Breadcrumb #351

KASIA MERRILL

At work I dispatch covetous Americans to pungent foreign countries.

    They come during their brief lunch breaks, beet and feta salads in their fishy pale palms as they exclaim on their blinking Bluetooth headsets. They point to the posters behind me. Chandelier waters and laughing white people beside a giraffe. That’s what they want, they say. They want an adventure, they say.

    We spend the next thirty minutes planning their wild, forward-thinking excursions. A cliff hotel pod in Peru. An elk sleigh ride in Finland. An underwater room in the Pemba Islands. I tell them these are must-have experiences, these $500/night stays in all-inclusive resorts where the Americans will drink blood-red margaritas and use their local guide books as foot props on their lounge chairs. They will snap photos of locals, whose faces will one day stare from strangers’ computer screens, trapped and unblinking.

    These Americans have such longing on their breath and restlessness beneath their nails, it’s like they’ve been scratching the Earth for evidence that they’re on it. Sometimes they ask me where I’m from and the question is so ravenous, I’m afraid to answer. I’m afraid they will steal home from me like a snack they’ve been craving.

    Avalea agrees. She is the booking agent at WorldAir and although we have never met, she is my closest companion. Her voice is as smooth and warm as an elephant’s ear, as melodic as an open jar of lightning bugs. She likes to calculate my customers based on their orders. She is superb at this game.

Sometimes they ask me where I’m from and the question is so ravenous, I’m afraid to answer.

    “Two business class tickets to Maldives for Arnold Denton.? Let me guess…single white male in his 30s, nice tie, conventionally handsome, kind of obnoxious?”

    “40s, I believe.”

    “Having an affair?”

    “You better not be seating me in the 40th fucking row. I’ll take my business elsewhere, I’ll do it right now.”

    I cover the phone with my hand. “I’m discussing something else, sir.”

    “God, he sounds like a tool,” Avalea hums in my ear. “Let me talk to him. I want to hear his ache.”

    I have my job because they say I’m good at dealing with people. That’s how they say it too, dealing with people. I thought it was a strange thing to say because back home, we call it “speaking” with people, but I am a fast learner. The covetous Americans, along with their wives and husbands and mistresses and misters and unaccountably young wealthy partners, were not the kinds of people we had back home. They ask questions like Where is the best country to hunt a rhino? and Can I take a tour of the slums?

    I don’t understand these people, but I can pretend I do. I can laugh at their jokes and log in their seSrvice animals and smile as I click my nails cross the plastic keyboard to log in Gertrude Swine for a ticket that costs more than my mother’s funeral. My mother used to say there is no greater skill in life than acting.

    Avalea is a superb actress. When my accountants speak to Avalea directly, their creased brows unfurl like a massaged muscle. Their eyes soften like a spring garden. I can understand these Americans then because I, too, possess this same landlocked expression. I have heard the sweet refrain of Jane’s purr and felt my cheeks dew.

    Sometimes I imagine adoring words spilling from Jane’s lips like soup too hot to swallow. I imagine us booking our own excursion, holding hands in first class as we fly over smoothing waters and sleep in underwater rooms. I imagine my fingers cupping her elastic cheek, suspended in a moment, frozen, around the shadowy outline of a woman I’ve never met.

    And I wonder if I’m acting so well, I’ve fooled myself into having wishes.

    The Americans are all wishes. I think that if I were to unbutton their suits and lift their skirts, I’d find wants instead of skin. This is what makes me call them the covetous Americans. You can understand now. They exist in two states: having and wanting. Sometimes they live in both states at once.

    Like the American woman with black nails filed into claws, hair pulled back so tightly her forehead is pinched and pink. She places a piece of paper on the surface between us. On the top is the name of my nation. She pronounces my home like she’s sucking on glass.

• • •

Breadcrumb #350

GABRIELA BASYUK

"I hate starting a notebook on the first page.
It’s kind of intimidating, you know.
Thinking about all the blank lines ahead of you and the thickness
left to be filled. I always turn the page over to relieve the anxiety,
tricking myself in a way,” he says.

I think about this for a while. Almost too long.
He looks for some kind of sign to make sure I’m alright. I am.

I glance back at him.
His rough hands, uneven facial hair and kind eyes.

There’s so much I want to say but
I divert my eyes and take a large swing of beer.
I hate beer.

I think about all the boys I’ve been with.
All the boys I thought I loved.

• • •

Breadcrumb #348

ANGELA DERECAS TAYLOR

I slept with Steven Tyler last night. That’s right. I had sex with the lead singer of Aerosmith, the same guy who was a judge on American Idol. And we did it right in my marital bed. I felt no guilt, only ecstasy as he raised and lowered himself upon my tired middle-aged body. Immersed in the throes of our mutual climax, I locked my arms around his neck, my fingers clutching his hair, and feathers. We were levitating, soaring above my bed, then out the window among the treetops hanging over my house and flying among the stars, far removed from my passionless marriage.  

    And then I woke up.

    It took several minutes to segue from the dream into the reality of my life. My breath was heavy. I pulled the pillow up from between my legs to absorb the sweat from the back of my neck. When I sat up in bed, the sticky moisture between my thighs made me a smile. I looked across the room at my reflection in the full-length mirror and had a burst of guilty laughter at the sight of my wild-tussled hair and nightgown twisted up around my hips. I do believe I was glowing, until the post-sex-dream bliss faded.

    I stood-up slowly, being careful not to shock my lower back into a spasm. Once on my feet, I straightened out my hair and my nightgown, hiding my in-REM indiscretion, and headed to the kitchen for the morning ritual.

    My husband was in his usual spot, seated at the table, one hand absent-mindedly fiddling in his undershorts, the other hand grasping the remote, flipping between channel 7 and CNN.

    “Must you?” I said. I took my gaze from his face to his groin while I waved my arm towards the other chairs around the table, where our two sons would soon be seated for breakfast. Unfazed, he took his crotch fiddling up a notch, to an aggressive wiggling of his member.

    “You want some?” he said with a smile.

    I ignored the invitation, defeated by his disregard for my disgust, and pained by my lack of desire for my own husband.

    “Good morning, Darling,” I mumbled to myself, pretending I was in the type of marriage where my spouse said those words to me. I stared out the window to my neatly mowed back yard while I poured my coffee, and succumbed to another mundane day.

    Cup in hand, I shuffled over to the table, sat in my regular spot and stared at the TV, unable to hear anything except his voice-over commentary.

    “What’s with these weather girls? Big boobs must be a requirement for the job.” Click.

    “Wonder what happened to that fat guy who used to give the traffic report.” Click.

    “Oh these pharmaceutical commercials drive me nuts. I mean really, an erection for more than four hours!”

    “Look at the time,” I said. “Don’t you have to get going?”

    He looked at me and smiled with a raised eyebrow. “Yeah. Guess so. But first I need to check on my four-hour erection.” We both laughed.

    “You do that,” I said, watching him retreat to the bathroom.

    I remained at the kitchen table. My mind heavy with images volleying between my fantasy sex-dream and the real life truth that my husband was no doubt standing in the shower, masturbating like the equally sexually frustrated man in the opening scene of American Beauty.

    I felt like a phony, hiding behind the façade of a clichéd perfect life - the happy wife and mom, in the big house with the granite counter tops and Andersen windows. Wasn’t this the life I dreamed of as a young girl? It surely was, right down to the sexless marriage.

    I blamed myself for the lack of passion in my relationship. I had never lost the baby fat after my two pregnancies; I had done nothing to minimize the puckering in my thighs, nor perk-up my sagging breasts. I thought maybe it was all a subconscious attempt to make myself undesirable to a man that I was not attracted to physically. I recognized the choices I made were the ones I had to live with, and on the day he proposed I contemplated those choices.

    No, the sex was not good, but of all those other men whom I had screwed over the years, had any of them ever bought me a gift I could even remember, let alone a GIA-certified-almost- perfect-solitaire-diamond engagement ring?

I thought maybe it was all a subconscious attempt to make myself undesirable to a man that I was not attracted to physically.

    Had any of them sent me CD’s of love songs?

    No one else had ever ignored his catatonic fear of flying to get on a plane, to come to Chicago, to bring me back to New York, to rescue me from my loneliness.

    He was the only one who did those things.

    So he lacked certain social graces and a college degree. So what if our conversations weren’t intellectually stimulating? At least he made me laugh.

    I wasn’t getting any younger at thirty-five and he offered what I had so desperately longed for, what no other man had ever offered. Marriage. Children. Family.

    So what if the sex wasn’t great? It wouldn’t matter. I could fake it.

    After all, nothing is perfect. Certainly not me, and he seemed to want spend the rest of his life with me anyway.

    I looked out now through the living room picture window that faced my front lawn and the street. The rising sun gently pressed it’s ochre rays through the naked tree limbs, casting a particle ridden light on Woody, our Jack Russell terrier. I envied that dog, hugging himself, all curled up in just the right spot to receive the blanket of warmth from the sun.

    It made me think of the day my husband had proposed, looking out at a sublime sunrise over Lake Michigan from a hotel room window, after a night of love. He held me in his arms that morning and despite my misgivings, I leaned into his chest and felt safe and adored, like everything was going to be okay; but also, like it was my last chance to have the life I wanted.

    So I said yes.

    That was more than twenty years ago. And, I got what I wanted – the nice home, the beautiful family, the upper middle class suburban life.

    So what was my freaking problem?

    “Bye,” he said, snapping me out of my trance as he walked out the front door.

    “Wait,” I said, sprinting to the door behind him. I wanted to recapture that Lake Michigan sunrise moment. I wanted him to hold me, to kiss me on the top of my head; to tell me everything was going to be okay.

    “I need a hug before you go,” I said. I leaned into him, my head to his chest, my arms wrapped around his back. Hoping. Waiting.

    “Wow! What’s this?” He said. “Does this mean I’ll get some tonight?”

    The sadness of being misunderstood tore through my heart; then came the bitterness and the screeching rush of Steven Tyler’s song blaring in my brain.

    “Dream on,” I said and pushed the door closed behind him.

    “Ah. Come on. I’m just kidding,” I heard him say behind that mahogany door.

    “Whatever,” I yelled back. “See you later.”

    I trudged down the two steps into my sunken living room where Woody was now up on all fours. He looked at me, with his doggy smile and tail wagging in anticipation of being fed.  

    “Come here,” I said. “I need a hug first.”

• • •

Breadcrumb #347

GAGE MONDOK

Hurtling through the void, I am bathed in your light. An improbability manifest in a universe composed of vacuum. Cautious, intrigued, I continue my approach, bound to this trajectory. I arrive to find another, another similarly bound, another like me. Our paths cross just close enough for me to feel the tremendous weight of your core, warping the very reality surrounding me and pulling me in closer. Contact.

    As we brush our celestial bodies against one another, the vectors of our paths twist. Our dance, our spiral through the expanse begins, your matter entwined in mine. The immense force of this collision rips our being apart, splitting our atoms, mixing, fusing them together, releasing the most brilliant light to have ever graced this darkness. Ripples of this collision expand outward infinite, but infinite our dance is not. Stretch.

I arrive to find another, another similarly bound, another like me.

    We are torn between two great forces. Our attraction, the force which binds this universe together, infallible in its constant pull, and our momentum, the very thing which brought us together. Grasping out, our pull gives way to our ultimate paths. Eject.

    We fling outward, apart back into the unexplored. Continuing the journey as before but forever changed, I in you and you in me.

• • •