Breadcrumb #412

ELIZABETH GAUGHAN

It is only after the 4-hour bus ride, and the 45-minute train ride before that, and the 20-minute walk to the train station before that, that you realize you've woken up in a city that is not the destination you were trying to reach. It was an honest mistake, you think, to comfort yourself, as you look at your surroundings. The Greyhound dropped you off in a strip-mall parking lot, and the stores are identical to the ones at the strip mall you were meant to be meeting your ride. But was that the right color trim on those concrete pillars? Was the parking lot supposed to be one big square like this one, or circular, curving toward the entrance where you were meant to wait?

    The dozen other passengers who descended from the bus with you hug their partners, their parents. They use their cell phones to call Ubers, or duck into the fast food restaurant on the corner. You think about getting back on the bus, but you don't know where the bus is headed next, and you don't have a ticket, and before you can consider this option further the driver is back on the bus, the door is yanked shut, the bus is pulling out of the parking lot, it is headed back toward the Interstate, it is gone. Slowly, the other passengers disperse, the cars disappear from the parking lot, and you are alone. Even the stores, with their blinking OPEN signs and mannequins back-lit by florescent lights, seem deserted. You imagine the sales associates hiding behind the clothing racks, peeking out at you.

Slowly, the other passengers disperse, the cars disappear from the parking lot, and you are alone.

    There is no curve to this parking lot, but you go and wait at the entrance anyway. You look around for any distinct landmarks, but all you can see, no matter how far you squint, is flat roads with cars driving fast, and stubby, square buildings no more than three stories tall. The sky is overcast. It is that miserable non-weather, chilly and humid at the same time. Your hairline is wet with sweat; wild bits of hair stick to your forehead, the back of your neck. Your skin feels oily and slick. Under your wool coat, your bones feel ice-cold; the coat is too hot for this weather, but tomorrow it is supposed to be colder, and the coat wouldn't fit in your suitcase. You shift your backpack on your sore shoulders, switch your rolling suitcase from one hand to the other. Even with no one in sight, you hold your possessions close to you. You think of sitting on the curb, but your ride could come at any minute.

    Maybe you had boarded the wrong bus because you went to the wrong pickup spot.

    The names of two intersecting streets had been printed onto the ticket. You expected there to be a bus stop, a sign, a line when you got there. But the intersection looked like any other intersection, cars blurring past in all directions, no clear place to wait. You asked someone standing nearby, a tall man in a suit, face shadowed by the brim of a fedora, but he only grunted in reply. So you waited, and then the bus came only a few minutes after the scheduled time, and you boarded.

    Or maybe you got the date wrong.

    Maybe your ticket was meant for the day before, or the day after. The driver had barely glanced at it when he collected it from you. It's possible he saw the destination but not the date. And by then you were curled up in the padded blue seat.

    Had the bus driver said something before taking off?

    You think he must have, but you were so tired from waking up early that morning that as soon as you slid into that coveted window seat, you pulled your backpack into your lap, looped your arms through the straps, and closed your eyes. You, who always triple-checks your ticket, your calendar. Arrives at the bus stop early. Asks someone standing nearby if you are in the right place.

    You must have known you were headed in the wrong direction during those first thirty minutes on the bus.

    But after pulling away from that intersection and winding through the busiest parts of the city, the bus had entered a tunnel that seemed to take several minutes to pass through. You knew, because even though your eyes were shut, the bus was drowned in a darkness that seeped through your closed lids. When it finally exited the tunnel, and the sudden brightness forced your eyes open, the flat grassy planes outside the dirty window where you rested your head could have been anywhere.

    You notice that the sidewalk running along the storefronts also runs down the side of the mall. Maybe there is another parking lot around back? You start to follow it only as far as you dare; you don't want to lose sight of the main parking lot. But the sidewalk ends a little way down, concrete disappearing under weeds and brown grass. Behind the mall: only dumpsters and a fence backing a busy road. You return to your original post. Above the sheet of grey clouds, the sky appears to darken. It's hard to tell for sure. You hold your rolling suitcase closer.

    One time, years ago, when you were barely a teenager, you babysat a little boy as a favor to a co-worker of your mother’s. As you sat together on the living room carpet building LEGOs, he asked, "Who are you?"

    "I'm the babysitter," you said.

    "Babysitter?"

    "Yeah, I'm here to babysit you today."

    That was when he frowned. Then a smile crept across his face.

    "But I'm not the boy you're supposed to babysit."

    "You're not? You look just like him."

    The boy shook his head.

    "You're the same age as him. This is his house."

    "No it's not. This is a different house. I'm a different boy."

    "Oh yeah? Then who are you supposed to be?"

    But the boy only smiled wider.

• • •

Breadcrumb #411

GABRIELLA IBACACHE

 

***

It was a ritual, burning what was done to me. I watched the flames eat the lace elastic, melting it so it fell in drops and splattered the concrete, molten black drops of tar. That fire burned my rage, my guilt, my grief, my shame, my regret. It made my blood alive, awakened it from a brownish-red stain to a boiling, bubbling black oil. Fiery oil that coated my lungs and eyes and insides. My blood frothed and seethed, in the veins beneath my skin and the veins of the cheap synthetic lace. It consumed the fabric like a lizard, snapping up toward my face, then curling in on itself, fusing to the pavement, and hardening into black twisted spikes of disfigured material. I breathed in that acrid smoke, a smell I’d been previously unfamiliar with. It’s on my fingers and face and sleeves now, and I want it to stay there. I want that smell to provoke people to ask me why – I want them to know that I burned him. Burned his fingers and his nails. Burned what he did not ask, burned him because he did not stop.

***

I’ve always had a fascination with fire. When I was young, my father would take us camping. My brothers and I would collect dry wood to pile and set alight. I would sit and stare into the fire for hours, until the ash stung my eyes and they started to water. I created cities within the burning logs. I imagined the tiny people who lived among the embers, building their homes in the smoldering sticks. When one would snap off and fall into the ashes below, sending sparks into the air, they would integrate it into the city’s architecture. The hotter the fire grew, the more they thrived. I wanted to join them.

***

I watched that fire until the flames had nothing left to consume and extinguished themselves. I rubbed the remains into the concrete with the sole of my boot. Then I stood up, lit a joint, and breathed in a different kind of smoke. I walked away, back to the city I’d be leaving soon, the city that had once felt very safe. No one would know what had happened here.

• • •

 

Breadcrumb #410

JARED BENJAMIN

300 years later I returned to the tower, a wasteland of stone mason rubble where my memories of grandeur were reduced to the fragments of aimless battles. I stumble through the wreckage like a blind nomad, cursed to live through the destruction, my petty desires helped bring about. Traversing through this terrain where sonnets morphed into elegies. Where the death of two star-crossed lovers festered and rotted the land, the people.

The ghosts of old, rose from the dried peat, like an army of Jacob Marleys whose only goal was to make sure my final years were spent in the splintered clutches of karma. Before my mind becomes another grave for this tainted kingdom, I grabbed a chalice, and poured a flask, shouting cheers to the spoiled fruits of my own unwelcomed labor.

As I sat in the misery of my own making. Staring back at a scenery of fallen castle walls, shattered draw bridge lumber, fossilized vegetation, all just the aftermath of one’s own selfish, pursuits.

• • •

Breadcrumb #409

ANDREW KUHN

After we learned the hard way
to quieten ourselves upon the earth
the Meadowlands became at last a meadow.

Vines claimed the stadium,
a shaggy beast stooping to graze on
volunteer trees—honey locust,
white birch, profligate maple.  

Decades after the storage tanks burst,
poisons dispersed and absorbed long since,
it is only the trees and the long sifting grass,
leaking their colors at dusk.

• • •

Breadcrumb #408

DR. JACK BEDELL

Feel her floating underneath the water’s surface,
moving slowly enough to lift a boat
with her swell but leave no wake.

She pulls scales from her hips, frees them
to float in the water like manta rays.
She drags her huge feet through wreckage

strewn along the gulf bed, has no fear
of lightning, no need for the moon
to pull her toward pain. She could

eat a thousand men and not sit still,
her hunger flowing like wave.

• • •