection. It hurts, a lot. 

    The horses rear and kick in their stalls; they’d bolt if they weren’t locked in. Stamping and snorting, they provide the rhythm track to my swan song, my aeolian mode requiem in the key of gee-whiz-where’d-I-go-wrong. I can’t catch my breath. I’m wheezing like a broken kazoo. 

3

    A wild-eyed dandy, all babyfat and bad breath, a cowardly twerp brave-brave-brave with a shotgun in his hand, a hater wanting the world to understand the extent of his commitment to love, surprised me whilst takin’ a leak. He musta interperted my bemused smirk as a dis. His finger twitched. A statement was made: kinda an edgy, out-of-control statement.

    There’s this girl, y’see. Working the afternoon shift at the shithole saloon that’s the crown jewel of social establishments in this sorry ass ghost town. A girl capable of some brand of liquory love, I suppose, of taunting bullies, of dragging empty brags out of empty drunks, egging them on into folly. All for a giggle. Did she unfurl her petticoats amid the leaky kegs and lost and found items in the storeroom behind the bar? I don’t know, maybe she’s changed.

4

    The lady was a familiar spirit of our household coming up, my sister’s best friend, don’t you know. I grew up smelling their sweat and sex and soapy smells. They were babes-in-arms, ever curious about life: girls without borders. 

    When I was throwing my letters and laundry into my saddlebags, Sis ran up. She managed to evade bidding me farewell; asked politely if I’d look up Jenny- should I pass this way. Gee whiz, why not? Time and distance are of no constraints to a man who’s being hunted like a dog. And it’s big news, I’m to convey: nuptials upcoming! Sis is marrying a man who can afford the luxury of having no curiosity whatsoever.   

5

    In Chadron, Jenny’s tears ran mascara black. She tried to rope me in for a dose of consolation. Hey, look who’s a growed up handsome man, she whispered. It was sad: didja ever see a drover crack the whip over a tired mare? 

    Well, maybe I was wrong not to look deeper into her scarred heart. But since we happened, darling, there’s certain riddles I don’t attempt to untangle. That’s what’s so fucking hilarious about lying here, twisted up like a snake in heat; I’m as innocent as powder burns on a suicide’s hands. 

6

    The zephyr sees me as a faintly sputtering ember or a mildly luminous bubble breaking from wet clay. I cast some glow on a dimension she’s only vaguely noticed before. The place where people are. An emptier quadrant of the grid of life. 

I cast some glow on a dimension she’s only vaguely noticed before.

    She tries to tickle me, tries to get under my shirt. This little gust is curious. And y’know what? I am too. I seem to be seeing life everywhere, now that my own is seeping from me. 

    Both of us titillated by the confusion along our personal boundaries, we connect. Anyway, we’re no more than transparent overlays in the magic lantern show- she’s flotsam, I’m jetsam: two drifters hoping better prospects’ll materialize. Doesn’t take me much to get her promise: she swears she’ll carry my message home.

    But having touched the fluttery heart of her, faint is my hope. Zephyrs live brief lives; if they don’t pick up the habit of surrendering their independence- if they don’t merge and divide constantly- they just fade; vanish into thin air; lose inertia; die unmourned. 

    She hurries off, all fond adieus and false sympathy, excited by the impending adventure. How far is Kansas? 

    It’s that flat place just this side of the Red River, I call after her. They call it that because it’s actually red. You can’t miss it.

7

    Sometime later, a little offtrack, speeding through a flock of bighorn grazing the Sandhills, she meets a flurry of breezes, a whole posse of ‘em. She doesn’t forget the promise she made me, exactly; but now she has a greater purpose. The brute force of a hundred simultaneous directives are whispering to her.

    Fortunately, they’re headed the right direction. She’s still got some control of the situation. 

8
 
    When the blow up comes you are thinking of me. Dark smoky thoughts. A wind enters the courtyard where you’re helping set up tables and chairs. A battalion of breezes, my zephyr among ‘em, sidles up and whisks around you, mussing your careful coiffure. The wind gathers force; you hear a soft buzzing like a hungry bee rattling a foxglove flower- that would be a proximate translation of my message- 

    The wind won’t let you be. You have to hold down your skirts [Nee-tay'-oh-pee] with one hand, and then both.  And now your uncle- who’s been schmoozing with the guests, chatting with the preacher, smoking a cheroot, oiling his joints- comes over, pretending to want to help. But he snatches you up instead, and dances you round and around, laughing crazily. Uncle! Calm down! you cry.
 
    and that rake of a wind, just as sudden as spring on the mountain top, leaves off. Speeding away, to dance a cakewalk with others of its ilk, it ruffles through the linden grove, then shoots off towards the wetlands, whirling and tumbling, tickling up ripples in the water, making nifty, changing patterns on the oily surface of the lake.

9

    Your uncle sets you down carefully, looks at you like you’re made of glass. Calls you his blue-eyed boy.
 
    Someone shouts: Storms abrewin’! 

10

    But you know that what happens next depends on you and you alone. If you let your joy come squeaking out, if you betray your inner panic, even with a blush or a ruffled brow, some farty old aunt daubed in cheap perfume will drift over and try to pull you into her confidence. She’ll suck the wind from your sails, knock the soul out of you with a salacious smile and lavender scented breath. 

    You might as well stand up at the wedding and confess everything. What does it matter now, anyhow? Sure, a summer storm could rear up, out of the stable of darkness, a nightmare storm with clattering hoofs sparking thunder and lightning, sending the bride and groom and guests scurrying to safety; even tornadoes are possible.

• • •

Breadcrumb #295

KEN VALENTI

I awake from a momentary dream in which I was falling from my childhood treehouse in a giant elm tree, to find that here, in real life, I am plummeting from the Palisades on the Jersey side of the Hudson.

    Apparently, the plunge – the real one, from the top of the sheer rock cliff, the one that was sure to kill me – has sucked the air from me, causing me to black out for a moment.

    But damn. How long does it take to fall that 500 feet to the strip of rocks and woods by the water below? And how many thoughts can a person have in that fleeting moment? Enough, it seems, for me to have my little insta-dream, and to consider how, in calmer circumstances, I loved the scenery of which I was now about to become a permanent part.

    Why? Why had I even allowed Hannah to convince me to spend a day on the Palisades? I’d told her many times that I hate heights. Yet, to prove that I could do the things that scared me, to prove her wrong with her constant complaining about how I never even nudged the boundaries of my fears, I toed my way to the edge of the cliff, viewing a wide swath of the Hudson Valley, with Manhattan to the south.

    It takes no time at all for a static moment to become sheer terror. Hannah’s hand was on me and I swear she was shoving me, and down I went. Plunging.

    Yet, it really is taking a long time to fall.

    I mean, how can I not be there yet? Shouldn’t I have been broken, squashed and splattered all over the rocks? I’ve put on a few pounds lately. That’s sure to add to the wet splat aspect of my reconnection with solid matter.

    Any moment now.

    Like most people, I imagine, my greatest dreams have always been about flying. Falling was for nightmares. Up or down. It’s amazing how many dreams of mine involved one or the other. The symbolism was pretty obvious, but maybe if I’d ever stopped to consider it, I would have found hidden meaning in it all.

 

    Well it looks like I am going to have some time to sift through it all now, because at this point, I have stopped completely. I’m roughly halfway down, hanging alongside the cliff, the striated rock just out of reach. Just hanging there, suspended. Maybe bobbing lightly.

    This should feel grand and majestic. It’s a friggin miracle. And yet all I want to do is puke. I hope there are no hikers below who will be spattered with my semi-digested lunch of ham, cheese and white bread. (Funny, I wasn’t worried about landing on hikers when I was falling.)

    So this is a predicament.

    Is Hannah watching? I can’t tell; I’m facing downward. How could she have done this? Was she breaking up with me? A simple “I don’t love you anymore” would have done the trick. Hurtful, but nothing I couldn’t recover from.

    But be honest: Do I love her? She’s nice. She has a decent job -- she’s in marketing. We always have stuff to talk about; I listen to her stories about her sweet-but-incompetent boss and the struggles her nephew is having with leukemia and so on. But I must admit, I really only pretend to care. I make myself care because that’s what boyfriend’s do. To be clear: I’m not indifferent to her nephew’s plight. It’s just that I’ve never met the guy. It’s Hannah that I’m indifferent to.

    There. I said it. I’m indifferent to her. I’ve been going out with her to save myself the chore of breaking up with her and looking for someone else. It’s inertia. An object in motion, stays in motion.

    Unless it’s me, falling.

    But look. Indifference is one thing. Did I really deserve to be murdered?

    Night will be here before long. In a couple of hours it will be completely dark, and I don’t seem to be going anywhere. If nothing changes, I will still be here when the stars wink on. Hell, there’s no reason that I won’t still be here tomorrow, and the next day. I’ll become a tourist attraction all on my own. People will take photos from tour boats edging close to short, or peek over the edge of the cliff to look down at me, 200 feet below. Maybe they’ll make a game out of dropping soda cans or rocks to see who can hit me.

If nothing changes, I will still be here when the stars wink on.

    I hear a voice above me, which, from this angle, is also behind me. It’s Hannah. She’s yelling. “Doug! Hang on!”

    I want to yell back, “To what?” But that doesn’t seem helpful. “Hurry!” I shout.

    Strange. She sounds genuinely frightened. Could I have been wrong? Maybe she didn’t push me. Could she have been reaching for me as I slipped on my own? It’s hard to remember. I was leaning out a little farther than was comfortable.

    Could it have been me? Could I have been so bored with Hannah, with everything, with life, that I placed myself in peril intentionally?

    What happened to me?

    I remember a time I danced at the wedding of my friends Ted and Liz. God, how long ago was that? Their older kid, Vance, is about to graduate from Columbia. So their wedding at the Bellaqua Club overlooking Long Island Sound had to be 20 or so years ago.

    Chrissie DeAngelo, was a maid of honor and my was my best friend that summer. We’d driven to the wedding in my Chevy Cavalier. Still, I was nervous when I asked her for a slow dance, and filled with fresh oxygen when she shrugged and said, “Sure.”

    We were in our early 20s. She was a close friend and a quickly rising professional in her field -- landscape architecture. She was the one I turned to for support when my mother died and my brother was fighting me over the inheritance. She had light brown hair, a heart-shaped face and eyelashes so long and lush you could rest a pencil on them. (Seriously. We proved that one night at her place while playing Scrabble and splitting a bottle of Herradura.)

    Still, I want badly to utter this old-fashioned sentence:

    When “In Your Eyes” came on, I slow-danced with a pretty girl.

    And she smiled at me. Laughed, even, when I held her firm by the waist and took her for a bit of a whirl. She was embarrassed of the bridesmaid’s dress, a baby blue frock with gauze and lace like a fairy dress, so ridiculously girlish that I had brought her a giant, rainbow-colored lollipop to go with it.

    As we danced, I registered a shock of emotion when she caught my eye and I saw a glimpse of what I thought was possibility (though it would turn out to be genuine-but-Platonic affection.)

    I sometimes believe that that was the last time I felt an emotion. A real, full-blown emotion, other than the anger I now feel at motorists who cut me off or supermarket customers ahead of me who finger-sift through a palmful of change saying, “Wait. I have the pennies.”

    Remembering it now, I drop from the air like an invisible hand just let me go. I plunge the final few stories to the ground below, feeling doomed but at least liberated from should-bes, would-have-beens and if-onlys.

    I plummet the remaining distance, smiling, not really caring what will happen when I strike bottom.

• • •

Breadcrumb #294

MERCY TULLIS-BUKHARI

When we shared a medium fries from McD’s
a couple of years into our puberty, we walked
through Crotona Park past the swimming pool,
crack vials, and cracked walkways. Tall trees
created our separated space. You tossed the
empty red McD envelope and held my hand
with playful care. Your hands, so soft that I fell;
you led me to a scratched bench. We sat, smelling
the chlorine and hearing the children from the pool.

You had dreams.
I had fantasies.
You wanted to be a seed carried away;
I told you I was this bench.

We are young, you said. Maybe you thought you
would take this bench since I thought I would
pan fry the bird destined to carry you away. Then
it happened. Your lips tasted like biting into a ripe
Southern Bronx peach. My arms hugged your neck,
your mouth hugged my breath. The strings of our
pubertal energies danced between the branches
above us. How long did we kiss?

• • •