Breadcrumb #504

ELIZABETH SIDELL

Yellow connects to blue. My forefinger and thumb slide the two colors together and create a green seal across the Ziploc bag.

Yellow and blue make green.

I know the bag is closed.

I will suffocate her with a Ziploc bag if she does not die naturally but continues wheezing out her sound like that of a balloon letting out air through a very tiny hole. I read about this in a random article years ago. A couple’s dog was fatally hurt while they were camping. It was in so much pain. They would never make it to a doctor in time.

That's option one. The most humane act for my cat. Her consciousness is more in dream. She wouldn’t know. She is suffering too much.

Option two: Shoot her. Quick and painless, but-- my daughter is playing with Rainbow, her favorite My Little Pony, in her room with an open door. How would I explain mommy shooting kitty, why we have a gun? I would explain the action’s humanity. But, “Mommy, what is humane?” Here humane is synonymous with a violent act. Jocelyn’s father didn’t believe in guns. No argument, just, “Joan, I don’t believe in them.” Joan said in the same tone as when speaking to our daughter.

If he were an animal he would be an amoeba, something without vertebrae.

When Jocelyn was two years old she couldn’t pronounce “W” and Wendy the cat became Dee Dee the kitty. After studying for the LSAT I would sit on my back porch smoking my one allotted cigarette. For five days Dee Dee had been sitting at the bottom of the stairs as if waiting for me. On a particularly lonely night, I walked down the steps and picked her up as if I did that every night as if she were already mine. She was light enough for me to carry in one hand. Dirt had turned her white fur ashy and her left ear had a small tear at the top corner as if she had been wearing an earring and someone got mad and tore it out. I fell in love.

I don’t believe in love at first sight. With Al, it was mutual loneliness, a psychological decision. I would learn to love. Loving Dee Dee was not a decision but a surprising inner need to protect and take care of. This is called love.

Dee Dee’s head lays forward between her two paws as if contemplating and every few minutes her head arches back as though struck by profundity. She inhales one-two-three breaths through her dime size white nose and her head falls, weighted with the knowledge she found from above.

We aren’t ready.

A tiny earthquake of breath converges the orange and white striped fur like laced fingers and I think she has stopped breathing. I can throw away the bag. Her body shudders and she exhales and I exhale and we sit together in silence. Death drools from her mouth and mounts itself on her left paw. Drool is a sign of nausea. Signs of sickness and dying are: not eating or drinking, hiding in corners of rooms -- in Jocelyn’s closet between the polar bear stuffed animal and a unicorn, anywhere that is away from me. This is called distancing. A human distances herself to make it easier to let go. She is protecting me. I know she is dying, I feel its devastation.

My vision oscillates around the room tallying what is hers: grey felt mouse dirty from my broom rather than play, scratching pad drowning in fur while torn cardboard pieces lay soundless on my ivory carpet. I need to know she existed after her body becomes ash. I will not manically throw her memory into the dumpster as I did with my ex-husband or my first feelings for my daughter.

I need to know she existed after her body becomes ash.

“Is it time, my love? Are we dying?” I lay my chin next to her face and her fur is soft like Jocelyn’s skin, and her breath smells old, kind of rotten and determined.

I twist the plastic bag in my hands as if to twist out an answer. “You must tell me if you can wait until morning. A needle will be much better than a bag” I don’t know. I press my lips to the back of her head. My blonde hair drapes her back. Silver highlights fade the blonde just as mortality fades her eyes.

I whisper, I know we are dying. Her breath comes out heavy.

Still, I need to be told. A flaw of mine. My fatal flaw if someone were to play a character of me.

“You’re mad at me because I should have told you. You should have known, Joan. You’re in this marriage, too.” Al said this as he finished packing up his clothes to move into his friend’s place on the north side of the city. He hadn’t been home in days and when he returned I was working on the computer adding numbers or something.

“What happened to you?” I said this as if he were only late for dinner or from picking up Jocelyn from daycare. Disbelief pulled his shoulders and arms down and he spoke to the floor, “Didn’t you know we were breaking up?” I knew but I had to be told. Some things you have to be told.

“The love for one’s child erupts from the mother’s heart because the child is hers and she knows she loves her without being told.” When Loving is not Second Nature: A book on Postpartum Depression, what you are not told.

My love for my daughter was not as quick as it was for the cat.

I was nervous. I couldn’t latch on to my daughter as she did to my breast. I thought I was unique. Maybe I was a cat person. I imagined her drowning or choking on a small piece of plastic and in that imaginary situation I could not evoke a need to protect. I prayed for my breasts to stop lactating, I didn’t want her so close. When my Al handed her over to me in the hospital I wanted to give her back. No one writes in On Parenting how some mothers initially don’t feel love or that the anxiety over wanting to hurt her baby has a name. She learns this condition’s proper name from a magazine article: Postpartum Depression. “It is real. A mother will learn to love her baby.” When I read this article it was too late. I had reached the liking stage.

If Jocelyn were an animal she would be a sugar glider. Sugar gliders desire closeness and bond easily.

Jocelyn’s hair has darkened from blonde to strawberry blonde like mine used to be. She is in the lowest percentile for height and her legs are thick but strong. When she is thinking she bites her bottom lip and peers through me as if I am glass. She is like me. I feel love in that.

Dee Dee pushes her head into my hand as I stroke her nose. Languidly she pulls away, lays her head between her paws, a new familiar behavior. Grief cramps itself in my stomach; it is the same pain felt while giving birth.

Dee Dee’s sounds have been overtaken by death’s quiet and my cries hush as I wait for her first words, we are dying. Let’s wait together until morning. Put away the bag.

Jocelyn asks the disorienting questions children do- why? They expect us to have answers. I don’t have a list of answers. After a thousand or so whys the answer becomes because: Because I don’t have the answer. Because, I don’t understand the question. Because -- the answer hasn’t been updated in my parent handbook! Because, I’m tired of why.

“Why am I afraid of spiders?” Her question last night in response to Dee Dee’s going away. Going away a euphemism for dying.

“Do you want to say anything to her?”

She was in the bathtub. I think she has grown because her feet nearly touched the end of the tub. Her little ponies’ faux pink and turquoise manes soaked under the water. Jocelyn washed the shampoo out of their manes instead of looking at me as she would when asking a question. Eventually, their hair will fall out and she will lose interest.

“I stepped on it outside. It was moving and then it stopped.”

She wasn’t asking why she was afraid of a spider but why she killed it. Before I could think of a new because she was grabbing hold of my arm and stepping out of the tub. Already she had forgotten the question.

Jocelyn has joined me on the floor and mimics my lotus position. Her hands are veiled in blue paint and her fingers are a powdery deep yellow as if they had been playing with pollen. Earlier in pre-school Ms. Delir had them finger paint. Ms. Delir is too young to understand this activity was a bad idea. Later, I will have to convince Jocelyn to wash off the paint as she cries, “It’s my art, mommy! It’s mine.”

Jocelyn touches Dee Dee’s head gently, as though touching a butterfly, leaving yellow dust. Dee Dee with her tabby stripes and yellowed forehead is being prepared for death.

“Why do you have a bag?” Jocelyn reaches to pull its corner out of my fingers. I slap her hand. She is confused. Tears fill her eyes. She blinks them away because she knows by the seriousness of my gaze and my grip on the bag, and Dee Dee’s unfamiliar wheezing, to be a big girl. I pick up her hand and my own closes entirely around it as if she never had a hand. I kiss her fingers as my tears fill in the spaces between our skin.

“I’m sorry, momma.” She whispers. I know she understands. I know because she is not crying. She is brave for me, protecting me. I feel my heart swell, as it is described in books, and I know I love her more than I ever have before.

Dee Dee is not responding to Jocelyn’s touch--rolling onto her back, her head tucked in, belly outstretched to be pet. Dee Dee will be leaving in the morning and Jocelyn will be spared death. Tomorrow night I will find the bill from the vet stating the patient as Dee Dee, a shorthaired tabby, eleven years old. I will use the blue star magnet Jocelyn bought me on a trip with her father to hold up the receipt on the refrigerator.

If I were an animal I would be a feline cloaked in long fur like a ragdoll. Fur being safer than bare skin. I would like to be a cat and know what she is thinking.

Dee Dee arches her head back, one-two-three quick gasps. I have tucked the bag under the couch cushion. Her neck lowers and her eyes close and she rests her chin in the space between her crossed front paws. It is midnight. Jocelyn lays her head in my lap. The three of us will wait until morning.


Breadcrumb #503

CINDY TRAN

I stepped into the lamp-flooded night to watch my dad smoke
and stood in the driveway, in the long middle of his shadow.

It was spring. A smaller shadow hopped. I ran after it,
laughing, a bunny, a bunny! I ran back to my dad

and asked him to help me catch it. He went
inside and came back out with a cardboard box,

oily from bobbins, throat plates, and stop latches.
Together, we ran down our street, chasing a
long-eared

shadow, lit by living room lights. I looked inside the box and the
bunny looked at me. What should we name her?

伊是兔. It doesn’t need a name. I named her Bunny
Rabbit, thinking I was clever like my dad, who once
said

he named me 美華, true, familiar, and foreign to him. At
home, the lights were off. And in bed, I heard the night

bite into a cigarette at the stove. I heard Bunny Rabbit
scratch the cardboard as if to dig down—I turned to my side

and hoped for a different name. Six months later, she
died, but I didn’t know why or how except that its teeth

grew so long, it looked like a baby brown
walrus sleeping on its side. When I told my dad
the 兔

had died, he shrugged and stamped out his
cigarette by my mom’s rose bushes.

• • • • • •


Breadcrumb #502

JERRY DRAKE

Teddy always found interesting things in the trash. He'd found Christmas presents for his kids; they'd grown up and moved to other cities. He'd furnished much of the family home with the things he'd found. Just a little spit and polish and they were good as new. He'd even once found a diamond ring that he had resized and gifted to his wife. She was gone, too, and living with a new man in Florida.

    Teddy was a collector. Of all the joys in his life, it was collecting that gave him the most pleasure. He built every day around it – finding things in the trash.

    Teddy lived alone now, in a little apartment, but he still picked up wonderful treasures from the trash; they covered every wall and surface of his home. He was a fixture in town around the campus and had been for forty years, running his little garbage removal business, hauling off bulk items on contract. He was good at making extra money from the trash too, picking up gently used things, finding valuable things, and reselling it all.  

    It was a big oak bookcase he was wrangling into his truck, from behind a student housing complex, when he knocked over an overstuffed bag of household trash. It spilled everywhere. Beer cans, booze bottles, coat hangers, and the remains of what seemed to have been a substantial birthday cake burst out of the bag, spilling all over the alley. Resting in the middle of the spread of refuse was a human finger.

    Teddy stopped tugging on the bookcase and looked down at the finger. It was long and thin, with a perfectly manicured nail, painted pink. It was a girl's finger. At first, Teddy thought it was some kind of prank finger or party favor. He stared at it for a long time before picking it up. He immediately dropped it again, realizing that it had, indeed, once been a part of a living person.

    Teddy looked from side to side and up and down the alley; he quickly kicked open all the bags of trash searching for the rest of the body. All his life Teddy had heard about garbage men and junkers finding bodies in the trash but he'd never come across one. Nope. It was just the finger. How did it get there? Was the owner dead? Had they just lost the finger? Cut it off? Accident?

    He started to breathe heavily and the alley around him began to spin.

    Teddy took out his handkerchief and wrapped up the finger, slipping it into the front pocket of his overalls. He finished loading the bookcase and pulled his truck out of the alley, casually, so as not to draw attention to himself. He was planning to take the finger to the police, initially, but he didn't. He took it back to his apartment. He rummaged around in his kitchen cabinets and found a small Mason jar and, gently removing the finger from his pocket, slipped it into the container. He then took some white vinegar out of the cupboard and topped off the jar, allowing no space for air. He ground the lid on tightly and held the jar up to the light.

He rummaged around in his kitchen cabinets and found a small Mason jar and, gently removing the finger from his pocket, slipped it into the container.

    There was the finger, suspended in the jar, long and thin with its perfect pink nail. Teddy decided he would take it to the police tomorrow, but for tonight he would add it to his collection of treasures. He placed the lost digit on a little curio shelf, itself pulled from the trash many years ago, near his TV where he could see it from his armchair. He got a beer, sat back and looked up at the thing wondering who it had belonged to. He tried to imagine the girl in his mind.

    He thought she might have red hair and green eyes and he wanted her to be named Susan. He tried to form the image of Susan in his mind, but it didn't come. Instead a singular image appeared in his mind's eye: tall and thin, pale skin, black hair, and deep blue eyes. She wore a yellow dress and she seemed to whisper a name toward him: Addie. Teddy didn't want Addie, he wanted his Susan back but the image wouldn't reform for him. The finger belonged to Addie and she was here to stay.

    Teddy never did take that finger to the police.

    It was on the third day after he found it that the dreams began; the dreams about Addie, with her pale skin, blue eyes, and that incongruous yellow dress. She whispered to him in a husky voice. Teddy. Teddy. Give it to me. Teddy. Teddy. I want it back.

    On the tenth day after Teddy found the finger, he began seeing Addie while awake. He was driving along in his old truck when he saw a flash of yellow behind a big mailbox. Then the next day the back of a girl with a yellow dress and raven hair stepping into a bodega shop. Then on the day after that, he saw her staring out at him from under the awning of an old dormitory, her eyes locking with his. She didn't smile and he heard her voice in his head. Teddy. Teddy. Give it to me. Teddy. Teddy. I want it back.

    He wasn't scared or panicked in any way. He just accepted that Addie had been real all along and somehow she had projected herself into his mind. He was seeing her every day, now, sometimes twice a day, all along his route. She even stopped in front of his truck while crossing the street, whispering again and again into his mind. Teddy. Teddy. Give it back.

    On the twenty-fifth day after finding the finger, Teddy was sitting in his armchair, alone, drinking his fourth can of beer and watching a baseball game. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of yellow on the fire escape. He leapt up and ran over to shut the window. He slammed it and locked it closed. But it was too late. Addie was already inside. She was standing in front of the old curio cabinet looking up at the finger, smiling.

    This time she spoke with her actual voice. Teddy. Teddy. Give it to me. It's mine.

    "Take it! Take it!" Teddy screamed. "Just for god's sake leave me alone!"

    Addie held out her hands and smiled at Teddy. She had all ten of her fingers; five on each hand, with short cut nails, painted yellow. The finger that Teddy had found did not come from Addie's hand. Addie laughed as confusion fell across Teddy's face. She grabbed the jar containing the finger from the curio and dashed out of Teddy's front door, slamming it behind her.

    Teddy ran to the door and shot the old Yale lock and drew the chain. She was gone. Addie had taken the finger and left him alone. Teddy ran his own fingers through his hair and suddenly realized something was wrong. He looked down at his hands to reveal that he now had only nine fingers.

    It turns out, Addie was a collector.

• • •

Breadcrumb #501

EMMA FURMAN

Lickety-split, I was benighted. Sore-
throated, shriveled seeds spilling out
of my wound, red as pomegranate,
as many in number. I was a sliver
of silver shot into a passing duck,
then falling and fished out between still 
beating wings. I was caught in a truck
and corralled by a clown, blind bucking
until the crowd went off, roaring.
I was under the heel, blown out
of the boot bottom. I was a willing gear,
teeth fit superbly into the tines.
I was not a sheep, but future shank.
I was watching through the bars,
looking in at someone else. I’m not the visiting
caroler, singing outside, but the dog of the house
trembling and whining. What am I now?
I'm calling home. In fact, I am the phone.

• • •

Breadcrumb #500

BRONTE BILLINGS

She looked up inside the skull,
light seeping through thin brown
marrow making umber veins
that reminded her of the back
of her mother’s knees.

Australopithecus, her little hands
plastered to the glass. Knuckles
knocked to smudge display cases, her
father chewed the syllables for her, uh-fah-ren-sis.
Say it with me.

He lifted her slight body
limbs locked around his neck.
You almost did it. He wasn’t
a liar, not like most
giants. He used big words

drew out the letters in
her soup. Each meal a different
word: Inguinal, Umbilicus, Iliac. She listened
to his voice drone, spoon spinning
words away.

Next, look here. We look
outside the bones
. Anticipation
shook her, shrunken figures reaching
out with brown muffed hands.
It was nothing like her mother.

He took her to the bodies, displayed
figures marked Orrorin tugenensis,
Ardipithecus ramidus, Paranthropus robustus,

fabricated skin and carpet hair, she touched
her forehead to the top of their skull.

So much hair, she tangled her fists
in brown patches. It wasn’t
all there, clay flashes of
flesh, she pinched her own
pinkness looking for a match.

We don’t have it all anymore, hands
deep in her curls, funny how it’s knots
on our head
. She knew the other places. Secreted
parts of herself she knew not to
touch. Some names she memorized

myometrium, exocervix, ectopic—this
looked nothing like her pictures.
There was his wide gap grinning we all
come from somewhere. But it wasn’t here,
but he wasn’t a liar, but her mother’s knees,

her mother’s velveted skin, her
mother’s fat curls, her mother’s
hot breath, her mother’s skull
he promised it’d be like
her mother’s face.

But it wasn’t. Australopithecus,
small and furry and brown
and not like her mother, not
like any mother. She pulled
his sleeve.

I want to go home.

• • •