Breadcrumb #524

CAT MULROONEY

Death. The body in its most natural state. The end of wanting. The quieting of the heart and its infinite cravings. Give me. Touch me. Love me back. See me. The body elegance of all that is gone. Exposed. Bones holding moonlight. Bones holding marrow like thin hives. Honeybees take sustenance here. Now, let me be hollow. Essential. Self. Death as downstream. In death, my body owes nothing. 

In love, it asks everything.

When a kiss opens up in the mouth. A kiss you’ve waited for and wanted your whole life. Mouth widens yes. Take it all in. The body would welcome death like a kiss.

But then there’s this. 

Then there’s her. 

Insecure about her square jaw. Her thick knuckles. Her body solid as a stone. Something I could lean on. Something that could bear my weight. Singing her body into mine.

Rhythmic. Percussive. Magic. 

I get off with just her breath on my neck. I get off on just the taste of her kiss. Tangled in her bedsheets. Her pelvis pressed to mine. Bone on bone. I lick the pale white peach fuzz on her jaw and taste metal. I hold her close afterwards because it always makes her cry.

The release.

The goodness.

The way girls like us don’t know what to do with that much tenderness.

Kindness makes us crazy. 

Love fucks us up.

I could touch a boy and never feel a thing. Embarrassed by their desperate bodies. 

It is different with her.

She measures the weight of my breast in her hand and calls it beautiful. She licks a river down my spine and makes me feel the currents. Water racing to the only logical destination. Yes. She presses into me and it is nothing but honeyspill to her wrist. Her touch of yes. Of sweetness. Of now. 

Water racing to the only logical destination.

Also, our words. The throb and hum of vocal cords. Before. Talk like breath. Talk like air. Empty and possible. Memories of no pain. Memories of not feeling like broken glass. I breathe her words in.

But calamity always comes to the sickhearted. 

Sicklehearted. 

Love erodes my heart from a fist to a thin fingernail moon. Obliteration. Shadow black. Nearly new. I am a horrific creature. I forget my name and hers. I forget thin fingernail moons left on my skin. Hands contracting around my shoulders. Tattooed scab reminders. Someone touched me long enough to leave a mark once.

Our vigil at the river. Waiting for shooting stars. We swallow ecstasy like candy. Bourbon chasers. Beer cherry red. Blood red. Her mouth red.

I am so naked I take my skin off again. Shed it like a birch tree and lay it down in the black sand dirt of the riverbank. Just a body dancing. Splashing. Water cold and cleansing everything. John the Baptist. Reborn. Holier than Jesus.

Women in the water. Riverstones in my mouth. I suck them clean. Birth them back from between my lips smooth and round as vowels. Silent as prayers and the still pools we swim in.

Blood songs. Blood swimmers. Her bonewhite skin painted with mud. Swirls around her belly. Serpentine coils around her throat. Long mudraked arrows on her thighs. I read her holy sigils. Mysteries. Litanies. Her thighs part in indigo water.

The meteor shower never comes.

Or that’s what we tell ourselves, too busy charting the planetary pull of the other. When she sinks, her hair fans out around her. 

Water so dark I can’t see her.

School of fish. 

Someday I will forget this.

Maybe I already forget this.

She grows gills beneath her sharp jaw. She stays under so long she’s no longer human. I want to call her back to the rocks with me. Come back to me. But, instead, I swallow one smooth stone so I will remember. Her scales flash silver in black water.

I swallow the moment down. 

Swallow her down.

Come back.

We aren’t trying to die. But aren’t avoiding it either. 

There is nothing else anyone can do that will hurt me. 

Nothing left to destroy. 

She is part girl, part fish.

I am part girl, part dead thing.

Two girls high at the river.  

The stone lodges in my belly. Unmovable. Like my heart. 

She doesn’t come back. At least not to me. She suddenly knows about breathing underwater.

• • •

Breadcrumb #413

RACHEL LYON

Jim has been away from this neck of the river a good while. Back in the day he used to come all the time with Chapa. Chapa had wheels; he’d salvaged a beat-up old Chevy from the impound and spent a summer fixing it up. Half the passenger’s side door was rusted through and the Check Engine light wouldn’t turn off and there was just an empty socket where the E brake should have been, but it was effective. Saturday mornings he’d swing by Jim’s dad’s and lean on the horn until Jim ran outside, and they’d drive like the Mad Boys they were to the bend in the highway where the fence dropped off. You had to park on the shoulder and sort of skid down the sandy incline through the trees, and half the time Jim would come home with bramble scrapes all over his shins, but down here in the gully the river was icy clean, the narrow sky bright blue, the trout fat splashing silver, down here in the gully he and Chapa could dose in peace. If you timed it right, and took enough, and maybe wore the 3D glasses Chapa pinched from the drive-in off USX, by the time you were peaking the noontime sun would just have tipped over the edge of the ravine, flooding every shadow and dazzling the rapids. Chapa would whoop and jump from the bank and tear off his shirt and throw off his shoes and chase the sparkles that floated up off the river, gobbling each one up in turn—beautiful, thrashing wet—Look at me! I’m PacMan, man! I’m eating the sun!

    Today is a mild day at the tail end of winter, sixteen years since. Jim was supposed to have been in the air right now, en route to Florida from the Boston consulting firm where he just made Junior VP of Client Acquisition, to hang out at Spring Training with half a dozen of his most valued clients. But this year he’s postponed the trip a few days to come home. The occasion: yet another funeral. Two weeks ago Chapa’s old girlfriend Amber OD’d. OxyContin. The second in her nuclear family, the twelfth in his high school—that he knows of. Jim heard the news from his stepmom, who heard it from Chapa’s mom, Win. He never knew Amber too well but when he thinks of her the moments he remembers feel good and sad and real. How Chapa pined for her in ninth grade math class. How she once showed up at Jim’s dad’s in tears because she thought Chapa’d gone missing. Her mascara stain never came out of his Grizzlies jersey. How one velvet night they skinny-dipped, all of them—Jim, Chapa, Amber, and that other girl, what’s her name—and the girls slept sweet and quiet under a furniture pad in the bed of the Chevy while Jim and Chapa shared their last cigarette and made big plans in the cracking dawn. How just a year and a half ago, when Jim ran into her in the Hannaford’s near his dad’s, Amber dropped two shrink-wrapped chicken breasts in surprise, and laughed. How, when he invited her out for a beer, she confessed she was ten weeks sober.

    She didn’t say anything about Chapa then, and he hadn’t wanted to ask. The truth is Jim came down for the funeral not for her sake—if he came for every funeral he’d be here every month, pretty much—but because he thought that for this one Chapa might come too. But Chapa was not among the mourners at the church today. He was not at the wake at Amber’s sister’s. And he is not down here in the gully now. Jim sits, disregarding his nice black pants, and takes off his ill-conceived dress shoes. He regrets wearing them. They pinch his heels, and he looked like a tool at the wake. Amber’s sister was wearing jeans, for God’s sake. When he offered his condolences she looked at him like a stranger. The sandy red soil is so cold it numbs his toes, but it is a relief to let his bare feet come in contact again with this earth he knows so well. He tosses a pebble and watches it disappear into the river’s sputtering folds. What kind of asshole has he become?

    He could have tried harder to get in touch with Chapa, but he left this town when cell phones were still luxury items, uncommon, at least among people like them, and anyway the truth is he’s been shy. He isn’t ashamed of how his life has turned out—he makes good money, has a bright young kid and a smart, no-bullshit wife—but whenever he’s thought of reconnecting with Chapa, when he’s thought of Chapa at all—Chapa with his shirt off, lithe brown body splashing; Chapa yelping, eating the sun—he’s felt a surge of emotion so electric it’s almost erotic. His eagerness embarrasses him. He has tried to explain this to Denise. But how to describe the Mad Boy who still lives so loudly, so colorfully, in Jim’s memory? How to describe the way one single boy—along with enough acid, most weekends, to kill a small bear—rewove the very fabric of his mind?

    The closest he’s come is a drunken confession one night after a boozy fundraising dinner for their kid’s charter school. A teenaged dance troupe had performed, and a couple of them had actually been really good, elastic joints and muscles like springs, and he’d felt her watching him watching them, felt his own sluggish, Jesus-aged body. On the couch afterward with the lights off, as they dutifully drank their water before bed, he buried his head in Denise’s lap and told her: “I loved him.”

    “Loved whom?” she said. Whom. She was a smart-ass like that, but he knew she knew who he meant. He didn’t reply. She put a hand on his forehead. “I know you did,” she said.

    “He opened my eyes,” Jim told her. “He made me see that the world is in our minds. That time is elastic. That space is infinite. That solid is just liquid, but slower, and that there’s infinite space between every atom, and that color’s just a bunch of vibrations.”

    “Uh-huh.”

    From his vantage point in her lap he could see up her nostrils, those twin tunnels that led all the way to her capable brain. “Listen,” he said. “What do you see when you see color?”

    She looked around the bedroom. “As I recall, these walls are Benjamin Moore Canyon Light. In the Pier 1 catalog the couch, I think, was called Sorrel. The curtains in the downstairs bathroom were, oh my god, Lady Slipper.” She made an amused sound through her nose.

    “I don’t mean paint.” He struggled up. “I don’t mean fabric swatches.” He pointed at the lamp in the corner, a cheap Ikea contraption that had never really stood up straight. “What do you see when you look at that light?”

    “I see a lamp. Which is missing a screw.” She patted his head. “Much like you.”

    “I see rainbows.” As if to demonstrate, he looked at the light and turned his gaze slowly toward her, then turned it back again, and the light stretched and unraveled into all its constituent colors, then knit itself back together. That was the grand synthetic beauty that Chapa helped imprint on him. “Even now, light has tails, color trails. I still see rainbows. After all these years.”

That was the grand synthetic beauty that Chapa helped imprint on him.

    A reasonable woman who thinks of color as a material that comes in flat, matte, and satin, a comforting practical woman, a fearless woman, Denise said, “That is because you are an acid casualty. And a goon.” But months later when he told her Amber had died it was she who encouraged him to go home for the funeral. “Don’t you want to see your friend Chapa?”

    The name in her voice was jarring to Jim. It didn’t sound right. “I guess.”

    “The whole time I’ve known you, you’ve never visited the guy. I’m starting to think you made him up. Your magical Indian friend. Which, by the way, are you aware that the way you talk about him, it’s maybe a little bit racist?”

    Jim must have made a face, because she repeated herself, altering her emphasis.

    “Just maybe a little bit racist. How close were the two of you, anyway? Why have I never met him?”

    “I don’t know. We lost touch,” Jim said. “He isn’t on Facebook.”

    “Go home, Jimmy! Go see your friend. Take a selfie with the guy. I want to see him with my own eyes.” Denise is amused at best by Jim’s brambly thoughts, but because she urges him to confront his own mind, he knows she will always protect him.

    And because he knows she would be happy to receive a picture of him beside his old friend—he’s pictured the picture many times: both of them grinning, holding beers, Chapa taller and stunning, Jim balder and paler but made handsome by joy—he is all that much more disappointed today that Chapa’s not here. At the brief wake he did see Chapa’s mom, Win. How’s Chapa doing? he asked her, and Win squinted up at him, squeezing her left arm with her right hand, black lashes gray hair, too distracted by grief to be glad to see him. You know Chapa, she said, and Jim nodded and looked down at the ground, because you’re supposed to give people enough silence and space to keep their grief to themselves. Now he regrets not saying, Actually no, I don’t, not anymore, regrets asking how when he could have asked where. Could have asked for his number.

    Could he have asked for his number? Would that have been weird?

    The trouble is, Denise’s interrogation still rings in his mind. How close were the two of you, anyway? He’s not sure he knows. How many times did they get fucked up together in this very gully? Two dozen times? Ten times? Twice? Maybe Denise was right, in a way, and he has made Chapa up—not entirely—just maybe a little bit—just the same sort of way that a kid makes up an idea of his mother before he’s able to understand what kind of woman she actually is, or the way a person who’s never been to, say, India, pieces together his own mental collage out of, let’s say, some crowded street he saw in a film, rock-cut temples from an in-flight travel magazine, Bollywood, tigers, lotuses, the Taj Mahal, and a memorable GQ photo shoot of Priyanka Chopra. The Chapa he thinks he knows is not much more than a collage of teenaged memories, fantasies, the light trails he still sees, and his own dim understanding of history. Let’s not forget that Jim’s ancestors’ hands were stained by Chapa’s ancestors’ blood. Once in this very gully, tripping balls, Chapa told him: Your people massacred my people. If time is a circle, and time is a circle, Jimmy, you massacred me. Teenaged Jim looked at his friend lying there on the red earth, and as he watched, the earth became blood. It seeped out of and pooled around Chapa’s brown body, and Chapa was still, and Jim was dumbstruck by the violence from which he was descended. For hours he was convinced he had lost the ability to speak.

    In his memory the river is a stop-motion rainbow machine, but today it is muddy gray. Jim stands and rolls up his pants and wades into the shallows. The water’s so cold it feels boiling hot. Not only is the river less colorful; it is narrower now. The region has undergone a long drought. He is struck by the absence of life. The trees at the edges of the gully are still winter-bare, their black branches like cracks in the sky. A fish skeleton lies on the shore, in a bed of its own dried-out skin. Amber is dead and her brother’s dead, too, and so are twelve other people Jim once knew. And so is the fish, and so are the shrubs, and so are his toes, which have gone white and stabby, and so, in the end, is his friendship.

    And then, deep inside his memory, something is lifted. Some small corner of memory is peeled up, and he has a clear, true recollection. That day he tripped so hard he thought he was mute? He and Chapa were not alone. Amber was there. She was sitting beside him. She was watching Chapa, too. He remembers her bare ankles, the cigarette between her fingers, he remembers her narrow, love-struck, teenaged face. She loved Chapa as hard as Jim did. She kept him company in that embarrassing love. He wants to tell her so. He wants to thank her. He wants to apologize for leaving her out of the picture for so long.

    But he can’t, of course. So he wades back to shore. Brushes off his feet. Puts on his socks, one by one. He forces back on his two stupid shoes and turns back toward the rental car he left parked on the shoulder. He is numb, he is dumb. He is heading back to the airport.

• • •

Breadcrumb #378

ANDREW MARINACCIO

“Did you pray on it?”

    “Yes. Lord, did I ever. I felt myself sorted south of sin, truth be told.”

    This was Lenora’s first deliberate attempt to shock someone in her adult life. It didn’t really
work. Her admission was cryptic and weightless. Besides, they knew each other too well.

    “Does this mean I have to start worrying about you too, Ms. Lenora?” Pastor Solino asked,
leaning into his question.

    An old-timer’s approach, meant to curb impending rebellion. She was a good one. She would
listen. She diverted.

    “You said salvation fills our sails with wind. Like, every other Sunday during your Family Mass homily. I thought I knew what that meant, and now I’m not really so sure. Nor do I care to
know.” She began to doubt her point, speaking so far from her self. “I’m anxious, father.”

    This did the trick, keeping them puzzled and dreadfully focused on the aftermath of her words.
The tension of disarmament swelled in the pastor’s office. What was said next could lack the
default geniality of conversation, and may very well be honest.

    “How you helm your vessel will determine your voyage — look within.”

    No dice. Just traditional bodies conventionally placed in a mahogany room.

    A wooden Virgin Mary was affixed to the wall behind Pastor Solino’s desk. Her eyes were
closed in mourning, but her mouth slightly curled into a smile. Lenora sat opposite the priest
across his desk and mulled over the preponderance of awkward religious art deemed socially
acceptable by the faithful. One would think they’d know the tonality of their sacred ones well
enough from the source material, but she chalked the misfires up to talent scarcity and reading
comprehension issues. Lenora liked how this Mary’s mischievous smirk worked against her
infamous heartbreak, almost as if the original embodied the figure to delicately warp its features,
revising its humanity. Perhaps she was watching their conversation through her effigy’s eyelids.
Lenora’s sights then caught her pastor’s. She immediately felt judged and fidgeted with the lapis
beads around her wrist.

    Solino was balding, the combed-over strands across his scalp ghostly and tenuous, but well-groomed nonetheless. His tall, accusatory nose that hooked over the pulpit on Sundays and whose shadow, as she thought in that moment, surely dwarfed her infant body during her baptism — there must be pictures to prove it — seemed to have grown larger and blunted with
age. He grew kinder, too, which she found exceptional in her parish.

    “Your vessel and its course, as I know you know from your days as a girl at St. Athanasius, are
not of this world alone,” he said. “Where the ship goes, the soul goes. The soul speaks its needs
to the body, and what it needs is direction towards its eternal reward. Your accordance to this
truth will determine the quality of your course. Ask yourself: how much wind am I catching if I
live this way?”

    The prospect of an eternal reward brought Lenora anxiety, like something you would arrange a
policy over. The phrase was a reminder of a type of death that left little choice in living, which pressed her further. Lenora thought such agency was extinct anyway, even beyond her faith. How could it be operable in a world that insidiously cried for her attention, compelling her energy in frivolous, expensive directions. Maybe she would think differently if she could afford to.

The phrase was a reminder of a type of death that left little choice in living, which pressed her further.

    Pauses, once returned from, change perspective on what was left behind. Latent patterns become clear; the tolerated becomes strange and ill-fitting. Life was fine until Lenora watched television last night for the first time in a year. Despite living online instead, profiled and peddled to by the internet’s phantom powers, it was in the old, oblivious screen that she saw her hunger mirrored. And everyone was hungry for her. Each commercial was a cortege, one flashing requests for her pores, another her thighs and ankles, all eulogizing what she could have been with more time and care. The world begged to make a project of her. Projects offer plans, which you needn’t consider but only follow. Saying no to plans had consequences and she had reached that botched adjustment phase of young adulthood where help denied was incalculable opportunity lost.

    And this was to say nothing of her self-assessment. She had a liberal education. She read Baudrillard while a crucifix hung from her neck. She knew she’s been, in some unseen but nervously felt way, bought and sold ad nauseam since the day she was born. She just couldn’t understand why that struck her so raw and nervously now, why she felt so handled and heavied by the world. She saw a mirror and hunger changed her face, the sinister variables of a screen that morphed its icons of desire as it did the shape of the empty spaces inside her. She’d shudder to think what it would feel like once the chemistry stabilized, shaping its image and her into a perfect fit.

    “There’s no need for confession,” said Pastor Solino. “Penance isn’t helpful here, and I won’t
ask you what you want because that’s of little interest to God.” He gave a weathered smile. “But
I will ask you what you believe you need.” He lowered his voice here, stretching sincerity over
every hushed syllable. The parochial lullaby of priestly admonishment.

    Lenora thought there was something spiritual, perhaps ascetic to the way she behaved in the
world. Those that followed plastic plans, she realized, and failed, won at least a sliver of
experience only they knew in living. Could she ask for that alternative?

    “It’s just that I feel as though I’ve learned all I can from altar service, from lecturing, from
eucharistic ministry. Even from summer missions. I feel as though others have not traveled their
course as well as I have and yet here I am —”

    “It is not your place to judge, Lenora--” said the pastor.

    “Is there some benefit they’re allowed, and I’m not?,” she interrupted. “At least give me a habit
so I can make sense of myself. ”

    Solino cocked an eyebrow toward his combover. “You’re good, Ms. Lenora, but I’m not sure if
you’re cut for the nunnery.”

    “Why is that?”

    “You talk too much.”

    “Nuns wear habits, not bridles, father.”

    She was mortified and covered her face, beginning to giggle. At least she got a decent bon mot in that wasn’t preceded by a sequence of stuttering half-thoughts. After her joke, angels descended from behind wooden Mary’s frozen cloak and kissed Lenora’s forehead, and chuckled in relief. She felt in turn, and didn’t care to stop speaking now. “God conspires not to bridle us,” she concluded, smiling and soul-drunk. Solino was tired, but agreed. He’d make a call to the
convent.

• • •

Breadcrumb #44

CHRISTIE DONATO

“You know how it feels when you focus a little too hard on the way your teeth are set? You move your bottom row a little forward, or a little backwards. You try to match up your two rows of teeth, but then it feels all weird and you can’t remember where your teeth are supposed to go anymore.”

     “Not really.”

     “It doesn’t matter. It’s just how I felt the day the sky ripped open and the golden ships came through with…well, we know what they are now, but we didn’t then.”

     “The ships with the raiders.”

     “Yes. They came through almost immediately. I know because I was watching.”

     Judy stopped speaking abruptly and stared over Ana’s shoulder. Judy behaved like everyone Ana had ever met who witnessed the universe split open. A little haunted. A little bit like they would never be the same.

     Ana coughed lightly, and pulled Lily — her small, floppy dog — onto her lap. Her mother had been right about the world beyond their small town in West Virginia. They hadn’t even known what was happening at the time. Some kind of nuclear bomb had wiped out half the town, she’d been told by the adults.

Some kind of nuclear bomb had wiped out half the town, she’d been told by the adults.

     “How long did you watch for?” she finally asked.

     “I couldn’t even tell you. Maybe hours. I didn’t know what to do.” Judy made eye contact with Ana once more. “I hid in an alleyway and just stared up. Finally, I worked up the courage to walk home. When I got there the apartment was empty. The lights were all off, and no one had even bothered to lock the door. I remember it was dusk, and there was still just enough light coming in through the gate over our fire escape window in the kitchen that I could at least see where I was going. I waited for them that night because I thought that maybe they were coming back. My dad, at least, would come back for me. I ended up waiting in that apartment for weeks. I thought that they would know I was there. I didn’t dare turn on any lights, or even look out the windows, because I was afraid someone would come and take me away. I don’t know why I thought that, but it seemed like a real threat at the time. Anyway, first I ate all the leftovers in the fridge. Cold. Then I moved on to the snacks and canned goods. Everything cold. My stomach was always upset.”

     “When did you leave?”

     “No one ever came for me. I ran out of food, and I knew I’d have to leave if I wanted to live.”

     “And you did want to live?” Ana prompted.

     “It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t.”

     There was a moment of silence while both girls mulled that over. Ana decided it was a subject best left alone for now.

     “You know why they never came back, don’t you?” Ana asked instead.

     “Yeah,” Judy said, but then shook her head. “I mean, no. I never actually looked for their names on the lists of the deceased. Sometimes I want to, but I can’t tell which scenario I prefer: my parents leaving me to die, or dying themselves.”

       “I don’t think it’s a question of preference. Don’t you want to know the truth?”

       “Does it matter? I don’t think it does. I don’t need to know, definitively, one way or the other. The outcome is the same. My parents are gone, and the world is different now.”

       Ana gripped Lily a little tighter in her arms, afraid she might say something she wouldn’t be able to take back. Judy, meanwhile, was playing with a loose thread in her sweater, twisting the string around her pinky finger over and over again.

       “Do you know how I found this place?” Judy said, as if she were a little bit proud of this bit.

       Ana shook her head.

       “I left the apartment and went to the nearest subway. I spent a little bit of time on the platform, deciding what to do. There were no trains coming, which I figured would be the case. I needed to make sure, though, so I waited and waited. When I was absolutely positive, I sat down on the edge of the platform, with my feet dangling over the tracks. There was a buildup of really smelly, weeks-old garbage. It took everything in me to do it, but I jumped down onto the tracks. I picked a direction and just walked. I think I was trying to just get off the island, but honestly, who knows what I was thinking at the time. It was dark, and there were rats everywhere, but I was alone apart from them. The garbage-rainwater mixture soaked through my shoes and socks as I walked. I could feel it between my toes, and it smelled so bad. I just started to cry.

      “There was something about the trash juice and the dark that was so repulsive that it triggered this strong emotional response in a way that being left alone for weeks hadn’t done. I cried, and walked, and threw up a couple times, and kept walking until David found me. He brought me here.”

      Ana didn’t say anything. Here was the sanctuary for those who had not been successfully removed from Manhattan.

     “Is that what happened where you’re from? With the sky and the evacuations?” Judy asked.

     “No. Not at all,” Ana said.

• • •