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 #498

JENNIFER FERNANDEZ

Because words on paper are angels enough to guide a lost soul through whatever forest they might find themselves in, and lead them home. But no one never really knows they’re lost.

We left the Bronx, in June 2007, I was a recent high school grad unsure if I wanted to go to college or move to Hollywood. Actors didn’t do college nor did they need it, right? Everybody on the block knew I was ambitious, “Chesca is gonna be famous” they’d say. Everyone except my mom, my very Dominican mom.

“You haven’t read any of these books,” my mom said as she cleared the bookshelf and packed away what she deemed worthy for our new apartment. “Actors at Work,” I read the title as if I didn’t know which books she was referring to. “Of course, I read it. And will read it again.” No point in explaining that in those moments when she asks about money and demands that I get a real job, that I turn to this very book for inspiration. Actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman to Meryl Streep sharing stories about craft, studying, being, doing – existing. She grabbed the tape to seal the box filled with my acting books and four editions of her ‘Remedios Caseros’ books. As far as this Dominican was concerned and Mama too, Vicks Vapor Rub was the plug, the heck with all of that. Junior walked into the house with sweat dripping down his fore head dribbling a basketball thinking he’s the next Felipe Lopez. He looked at all of the scattered books “We making money off this?” he asked. “Let’s set up shop in front of the building.” He grabbed one of them, “An Actor Prepares,” he mocked. “I bet J.Lo never read this. Diddy prepared, she just followed.” “Spoken like a true machista.” I retorted. “They train them young, huh?”

My little brother chuckled and walked away. By way of encouragement, he said that I wouldn’t have to do any of that because I have real talent. Mom stopped him before he could go too far, gave him a hug and put him to work; he had to do some heavy lifting like the rest of us or like most of us. Junior was the only one who still got a hug from Mom; a true momma’s boy. I discovered more items in the discard pile. I spotted my black and white composition notebook buried under more of her cure all books. Ella no sabe que lo que me cura a mi son palabras. That my writing took me into a world that was my own; finally someone I could talk to. Those blank pages were like the mood rings that turned your finger green; they would let you know how I was feeling. I wrote about whether my crush smiled back at me or ignored me. How my teacher didn’t understand my essay because well, he was a white man. I wrote down hip-hop lyrics, I connected to that world. It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up Magazine. Biggie had bars! I opened the notebook and the inside flap read, Franchesca: Actor/Writer. On some days, I felt like I had to pick, that I couldn’t be both. The reality was that both were pipe dreams in my culture so what did it even matter. I flipped the pages and came across my Dear God letters, which were really prayers unbeknownst to me. I copied poems from Teen Magazine, The Roses are Red ones.

I heard the wind chime by the door which was silly because the closest thing to a breeze we got in that apartment building was when the ceiling fan was on. Papi walked into the house and smiled at me. There goes my princess, he’d say. He kissed my forehead and I smelled the beer on his breath. The stench was coming out of his pores. Budweiser. I only knew that because of our trash can, leftovers and Budweisers. Papi mostly drank outdoors but every so often he’d have a couple at home. He thought we didn’t know he had a problem. My dad was supposed to be home three hours ago to help pack but he was preoccupied with hanging with the fellas in front of the corner bodega. He walked into the master bedroom where my mom was packing their clothes all by herself. This was candela pura especially since this wouldn’t be the first time he hadn’t shown up. A couple of years ago, he missed my mom’s college graduation because he overslept at his “friend’s” house. That was also the first time Papi hadn’t slept in his own bed. I bet he did that on purpose, there was a part of my Dad that didn’t want to see her liberated. Educated. You know, island mentality - he’s the man of the house. She decided to go to college when she realized that my dad’s vicio was costing the entire family. My mom wasn’t a yeller, she had a finesse about it; she knew how to cut you where it hurt without so much as raising her voice. Maybe it was the School Principal in her coming out. I drowned out their arguing, those voices that have become the soundtrack to my childhood, and continued flipping through a few more pages of my notebook. Another Dear God letter, I know God hears prayers but is he reading them too?

“Ya ta bueno, Chesca. Stop daydreaming. Move on to the next thing,” my mom told me as she walked past to get more empty boxes. She carried on as if she and Papi did not just have a heated debate.

A week later, we’re up to our knees with boxes, maletas and even garbage bags. The Dominicans are here, disturbing the peace in a quaint town in dirty Jersey. My brother found a neighborhood park for his daily runs and high intensity workouts. His coach told him he has to stay on top of his fitness. My dad didn’t have the corner bodega; he was home drunk more often than not these days. We had philosophical conversations on how he didn’t finish high school when he left the Dominican Republic. He raved about how he supported the family and put Junior and me through Catholic School while working at a factory. That was a sore spot since mom no longer needed his financial assistance. Our connection got stronger, so did his drinking. I enjoyed being able to talk to someone in my family - albeit an intoxicated parent. Papi wanted to tell me about his Casanova days (read: mujeriego) and how the white women in New York loved a chocolate brother who spoke Spanish. They weren’t sure if they wanted to go all the way black so Dominicans and some Ricans were as far as the experimenting would take them. I had to stop Papi. I didn’t want to know if he was with other women while with mom. I wanted to dialogue but not about that. Over the next few days, Papi and I continued our chats. He encouraged me to keep acting. “I’ll see you at The Oscars someday,” he’d say. The tension in the house was thick. He only had me to talk to and I in turn only had him.

I watched as my mom went straight to organizing, she didn’t have time to entertain nostalgia. She needed order; she avoided memories like the plague. So, this is what moving on up feels like, the Dominican version? Forget the Jeffersons, this was real life. As she tackled her last box labeled ‘miscellaneous’, she pulled out an old tattered pic. Her eyes became fiery daggers as she stared at the photo. Mom realized I was watching and laughed it off. Not knowing what to say, I asked to see the photo as if she would agree. She said it was none of my business. She stormed into the kitchen and grabbed the first thing she saw, one of those aluminum cups from DR. You know the ones where they engrave your name on it. The one where they spell your American name, the Dominican way. My cousin Jennifer became Yennyfer, her wannabe gringa behind was not happy about that. That’s a whole other issue. My dad walked into the kitchen, probably to get another beer, completely clueless. The timing was impeccable, I thought I was in a friggin’ Telemundo novela. She hurled the open side of the cup at my dad’s face and caught the right side with precision. He had a small but deep cut near his eyebrow that started bleeding. Funny thing was that my dad tried to dodge it forgetting he had a six-pack all to himself. Maybe it was more than a six-pack, his reflexes were slow. “VIEJA!” my dad yelled at her. He worried about me being there to see it. I wondered if this happened before. “Vete de mi lado,” she yelled back. “Get away!” He walked over to me and kissed me on the forehead as he pressed down on his cut with his index finger. He whispered, “Don’t worry princess,” and made his way to the bathroom. “Mami … you okay?” I asked her nervously.

It was the first time my mom showed emotion. It was the first time I saw the queen of the house shaken. She didn’t say a word to me. She wiped the tears from her eyes and ripped the photo up. My mom went right back to organizing. I’m convinced she is the Marie Kondo of her era. Except this didn’t look like it sparked joy, this looked like hell. Like an escape. I knew all about that but my mom was like one of those water balloons we used to fill up at the fire hydrant on the block, ready to pop. You didn’t need a PsyD to figure that one out. The doorbell interrupted my thoughts - that’s right we had a doorbell now. I assumed it was our neighbors bringing over some warm chocolate chip cookies. Suburbia 101. I opened the door and it’s a pissed off Junior.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Those racist fucking cops,” he said. “I’m riding my bike and they followed me.”

“Did they put their hands on you?!”

“No. They asked me for ID and questioned why I was in this part of town.”

Junior was a straight A student, not because he wanted to be but because he had to be. He needed college scholarships. His involvement with cops was little to none.

“Junior, we are not in the Bronx anymore. We don’t look like them,” I reminded him.

I tried to talk Junior through racial profiling and the fact that he’s a black male when my mom walked in on us. She realized she still had toilet paper in her hand for her sniffles and quickly disposed of it so that Junior wouldn’t see it. Her eyes looked watery but she’s used the visine line many times before. Supermom - to the rescue. Dad, nowhere to be found. “Que paso, mi hijo,” she said as she rubbed his back. I walked away and rolled my eyes. It didn’t call for all that. Junior needed to be informed not coddled. She got amnesia quick when it came to him. She was trying too hard to make sure he didn’t become the man who didn’t know how to love because he never received love. She didn’t want him to become the man she married.

I walked into my new bedroom; it looked like organized chaos thanks to my mom. I picked up my black and white notebook and I got lost in my writing.

Dear God,
I can’t do this anymore; I’m out to Hollywood.

• • •

Breadcrumb #496

JOSÈ ROLDAN, JR.

I can say that pain has made me pious. But, not in the Godly sense. I was a devoted person. However, my devotion was to my nostrils that have proven to me that they can take years of abuse without any repercussion. My family calls me an alley cat, because I’ve come so close to death a number of times. But, I keep getting up and going back to what keeps me going… Perico.

When I was a kid, my family left the island of Puerto Rico and moved to New York. The South Bronx. There was a lot for us to learn. You see, although there were tons of Puerto Ricans around us, this was not Puerto Rico at all. We arrived in late November and it was fucking freezing. I had never experienced weather like this before. Everyone seemed to love it, except me. We had to cover every inch of our bodies and looked like robots trying to walk down the street from all the layers we had to put on. But, despite the that we didn’t have the Palm trees surrounding us or tropical weather all year long, there was nothing but Puerto Rican culture all around us. You couldn’t walk down the street without hearing Salsa music or without smelling Rice, Beans and fried chuletas. There wasn’t a window that did not have the Puerto Rican Flag waving from it. Puerto Rico was alive and well in the South Bronx. Those that were born on the island talked about nothing but “la isla del encanto.” We missed it terribly and mourned our lives back home on the island. But things were different. Life was different and New York brought hope, dique. Apparently, life was better for us here. Work was plentiful and we weren’t starving. Well, that’s what they all said. Because, no one wants to face reality. No one wants to admit that coming here maybe wasn’t the best idea we all thought it was. There may have not been a hurricane that ran through this town. But people were living in conditions far worse than after Maria hit my island. The lobbies of our apartment buildings were filled with garbage just thrown on the ground. The elevators reeked of dried urine. The roaches and mice owned the building and came to collect their rent on nightly basis. It was horrific to say the very least. Within a matter of months, Papi, had used up all of the money he had in the bank. He didn’t get work at all aside from some side jobs painting and cleaning apartments. So, in order to get food on the table, he sold Marijuana. Actually, our apartment was the last stop of the Marijuana factory in the building. Our next-door neighbor Miguel, used to grow the shit out of an extra bedroom he had in his apartment and then cut, dry and bag it in his living room. He had a three bedroom for him and his brother. The other bedroom was turned into the botanical fucking garden. The room even had a green light y todo. One day Miguel needed my father to stop by to pick up some finished product to store in our apartment.

“José, tengo que ir a casa de miguel a buscar algo. Ponte pantalones.” Papi didn’t like any of us in the house alone. So, he always demanded that we get dressed to accompany him for any of his errands.

“Pa, I don’t want to go his house. I’ll stay here and play with games.” My cousin had lent me his playstation and I wanted to play God of War.

“No no no no. Ju go wit me.” I immediately sucked my teeth and threw my hands in the air. “Oye, ponte te bien.” Papi said with that look in his eye that made me second guess everything in life. I knew I wasn’t going to win this fight. So, I just went into my room and decided to take my time. I hoped that he would get annoyed and just go without me. But I wasn’t so lucky. He eventually came into my room and didn’t even say a word. He stood by the door and watched me as I dressed. Completely horrified, I got up from the floor grabbed my pants, and got dressed. I never even made eye contact with my father. I knew that looking at him would create a weird moment as he would have felt obligated to say something profound to me. Ever since he had to step up and watch us, Papi felt that he needed to drop some pebble of knowledge on us every once in a while. None of it was useful. Just some old Puerto Rican nonsense. There are times that I just wish that I had nothing to do with my family. Especially, my father. I mean, they didn’t do anything to me at all. But, at times I just feel like I needed to be away.

Far away from it all.

As we approached the hallway that we shared with eight other apartments, you could hear the sound of the radio playing in someone’s apartment. It was always the same, Freestlye music. Cynthia, Johnny-O, Coro and George Lamond were played so much, you would think they all lived in the building with us. Miguel’s apartment was completely unlocked so, we just walked right in. Miguel wasn’t the typical dealer in the neighborhood. He took care of the building and looked out for his neighbors. So, he wasn’t afraid of getting robbed or losing anything because he knew that the building would look out for him. That also included letting him know if the cops were on their way as well. The minute we walked in, I saw a thin cloud of smoke that surrounded the entire apartment. The apartment smelled like an old stale sock that needed to be thrown the fuck out. There wasn’t much furniture in the house besides a beige loveseat and sofa that was covered in plastic and a cocktail table that had stacks of VHS tapes, empty dirty glasses and completely filled ash trays. As we sat there, we can hear Miguel singing from the kitchen.

He took care of the building and looked out for his neighbors

“Jack, Jack, he’s a Lego maniac…. Jack, Jack, he’s a Lego maniac…”

Miguel constantly sang this song and it was annoying as all hell. Papi called out for Miguel as we sat down in the loveseat.

“Miguel, estamos aqui.”

“In the kitchen, ya voy.” Miguel yells back and then continues his Lego song. Within seconds, Miguel walked through a colorful beaded curtain that separated the kitchen from the living room. In both hands, he held the mother of all calderos filled with both nickel and dime bags. Now, Miguel was an extremely thin light-skinned Puerto Rican with an extremely large afro. Which made the caldero look even bigger in his hands.

“Bueno, here it is. I’ve been up all night getting this ready for you.” Said Miguel as he walked towards us from the kitchen.

“Since when do you bag your own shit, Miguel?” Papi said shaking his leg like he always did when he was high as a kite. You see, Papi started getting high a while back and we all knew it. But what Papi doesn’t want us to know is that he started on the harder shit. We know he’s using dope but, ain’t nobody going to disrespect Papi and bring it to his attention and since Mami is half crazy, we can’t rely on her to say anything. My sister, Xiomara, constantly cried about it. But no one her paid any attention to her or us for that matter. I mean no one really gave a fuck about another bunch of Puerto Rican kids from the island. That’s why Xiomara ran away from home at least four different times and each time she came back home kicking and screaming.

“I started bagging my own since my bullshit ass primo got caught selling to a cop. You ain’t gotta be scared little man. My snake is in his tank in my room.” Miguel said as I immediately got up and moved across the room. You see, Miguel would let his pet garter snake sliver through his hair most times and it would always freak me out because when the snake moved, his hair would move around as if his skull was caving in. One time, his snake poked his head out of Miguel’s hair and almost touched my ear. I panicked and everyone laughed at me.

“Papi, I have to pee. Can I go back home?” I asked my father as an excuse to go back home and not come back.

“Little man, you can use the baño here. It’s right there in the hallway.” Miguel said to me as he rolled up a joint for him and my father. Defeated, I got up and walked down the hall and opened the second door on the right. When I opened that door, I smelled the most heavenly smell I could have even imagined. Every inch of the room was covered with plant life. The room was completely dark except for a few green lights scattered all around the room. The room could have been an extension of the Botanical Gardens, there were so much greenery there. The smell was so strong in that room that after five seconds of having the door open, the aroma snuck into the sala where Papi and Miguel sat. They immediately knew that I had walked into the wrong room.

“Little man, not that room. Close that door!” Miguel said as he got up and walked in my direction. I slammed the door and went into the bathroom. I couldn’t believe what I saw, and I couldn’t get that smell out of my head.

Later that evening, when my younger brothers Edwin and Mike got home, I told them what I saw.

“We have to take some of Papi’s stash. You won’t believe the smell that came out of that room.” I told Edwin and Mike.

“Tu ta loco? Do you know what kind of trouble we can get into?” Mike said as he changed into his PJs.

“You’re such a pussy, Mike. Come on José, you I will get some and take it to school tomorrow.” Edwin was always down to do some crazy shit with me.

“Bet, when Papi and Moms go to sleep, I’ll go into the closet and get a few bags and put it in your bookbag.” Edwin and I shook on it and went about the night.

The next day, Edwin and I couldn’t even wait to get to school. We skipped breakfast and ran down the stairs.

“Show it to me.” Edwin said.

“Not here, loco. Let’s wait until we get to school at least.” As soon as I said this, Mike comes over with a fucking pancake in one hand and a boiled huevo in another.

“I’m not saying shit to ya’ll. When ya’ll stupid asses get caught, don’t say shit.”

“Shut the fuck up, you fat bastard.” Edwin yelled as he walked away from him.”

“It’s alright, Mike. We’ll be fine.” I said as I put my arm around Mike and made our way to school.

After school, Edwin and I met up in the school yard and found a place that we felt was discreet. We decided that behind the bleachers in the field would be a perfect place to light up some grass. I immediately open my bag and pulled out two joints.

“When did you roll it up?” Miguel asked.

“During lunch time. Pedro came out with me and showed me how he does it. I gave him one and left two for us.” I said.

“Shit, I don’t have a lighter.” Miguel blurted.

“Don’t worry, I got that covered too.” I shouted with all the pride in Puerto Rico. I let Edwin take his first pull. He immediately started coughing and I could not stop laughing.

“Oh, you think you could do better?” He said in between coughs.

“Fuck yeah, I can.” I handed him the lighter and put my joint to my mouth. He flicks his thumb and brings the flame towards my face. As soon as I’m about to take my pull, we hear

“Hey, what are you two doing?” We immediately drop the joints and lighter and begin to run as fast as we can. But the minute we got to the end of the bleacher, we were met with Mr. Abreu and Mr. Torres.

“What were you guys doing?” said Mr. Abreu as he grabbed Edwin.

“Were you two smoking grass?” Said Mr. Torres. We both said no in unison. But, they didn’t believe us. Both Mr. Torres and Mr. Abreu grabbed me and Edwin and dragged us back down the direction we came from. The joints were still there laying on the floor.

An hour later, we were sitting in Mr. Torres’ office with Mike who was pissed at the both of us. We weren’t saying a word to each other as we waited for either Papi or Moms to pick us up. Mr. Torres got up from his desk and walked out of the room.

“You two are complete idiots.” Mike screeched.

“Oh, shut up.” Edwin and I said.

“Shut up? Ya’ll got me in here with you. Papi is going to think that I was involved in all this. I told ya’ll to leave Papi’s stash alone but no, you gotta go and take his shit and try and smoke it at school!!!” As soon as he says this, Mr. Torres walked into the room. At first, he stood there just staring at us. We didn’t utter a single word.

“Mike, where did your brothers get the grass from?”

“Shut up, Mike.” Edwin yelled.

“I didn’t ask you to speak, Edwin.” Said Mr. Torres. “Where did your brothers get the grass from?” Mr. Torres said again with a sterner voice. Edwin stared Mike down as if he was about to kill him with his eyes.

“He didn’t do nothing, Mr.” I said softly to Mr. Torres.

“Mike, come with me please.” Edwin and I both look at each other and then at Mike. Mike looked like he was about to cry as he got out of his seat and walked out of the room.

The next week, we were all sitting in the living room eating dinner when we hear a sudden knock on the door.

“Quien es?” Yelled Papi from the dining room table.

“Police, open up.” Papi jumped up out of his seat and ran to the room. The knocking got louder.

“Open up the door, now. We have a warrant.” We could hear Papi moving shit around in the room as the door swung open and the cops came running inside the house. Xiomara immediately started crying and screaming while Mami just sat there knitting a scarf. We started to scream as a cop grabbed each of us. The next thing I remembered is Papi being dragged out of the apartment in handcuffs being read his rights while a social worker sat with us and told us that we would be placed in a group home for kids and that Xiomara was going to be sent to a girls home, while my brothers and I will be sent to an all boy home. We all held one another until the social worker grabbed Xiomara and ripped her from our arms. I watched as they took her in complete disbelief. That was the last time we saw her, until Papi got out of jail, years later.

• • •

Breadcrumb #487

ANDREW PHILLIPS

Sam thought about spadefoot toads. They were a dream so real he could hold them in his fist. His parents had gone out to see them when they’d first come to the apartment. They’d trekked into the woods and found the crater that filled with water one night a year every April. On that night, they’d stood at the water’s edge, watched the spadefoots climb up from their ground homes, and deposit eggs in the pool. It was a beautiful thing, his mother told him, the promise of life passed from parents to their young.

His parents planned to take him one day to see the spadefoots, but that promise was given before his father left on assignment.

In the meantime, he amused himself as best he could. He squeezed his toes together and pretended they were the shovel-like toad feet and dug up pennies and fluff from beneath the sofa cushions. Often, he croaked. Sam was that type of kid who felt moved to croak --  in his bedroom, at the laundromat, and in his school. Kids called him names and his teachers shook their head at him, but he didn’t care.

His mother didn’t mind the noise.  She built him a forest out leaves that she taped to his bedroom walls.  On winter nights, she strummed woodland melodies on her ukulele. She encouraged Sam to supply the lyrics, and they’d dance around the room.

When Sam was nine, his mother told him that Cheyenne and Troy were moving into the basement apartment. Sam was not impressed by this development. Cheyenne, a nurse his mother worked with at the hospital, phoned his mother at inconvenient times to complain about her ex-husband. Troy, her son, wasn’t any better. He belonged to a crew who called him retard. They were the reason Sam stayed inside at recess and read nature books.

“Help Troy feel welcome here,” his mother said.

“He’s very loud,” Sam said.

“Okay, frog man.”

“It’s toad man,” he corrected. “Get it right.”

His mother clasped a hand over her heart in mock embarrassment. “How could I get that wrong? What is my penance?”

Sam deliberated for a moment. “Five gummy worms.”

“Deal.”

Two weeks later, Sam went outside to count fireflies. Troy was whacking tennis balls at rabbits.   

“Wusses,” Troy said.

“They aren’t,” Sam said. “Rabbits are tough.”

Troy shrugged.

“They kill their babies,” Sam said.

“What?”

“The dads do,” Sam explained. “They get jealous of the babies. The mom rabbits give them too much love.”

“What dicks,” Troy said.

Dicks was a dirty word. It’s what Sam’s uncle called his father.

“My father is a dick,” Troy said.

Sam handed him a stray tennis ball. They were teammates without a coach.

On nights when his mother worked late, Sam filled the indoor forest with a tribe of new friends. Troy, Aunt Cheyenne, and a few kids from the neighborhood ate pizza and watched the weather report. It was April and the first downpour was around the corner. On the night of the first rainstorm, the spadefoot toads emerged. This year, Sam, his mother and the other boys would find them.

On the night of the rain, Sam’s mother had to work late, but told him he could go as long as he stayed with the other boys. They were a band of wellie clad explorers, and the spadefoots were calling them to join them at the enchanted pool.

On the night of the first rainstorm, the spadefoot toads emerged.

As they traveled deeper into the woods, the apartment building vanished from view. The only light came from their flashlights, and the soundtrack was the throaty tune of the spadefoots.  They were close. Sam felt it.

“What are you doing?” Troy asked. “Stop dancing.”

Sam hadn’t realized he had been dancing, but he couldn’t stop. He was happy, and it was okay to dance.  His mother and father danced on the night they’d seen the spadefoots.

“It’s fine,” Sam said. “My father---

“He’s crazy,” Billy Stoner said.

Troy’s lips twitched into a smile. “Just retarded.”   

Sam flushed.  The music inside him died.  It had been months since they’d called him a retard. Retarded was too much homework, deflated soccer balls, when his father failed to call.

Sam grabbed a rock and tossed it at Troy’s chest.

War descended upon the woods.  Troy hurled a rock in his direction, and then they launched themselves at each other. Sam fought for the woods and the spadefoots. He kicked, punched, and scratched his way through the wall of belligerent boys, and when he broke free, he ran after the music.

The woods seemed darker with every step.  The others were ghosts of a past world. The music was his future, a fragile one.  This future was pulling in different directions. The music was everywhere and nowhere.  He strained his ears for the throaty melody, but it eluded him. He turned right, then left.  He was back at the sight of the brawl, but the boys were gone. They were walking back to the house, or they’d never really come. Either way, he’d promised to stay with them, but he couldn’t go back. The spadefoots had been counting on him and they were boys that ruined the night.

Sam sat down on a stump and waited for her to find him.

She arrived after the rain, but face was streaked with black rivers and her smile was missing.

“Troy?” he asked.

“Is fine.”  

Sam nodded. He’d fought with the group and left them.

“I’m sorry,” She said.

“Why?”

She didn’t answer. “Climb on my back.”

He wrapped his arms around her neck and allowed her to carry him through the woods. He imagined he was a robin with a broken wing and she was returning him to their nest.  

“You know,” she said. “Everything’s going to be okay,”

Sam nodded. He could see the square top of their apartment building and beyond it, the moon with craters deep enough to shelter a dozen spadefoot toads.

• • •

Breadcrumb #485

MEIKO KO

Jack did not like L. L did not like anyone who did not like her. Every Friday at school she made him do skits, ordered the rest to fold into chairs, play metal dead. It burst now and then—Jack, you’re rotting. You’d better see a doctor. You, Jacob, Tanner, watch it. Things always came back. You pick the fence, scale over, you must know there’d be consequences for it.

L couldn’t help it. That was how mouths went wrong, Jack’s ears perked often. He was a psycho. His talent was anger. L didn’t give a shit, it’d be your cause for regret, Jack thought. The town they lived in didn’t help. It was small and everyone knew your address. The sky was cerulean broad and the first thing to greet, by nights it locked everyone down. Stars were no remedy and the world was confined. L was no fool, she did not think there was anything larger in the cities.

They came for you anywhere you lived. First you fitted, then they assigned you clothes. ‘They’ did not exist, they sat around covered. Leaves and skins had not stop growing, they forgot the earth. L wore whatever thrown at her. A decent life was good enough, she calculated nothing, counted the protein bars and milkshakes, cans of root beer at the grocer’s, whose son sat by the cash register. “You doing good?” “Yes, L,” said the boy with the bluest tongue. “Alright, I’ll see you in a bit.” Then she counted her footsteps down the yellow, dusty path, stopped at her mailbox, patted the good stray dog, went into her house and the screen door shut.

Work was a deception, there was nothing much she could do, the higher-ups wanted the Friday school skits. For the kids to show cooperation and boy band valor in the distinction of the school’s marked years, or there’d be no funding. Look at the new generation of sweetness. Every Friday L gathered the students by the stage, an inspector, hands behind his back, royal accent, came to surprise: “I approve.” L shoved her hand into her jeans pocket, the young sang choruses, they must love to sing by the pastures and big machines,

We welcome you all to our variety show. Lots of different things to see before you go…and don’t forget to cheer for the stage and art crew. That’s what God wants us to do.

L liked lonesome holidays. She did not want company. Men at the bar told her it was sad, she was just thirsty and the Corona was lime fresh, she said leave me alone. For saying that she liked lonesome holidays. Once in a while she put on her boots and drove to the shooting range. Some women shot for power, L did it for commemoration.

Her child was dead.

One Friday Jack wanted trouble. He waylaid Katherine with a pair of scissors and cut a chunk of her hair, threatened to stab her pa. “If you laughed anymore at mine, I will.” And he set the shears on her cheek, his left hand holding her locks of dyed hair, and there was an ugly hole in Katherine’s head. Katherine wanted to sue. Yes, they could fold into cogs and wheels and Barbies, they were pink and drowsy, animation that made you float and sink, but you must leave them alone, Jack. Not everything was about you running the show.

Once in a while she put on her boots and drove to the shooting range. Some women shot for power, L did it for commemoration.

“Apologize to Katherine.”

“I’ll have to call your father.”

L put him on stage but that wasn’t his greatest humiliation. The humiliation was that the stage no longer had any effect, the shame of young men had altered in texture and Jack had none, he stood there continuing to glint and mock and taunt Katherine. You scum of pond in cotton fluff. You children of suburbia. Jack might hate boy bands, but he knew the stage was power. L was wrong to put him there, suddenly she saw him as he really was, Jack was slippery and could dissolve himself, fit into any vase or receptacle, fish through the systems by hook or crook, for looks were deceiving and Jack was lucky with his actor face. Move to the city and sit in an office signing away documents and lives, dictating to the secretaries the colors of their stockings and hair dyes. He was right: Boy bands were primitive. Dull for him, who could play Ken doll better than any.

The problem wasn’t his pa. It had gone beyond that. In the teacher’s room talk was the solution before L dialed, Jack said, his voice wintry, what do you know about children, L. And he sat slouched with his legs wide and one hand playing with a ballpoint pen, turning it slowly on the desk. What do you know about children, he said, as though he knew she once had a dead child, that made her eat her own fingers, each time she fired a bullet at the target, at the man who sauntered into the room and took her baby. “Fuck you,” L said. But she did not call his pa. The old man sat around getting shorter and thinner, when he lost his game of backgammon he got up and knotted the strings of his sweatpants, went to Jack and told him it was time he showed him the world. And papa said, “Run,” before he made Jack face the wall and did what he needed from behind. “Are you going to call him now?”

Policemen said, what a common story, neither mystery nor myth. Soon they’d be packing their bags and moving to Australia. They’d not heard his duck screams, saw the red glue stream down his actor face. They heard and went for his pa at the foundry where he worked, frisked him, or took his money. “Give me back my fucking paycheck,” wasn’t uttered. In its place was only lost memory. An escape he invented to cut his tongue for its failure to resist. They showed him what he was made of. A loser in this world where sweet-mouthed men swam in the upper echelons of the foundry, work, you stupid men, work. They really thought we were squids, son. They thought that because they smoked cigars, they could snuff them on my arms. The heat lovely, the burn rich, smoke on charred skin…

After it was done and over and back for more like clockwork and it happened often that papa said, “Run.” One day the cruelty was complete, a grin hung on Jack’s face, unfathomable like the moon. There was a transparent look in his eyes, hard as ivory, a beyond which said, you were finally free. There were no more cares, Jack did whatever he wanted, with hair or strangers or cats, but not the Doberman, but the kid with the bluest tongue. You had to be blunt, be chained. Something sick moved on his face, a cunning, as he said, “Just play the boy band, isn’t that right, L?” His hands grew baits and knowledge, cynicism wrecked his mouth. After drawing sketches of many dads in his notepad with a ballpoint pen, mumbling, why did they want fathers dead, all papas should die, eagle wings on backs and sweet faces which said, “I love you, son, you are the Roman in my eyes,” he burned them in the trashcan. He whispered to L, as he strutted off the stage like a winner and passed her by, “You’d have to forgive me for anything I do. It’s your job.”

L looked at him and understood. She was concerned, she shoved her hand into her pocket. She knew that Jack followed her down the yellow, dusty path to her vanilla prefab a few Fridays later after the cheap skit. It was a spring day, a television kind of color lit, the peace sacred as wind rustled the hickory trees, the sky a broadsheet. Somewhere an Indian song grieved, “This was our land.” Elsewhere a man in overalls listened to a boom box in a junkyard. L walked, not turning back, her faith and feet steady. This was not the first time. To live in America meant things were on a rerun, history never forgave, you killed my father. She wanted to laugh, but she hardly did at anyone. It didn’t matter what the director of the orphanage at Islington did to her. Every night a set of girls were arranged. One by one or like twins they entered his office and peed into a basin, age ten, he didn’t like the girls bloody. If they could not he gave them more water at supper. Occasionally they drank milk, for their pee to catch the cow’s fragrance. Months after she had the child at nineteen, he sauntered into the hospital room and took her away. She never saw Sammie again.

Behind her the wind carried the scent of cherry almond from L’s hair to Jack. He spat. A truck rumbled past and disturbed the dust, L’s hair was strong and russet, strips of copper ran through, her muscles brawny in her plaid shirt and blue jeans. Jack lifted his head and stared at the smear in the American sky. He had no plans. He would get through this. He’d force her down on the floor, feet planted on her head, his soles the scent of earth, down woman, this was the consequence if you wanted to be a man for Katherine. Fear was ruthless and truth and lies candles, perfidy a cake, he’d be safe. The bank accounts, which liked to romanticize our dollars, would not move, L had to eat, she’d not report him. He churned up his wrath to be ready, spat again: What did she take him for. He never wanted to be a Ken. The live plastic horror which knew no genitals or ethics or heart, the fathers of Katherine, cigars in hand. Gold and esteem the only values they craved, any power they had was ripped off the dead, ratting out prisoners and bribing police, talking to tycoons for their private fashion shows. Jack knew these fathers well, through his own’s hot body. Once your father was a slave, you were too. Jack was fifteen, but old as the wind. Height and build invented racism, he was six feet, hair black, toothpick at the edge of his mouth, chin shaved to consider the moon.

L did as always. She counted her footsteps to seven hundred, checked the mailbox, went through the wooden gate and patted the dog, ever so eager, Henry, down boy, soon there’d be milk bones. She went through the screen door and set down her tote bag, at the fridge took a can of root beer, popped the ring and drank. Never thought a follower would make her so thirsty, she finished it in a sec. In the next minute, she’d take a nap. The couch was leathery and inviting, she understood what it meant to be a woman of America, that she must be taught a lesson, kept wrong, forgotten, made to forget, like a man, a nanny in manland. They never stopped trying to convince her she wasn’t sporty, they always used the ancient methods—cut off her contacts, keep her at home. The living room was their world. Domestication was a horror, a horror.

She whistled for Henry. The dog, eighty-eight pounds, sacks of raw rice, half a Doberman, jumped onto her torso. Later, when Henry growled, Jack would be standing there, watching her wake. L hushed the dog, let him out of the house. “Obey,” she said. Jack growled, his actor face pale. L would let him do anything he wanted to her, as long as no clothes were removed. No rifles, no hands, go ahead, Jack. I give you half an hour. I am an American woman. I am the way I am, and if a beating makes you feel alive, like a man, go ahead, come.

• • •