Breadcrumb #471

RAJNI MISHRA

The woman pushes the door open with one hand, holding her bag in the other, and enters the salon. She walks over to the reception where she's greeted cheerfully by a young girl dressed in a white shirt and black skirt. The girl says with a well-rehearsed smile, ‘How can I help you, ma’am?’

‘I have an appointment at 6:30 pm for a haircut.’ She glances at her watch. The time is 6:27 pm. She's never late for an appointment. The girl at the reception checks her system and asks the woman to wait for two minutes. The woman's usual stylist is on leave today so she has opted for another stylist. She needs the haircut today. It can't wait till tomorrow. Because she has made up her mind. The woman likes the casual and friendly ambience of the salon. The huge glass walls are covered by the trees outside. Her usual stylist has come to know her hair too well. At times, she doesn't even have to say a word and he does what she needs. She hasn't changed her hairstyle in seven years.

Today is different. She wants a change. She needs a change.

 **

She has prepared for this moment all night. She had her coffee in the morning like a silent prayer. After reading for an hour, she watered the plants, made eggs and laid the breakfast on the table with the coffee. They ate breakfast in silence, the woman and her husband, she read her book and he flipped through the news on his tablet.

While leaving for office, he said, ‘I will be late today. How does your day look like?’

‘I have to do some shopping for my trip’.

‘I envy you. I wish I could take a sabbatical too’. He failed to hide the cheerfulness in his tone.

‘I will be done by dinner time though. So let's go out for dinner today. I will see you only after two weeks then’. He planted a kiss on her lips.

It tasted bitter.

‘Hi, ma’am’, the stylist says, ‘Please come this way’.

 **

Seven years ago, the woman’s father tried to kill himself. After he was discharged from the hospital, she left her home. She cut her hair short for the first time in years. So short that she didn’t have any to tuck behind her ears. The world was not so round as she imagined it to be.

 **

‘You have beautiful hair’, the stylist says.

‘Thank you’.

‘So what do you have on your mind?’

‘I want them short’.

He shows her a few pictures on his phone and she picks up one.

‘Let’s go for a wash, ma’am’.

He gently massages her hair. He has soft hands. Unlike her husband’s. Her husband has firm hands with a strong grip. Does the other woman feel the same when he touches her? Does he hold the other woman the way he embraces her? Does he fuck the other woman the way he fucks her? She is surprised at her own thoughts. She chuckles at the word ‘fuck’. She likes this change. Since she found out about the other woman, she hasn’t made love to her husband. She has been fucked by him though. She has watched herself being fucked by him. This word is so detached and dirty - fuck fuck fuck.

‘Please get up, ma’am’, the stylist says.

He wraps a towel around her head and shows her the way.

Snip. The hair begins to slip down from her shoulders to the ground.

 **

She comes home from work and is surprised to see her husband home early. He looks up from his laptop and tells her that he has to go out for dinner. She lays out his clothes while he takes a shower. A message appears on his phone. She walks out of the room and fixes a sandwich for herself. He leaves. She follows. He comes out of the building after 77 minutes. The woman thinks if she should confront him or ram her car into him. But this corner of the world is turning flat.

 **

Her head feels light. Most of her hair is gone. Scattered on the floor around her.

Have they been acting with each other since the beginning or they didn’t realize when they turned into strangers?

Confrontation never helps. They would argue, her husband would feed her stories in the name of the truth, she would believe him because he’s nice. Without her notice, his guilt would seep into her and fill that void of lies.

She is sitting in the middle of a dark cloud. Her thick, luscious dark brown hair surrounding her on all the sides. The stylist grazes the hair on her neck with a razor.

 **

‘Since you are born, we haven’t been happy. You are a curse’, her mother used to say when the woman was a young girl. She could never understand the reason but she felt guilty. She was impregnated with the guilt. She felt guilty for her father losing his job. She felt guilty for her being groped by her music teacher. She felt guilty for her father’s suicide attempt. She felt guilty for the world not being round.

Without her notice, his guilt would seep into her and fill that void of lies.

She remembers the first time she cut her hair. She felt light and liberated. She felt free. The guilt was in her hair she thought.

Her husband wanted her to grow her hair. He loved to pull on her hair during sex. Sometimes he slept with his face buried in her locks.  

Does he pull the other woman’s hair the same way? She is sure he does.

 **

A gush of hot air makes her shut her eyes tight.

She opens her eyes and smiles at her reflection in the mirror.

‘What do you think about it, ma’am?’ the stylist says.

‘Guilt-free’.

 **

The woman wonders if her husband has come to this restaurant with the other woman. She waits for him at the table he has booked for them.

‘Oh’, her husband says as he pulls the chair and sits. ‘Why did you cut your hair so short?’

‘There were just too many patterns. My head was getting heavier.’

‘I don’t understand. Why didn’t you tell me about it in the morning?’

‘I didn’t feel the need to.’

‘How can you be so reckless?’

‘I am hungry.’

His attention is caught by his buzzing phone. He picks it up and reads the message. The woman sees the glimmer of a smile in his eyes. His world is round.

He keeps the phone aside and places the order. The message has his mood lifted again.

‘Is the hairlessness the part of the preparation for your trip?’

‘Yes. This is where it begins’, the woman says.

Her world is flat.

• • •. • • •

Breadcrumb #470

RACHEL AYDT

“But when he calls me, I will be able to meet my family at God’s table.”

- Gillian Welch, “Orphan Girl”

Orphan: One Deprived of Some Protection or Advantage

My wispy septuagenarian neighbor Nick paces my block with a bulky camera around his neck. Nearly half a century ago, he was an extra in The Godfather. “I was in that scene where all the Dons sit around the table,” he says. “They were trying to make the peace after Don Corleone’s son, Sonny, was slaughtered by a brigade of hitmen.”  I remember the scene, but he tells me about it anyway.  

I always learn a lot about Nick when we stop to digress, for example, how he used to box at Gleason’s Gym, “back when it was still in the Bronx,” and that the East Village Boy’s Club was his second home because he grew up orphaned. In addition to his camera, he carries around a crinkled newspaper photo of Queen Elizabeth everywhere he goes.  “See her in this picture? She’s giving me a thumb’s up.” I find wonder in this man-child who carries a crinkled newspaper clip of his fantasy Queen Mother from a New York daily.

  Ours is a tight East Village community in New York made up of multiple tenement buildings. When someone dies, a flier is hung in the vestibule on the cork bulletin board with a black and white photograph, a paragraph about their contributions to the community, and information about the wake. I’ve come home to find fliers blowing beneath a single thumbtack with a photo of Marva, who walked with a cane in the rain to my son’s 4th birthday party before skies cleared and everyone else showed up an hour late. I’ve come home to find Maritsa on a flier, who had chirpy lovebirds and a Puerto Rican flag hanging on her fire escape, and leaned from her window to holler down when she saw us walking by. “He’s gonna be a football playa!” In my bones, I know Shirley is next. When she sits in her beach chair on the sidewalk next to her home healthcare aide, she reaches her shaking hand towards me, looking confused. Her fingernails haven’t been cut in a long time. At least she’s not looking for her dead dog Gizmo anymore, who she took over from Hank after he died, the same Hank who took mint care of his Cadillac so he could drive his wife to and from her cancer treatments in style. Both of their faces were also on fliers. I feel orphaned when the elders on my block die.

In addition to his camera, he carries around a crinkled newspaper photo of Queen Elizabeth everywhere he goes.

  There is something ridiculous about my literary-infused idea of what it means to be an orphan: Ragamuffin dresses, calloused feet, and matchstick girls huddle in the cold, furnished with warmth from scraps of tinder. The most rollicking of them have their own soundtracks. Cue up Oliver Twist and Lil’ Orphan Annie, and their Hollywood posses who swell up in choral waves of support, either with extra spoonfuls of porridge or hard-knock broom and mop dances. There is a wide bridge between the orphans created by Dickens, and by Hollywood, and the reality of earth-bound parental abandonment. There’s a primal satisfaction in the fantasy endings when Mr. Brownlow and Daddy Warbucks, respectively, put aside their misgivings to embrace the scrappy but vulnerable children who tumbled into their lives. In these redemptive endings, we can say goodbye to the turned-out child wrangler Fagin, and his literary sister Mrs. Asthma, who ran her orphanage with a cruel streak. There is a distinct and satisfying Before and After with these collective mythologies. Before, there was destitute, abandoned, and empty. After, there was abundance, love, and comfort.

When my husband and I applied for our wedding license in Philadelphia, we were sent to an unassuming room called the Orphan’s Division in an ornate state building downtown. “The word ‘Orphans’ in the name of the Court is derived from the general definition of orphan as one lacking protection,” their website reads, “not the common association of a child deprived by the death of his or her parents.” I’d never considered my future marriage as a thing that would land me in a state of protection, an orphan finding shelter.

Orphan: A Young Animal that Has Lost Its Mother

For three years in a row, the mourning dove on my fire escape has come back to her hard-scrabble nest. She lays two eggs the size of quarters and alternates day and night shifts with her mate until they hatch. The first year they emerged but disappeared.  When I glanced at the landing below I found them tucked into a potted plant, dead. The next year new eggs hatched, and the babies grew from mangy pin feathered creatures to cooing beauties. Within a week, one got stuck in between the slats and died, his neck broken. This spring, one hatched prematurely. Draped in a U-shape over a stick poking from the nest, it was barely the size of my pinky, its downy feathers matted down by rain. Still, its mother sat on the second baby. A few days later mother bird stared into my window. I cracked it open for fresh air, stuck my head out, and offered her a few crumbled Frosted Mini Wheats. Threatened, she raised her left wing in a defensive posture. Sitting in the nest was her other baby, the size of my palm, his beady eyes shining. I closed the window and let them be.

Orphan: A child deprived of one or usually both parents

When I was 24-weeks pregnant I nearly died from the sudden appearance of blood clots that crept from my left foot to my kidneys. An unsuccessful surgery led to a more successful one, and for two weeks I recuperated at the now shuttered St. Vincent’s Hospital in lower Manhattan. Before the surgeries I signed a DNR form and included my unborn son in the waiver. Being a Catholic hospital, an ethics committee came into my room one, two, three, and four times to debate my decision.  

“I want him to come with me if I don’t make it,” I explained, over and over again. I’d heard the risks of babies born at 24 weeks. Undeveloped lungs, cerebral palsy, life-long care. They responded over and over again. “We have a world class NICU. There’s a blue balloon we could put over the fetus’s head to keep him alive in an incubator. If your husband loses you, he could still be a father.” I didn’t want to die, and I also didn’t want to leave my husband with a premature baby with a blue balloon over his head in an incubator. This did not come to pass, but these conversations were stark and unbearable.

Orphan: A first line (as of a paragraph) separated from its related text and appearing at the bottom of a printed page or column

One of my favorite editing tasks is cutting orphans, those pesky one and two-word hangnails that reach beyond their allotted space on the page. Easiest to cut are articles and adverbs, useless adjectives and redundancies. When this is done, the columns align as they are supposed to. There are days when I look around and sense invisible fibers that connect people and birds and balloons and fire escapes and musicals. Eventually they snap, making orphans of us all.

• • •

Breadcrumb #469

ASPEN JUNE

After the ceremony he takes you out on his boat. His grad students are there too, leaning their beautiful bodies against the rails, wetsuits folded down at the waist. Strapping themselves into equipment like they know how to keep themselves alive under a hundred feet of water.

Luckily you are the only person on this boat who can drink this good champagne because you are the only one not planning to increase the pressure inside your body till your blood wants to bubble in its veins.

He handed you his award to hold while he’s diving. It’s just a ceramic disk on a ribbon striped like the flag. You could have bought it at a party store, or at least a good mimic. The edge of the ribbon is making your wrist itchy where you’ve wrapped it.

It’s just a ceramic disk on a ribbon striped like the flag.

You lean your elbows on the railing. It’s just windy enough to pull bits of the dark surface up into foam. You’d never get into it like he does, like his students. They go under like they’ve been fantasizing about that cold wet on their thighs.

The water looks at you like it expects something from you. You are wondering what he’s been giving it when he goes down and kisses its floor. Why does it think it can keep him?

You have to do this thing to get him back and you don’t need anyone to tell you. He’s not the only one who can know secret things about the ocean.

You set the champagne glass down by your feet and unwind the ribbon from your wrist. It falls fast but there is a moment when the ribbon spreads itself out on the water before the disk pulls it under.

But you have saved him, look, there he is, rising from the water, pulling up his mask, laughing.

• • •

Breadcrumb #468

KATE DEVINE

It is a sunlit Saturday in late September, a block party kind of day.

Meg, Ali and I are seventeen, and certain it’s the last autumn we’ll be together in our hometown. We share an understanding that our lives are just about to bloom, we work our asses off to make sure they do.

It is the last year of the flip phone. Barack Obama is newly president. The jeans are low-rise and skin-tight from hip to ankle. Lady Gaga plays on the radio. When my journalism teacher says that Twitter will someday be used in politics, we do not believe him.

In a neighborhood by the river, Mr. and Mrs. So And So’s are scattered across front yards and sidewalks, catching up with one another, wearing blue jeans and flip-flops, holding red plastic plates of potluck, digging into meatballs with white forks. The leaves on the oak trees have not started turning yet, but they will soon. Friends of Meg’s older sister are at the block party, mostly boys with one-syllable names that begin with the letter C. They would share their beers with us, if we wanted. We’ll kiss them on Halloween in Meg’s parents’ pool shed, but not today. Today we’re going to pick apples and bake them into pies.

Meg’s mother’s black Corvette is parked like a hot prize in the driveway. Meg’s navy blue Volvo station wagon sits subtly beside it, and that boxy car is our mobile home. Meg ducks into the driver’s seat, Ali sits shotgun, I take my spot in the back. “The Volv,” is eclectic and cozy, like Meg’s apartment in New York will be a few years from now. She covered the backseat with colorful pillows and knit throws from thrift shops. In the hatch is a guitar to play while parked at the beach. Fahrenheit 451 is tucked in the pocket behind the passenger seat. Candle wax that has melted and hardened in asymmetrical forms sticks to the cup holders.

We’ll kiss them on Halloween in Meg’s parents’ pool shed, but not today. Today we’re going to pick apples and bake them into pies.

Meg drives and Ali navigates to the apple orchard a half hour up the parkway using a GPS named TomTom. I watch the sunlight glowing on blond and brown windblown hair, and pick the songs, all acoustic. Is it typical of me to forgo a task and enjoy languid contemplation in the backseat. We talk about college, what else? We are high-school overachievers who discuss our futures too much, all on the same brand of birth control pills. Now, Meg predicts she won’t like it because her sister is thriving at university, and for some reason, it makes sense to her that one sister will do well while the other does not.

“Someone has to struggle in college so we can tell our children. ‘Auntie Meg had a terrible time in college,’ someone has to say that,” she explains.

“That’s ridiculous,” I nearly shout from the backseat, above the rush of wind. The windows are open all the way. The three of us laugh. What I do not say is that I feel most likely to be the cautionary tale, but my hopes for my friends are high.

*

We reach into the branches on tiptoes, plucking apples from all heights, noticing names painted on little wooden signs. Arkansas Blacks, Jonathans, and Winesaps. We coo “that’s a good one” at every pick, rub the dirt onto our shirts, and eat them on the spot, hidden in a grid of trees, wandering through a golden afternoon. The orchard is vibrant and limitless, and we stay too long. We fill six plastic bags, one for each hand. Weighed down by apples, we sit on the ground in a three-point circle to weed out less attractive picks from the bounty.

Feeling the grass in her fingers, Ali picks a white clover. Its thin stem is curved over at the top. It looks like a question mark.

*

Back at her parents’ house, a colonial with high ceilings and stained glass windows, Meg pops Natalie Merchant’s Tigerlily album into the stereo. We are consuming mostly female folk and alternative rock this autumn. We love listening to songs that our mothers vacuumed the house to when we were little: Bonnie Raitt, Rickie Lee Jones, Natalie Merchant. The opening notes of San Andreas Fault play and we sing-moan along, swaying and bending our knees to the beat. The surround sound echoes off the beige walls.

Meg pours three icy glasses of chardonnay from the big bottle left behind for us in the refrigerator. She opens the red checkered New Cookbook, then gathers bags of flour, salt, sugar, butter, and shortening. Tonight, we will bake a total of eight pies from scratch. Meg starts reading a recipe aloud, apron tied at her waist, hair swept up in a clip picked from a basket on the kitchen counter. Ali and I listen and nod, dangling our legs from high top kitchen stools and sipping our wine, impressions of women it might be nice to become someday.

• • •

Breadcrumb #467

MARA SILVÉRIO

I never was allowed to have a hero
listening to boring teachers in the back of the classroom
returning home and feeling invisible in your eyes
when you were there
I don't remember how many times you were there
I was lost in supplication for love
building plans on canvas and drawing my confusion on paper
hiding my childhood inside of my backpack's pocket
not receiving kisses like the others girls
being the weirdo, but pretending I didn't know
not having the same, helped me to find my creativity
being alone at home producing, watching the fake snow.

I was the messy kid looking for her first shot of vodka
leaning against the wall at the entrance of the bar
thrilled to feel hungover, trying not to throw up
like the ultimate challenge for a triumphant night
but resisting your hands pressing my tights in the dark
almost like the pictures I saw in the hidden erotic books
screaming beneath the bed when I was not around.

I never was allowed to have a hero
so I created my own
a black woman born as a contemporary goddess
she would struck gently my hair
she would never talk about my color skin
she would say that I'm beautiful
but not untouchable
that I can feel lost
that I can completely fail
that I can explore the difference
enjoying the horny sounds of my body.
My hero would play Isaiah Rashad for me
while I make peace with my daily struggle
Wat’s wrong, wat’s wrong, she says quoting
while pimping my butterfly in orange
smoother like a motherfucker
my hero would buy me popcorn as an eternal kid
but afterwards would sit in front of me listening as a calm adult
without any forbid
without any commitment
without any bid
because that's my advice: don't put me a grid
I can go over
I can fall and hurt
I can heal and punch.

I want a hero who doesn't set me a location
who prays the Lord God while holding my ash
who follows me to the midnight tent - fearing
who chases me inside of the car - starting
who is inside of my fast beating heart - maintaining my anesthesia.

I want a hero who sees the sin even in a saint
praising adventures like a secular faint.

• • •