Breadcrumb #414


Subject: Additional W2s and an apology
Date: 05/01/2914  19:01

Dear Phineas,

As requested, attached please find the additional 1099 forms from my freelance work in Xenon Colony.

I also just wanted to apologize for staring so long at you and sobbing a bit like that during our meeting last week. It’s just that when you looked up from my amended earnings form, I suddenly felt a swirling spiral of lifetimes spill between us and it sort of took my breath away in one of those existentially-acute, time-stood-still-moments sort of ways. It was almost as though your eyes reached in and lifted some lost and dormant piece of me. I was quite taken aback.

I really value you as an accountant and don’t want to make you feel awkward or uncomfortable, but I just need to ask whether you experienced anything like that as well?

Thank you, and again, please let me know if you require any additional documentation.

Best wishes,

Caliope Finkelbottom


Subject: Re: Additional W2s and an apology
Date: 05/04/2914  09:31

Dear Ms. Finklebottom,

Thank you for providing the forms as requested. We will also need you to supply a 1099 for any dividends earned from your stocks in Graviton Industries.

Regarding the other matter, I have no recollection of the event to which you are referring.

Given my increased responsibilities with our Outer Galaxies office, I regret to inform you that I will no longer be handling your returns. My robotic assistant Ivan will be assuming my Earthly cases and can answer any questions regarding your return should you require any additional assistance going forward.


Phineas Woodworth, CPA

• • •


Breadcrumb #412


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.


    "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




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 #398


On the first morning in Budapest, I awoke on the top bunk in an empty hostel room. The ceiling was inches from my face. To my left, an open window where the hard rain pecked the glass like rice. At a long wooden communal table I was drinking tea. It was probably early, though the ever-present clouds made it feel timeless.

    Across from me was a man. The man was named Bill. An American, an old hippy, long faded blonde hair gathered into a ponytail. Wore a shirt from a California restaurant with a slice of pizza and the words, “Pizza My Heart”. He was thin and tall, spoke slow but energetically. We talked about a few things before we got down to what he called “the great tragedy of his life.”

    As a boy, in the summer, his family would go to a house by the lake. Somewhere West Coast. Sometime in the 60’s. From the long wooden dock he watched his brother drown, a twisted body in the open water. No boats. Nobody else around. He called for help and help didn’t come.

From the long wooden dock he watched his brother drown, a twisted body in the open water.

     I felt this loss personally, although I couldn’t tell you why. I had never met this boy. And if he had lived, he would be an old man now and I still would have never met the boy.

    Back then I was still too young to have a tragedy like that to share with Bill. But I did have something to offer. I told him the story of myself in all its brevity. Then, I got up to get ready for the day. Even in the rain, I thought I’d cross the bridge to the old city, climb the castle in the damp and mist and moss to the aerial view of the parliament building.

    When I was on my out Bill was still at the table, unmoved since I left him, as far as I could tell. He said that if I were a real writer, I would write my story down. Some days I think I might actually do it.

• • •

Breadcrumb #392


Pull impatiently on your father’s hand.

    Wait for the crossing light, your mother will say.

    Try to be good. Fidget. Watch the red and brown leaves swirl; listen to them crunch under your new boots-a-half-size-too-big. Feel the cold on your cheeks and nose; feel the warmth inside your knit mittens and knit tights.

    I hope it doesn’t rain, your mother will say.

    I don’t like the look of those clouds, your father will say.

    The light will turn green.

    Skip when you cross the intersection. Wave at the police officer with the whistle and yellow vest. Phtweeee! his whistle will shriek. There will be many families all smushed together on the other side. You will see other children running and laughing and drinking hot chocolate. Ask your father—pretty please—for a hot chocolate. He will grumble about the price, but he will buy it. It will be watery and hot and so sweet sweet sweet. Hold with both hands, careful.

    You will hear the music first. Dart forward, around the knees and hips, and under the bags of the strangers. Do not hear your mother shout. Press your quivering body to the barricade.

    The turkey will be thirty feet tall and riding a truck. It will have two small pilgrims on its back. A woman holding a pumpkin will hand you a red balloon. Another woman will give the boy next to you chewing gum.

    Wish you had been given chewing gum instead.

    Look up. Beautiful giants will swim across the sky, lead by long strings. Charlie Brown. Babar. Kermit. Shriek with delight. Clap.

    Santa fifty-feet-long will loom over you. His shadow will stretch half the block. Santa six-feet-tall will follow on the street with his sleigh and his reindeer and his Mrs. Santa. Wave at him until your elbow hurts.

His shadow will stretch half the block.

    Time to go now kiddo, your mother will say.

    That’s the end of the parade, she will say.

    Ask to say just five minutes more—But look there are more balloons! Please just to see those? Point down the street. There will be a host of shining white figures floating uptown.

    A new part of the parade maybe, your father will say.

    I didn’t see anything about it in the paper, your mother will say.

    The shining white figures will come closer. Watch them. When they reach your block you will see that the figures are children. They will swoop and twirl and play. Shriek with delight. Clap.

    There’s no strings, your mother will say. Her hand will be on your shoulder.

    Where are the people controlling them, your father will say.

    A shining white girl about your size and age will pass overhead. She will be dressed in old fashioned clothes like the costumes you have for your doll.

    Wave at her. She will wave back.

    Smile at her. She will smile back.

    Hold out your arm and open your mittened hand. Watch your red balloon float up up up to the shining white girl. Watch it pass through the space of her chest and keep floating towards the blackened clouds.

    The screaming will start further up the block. Your father will lift you to his chest. He will try to push through the crowd but it will be too thick.

    Hurry, your mother will say. Her hand will hover over your head.

    Above you the shining white girl will burst. In a spray. Of blood.

    More inverted pops—like gum sucked in through your teeth—will sound up and down the street.

    Shriek with delight.

• • •