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 #482

KRYS MALCOLM BELC

Every few weeks you shave my head in the bathtub. I sit naked on the wood stool and you stand behind me, cutting so close to my head I look bald in certain lights. The moment after one of your haircuts is the closest I come to religion. In the damp bathroom church I step out of the tub covered in discarded hair and trim my beard in the sink mirror before showering. Samson has been growing out his hair for over a year. For months his bangs have fallen in his eyes and he wears pins clips ties headbands and sweatbands but still wild blond pokes through and through. Samson says he will never have a beard but also says he likes mine. He rubs his hands along my face and calls me beautiful because that is the word I always use for him. His name feels fuller in my mouth now that I worry one day he won’t want it. Samson. I tell you it makes me anxious to think about how different he is from most boys, from our other boys, and you say Well, that’s on you. It is my job to be ok with what I made. He is sweet and soft in a way I’m terrified of crushing. In his little white drawers dresses stack on leggings stack on jeans. There are bracelets and LEGO creations scattered on his windowsill. You wonder if Sean would have needed his leg braces, if he would need speech therapy, had anyone else made him. Sean looks just like your mother. He is skeptical of me just like she was. But what good is the wondering, we know. We know it does not help our children who are alive, so alive, in front of us right now. They are us and they are their donor but mostly they are themselves.

His name feels fuller in my mouth now that I worry one day he won’t want it. Samson.

When I shaved my head for the first time everyone was shocked but I did not care. You said you were surprised how perfectly round my skull was. It was the first time anyone ever said the word perfect about my body. Your long fingers on my head felt new and wonderful. You held my hand as we walked across campus, heads turning. The air so cold so good rushing all over my scalp. What did we know, then? Samson says other children do not believe in dads who make babies. When he says this my stomach turns like it did when he was old enough to eat something other than my milk because that meant we were separating. We are separating. Thread by thread I am letting him fall away from me. There are no stories of his life that could begin without me but many that could end that way. I do not like to write about Samson as he is now because I cannot make him a character like I’ve made you into one. You can handle it. I can only handle writing about the Samson who used to smear berries all over his face. You stuffed them lovingly into a little mesh feeder and taught him to wrap his hands around food that wasn’t me. His eyes so blue, like mine, his face smudged all over with red and purple sweet. Samson says he doesn’t want to be the only child on this Earth made by his dad even though I’ve assured him he isn’t, showed him pictures of dads and children I’ve only met on the internet. They don’t always seem real to me either. Samson is older now, holds dark berries gently in his fingers before placing them on his tongue, sacred like. The Samson who needs me constantly is as gone as the me who made him. I miss the way his head felt when he used to let me shave it. So round and prickly, so much like mine. My heart burns looking at old pictures of him. I gave him this wild life.

• • •

Breadcrumb #473

JOSELIN LINDER

When I saw her that day by the side of the road, I smelled lemons. It was the color of her hair that hung by her shoulders and held through the citrus freckles over the bridge of her nose. I'd gone walking that morning because of Laurel's baby whose sobs had been waking me before dawn all six weeks since she'd been born. We were crowded now in my mother's house. Mom, Laurel and her baby, mom's fat boyfriend Frank, our little brother Grady, and me and the dog. When you added my mother's awake-time hollering, Frank's night time snoring, and the baby's all-the-time wailing, it just seemed like too much.

That morning, I walked toward her standing there in the distance, all lemons and beautiful. Her name was Callie Anderson and she had been in my seventh period the year before. She was waiting for something. I tried to imagine what it was. It was still early, although the sun was completely out. The air had that rarified summer-morning smell where promises live until they get burned away by afternoon. I liked how long it took me to get to her. It gave me lots of time to wonder her up and down.

She smiled a few feet too soon. It took me off guard. She waved down by her waist with her wrist bent awkwardly. I nodded and she looked back passed me down the empty street. I still wasn't close enough to her to say her name. I glanced over my shoulder to see what was coming while Mal ran ahead to where she stood. I didn't see anything on the horizon except the dead gold of the hills and the pale blue of the sky. When I turned back around Callie was bent over the mutt, patting her over the eyes and making a sucking kissy-face with her lips. I stopped when I reached them.

"Hey Callie," I said.

  "Hi Adair," she answered. It sounded good to hear her call me that. No one ever called me Adair, except my mom or Laurel when they were about to yell at me. Everyone called me Sonny.

      I was quiet then while she finished up with Mal.

      "What's its name?" she asked.

      "Mal-o-mar Jackson," I answered.

       "Seems like too big a name for a not-so-big dog," she said, and I liked it that she said it.

       "We just call her Mal."

      "That's good. She seems like a Mal." Callie crossed her arms over her chest and looked down at the dog sitting, looking up at her.

       I watched her for a minute to see if she was going to say anything else. When she didn't, I cleared my throat.

       Then she shook out her hair like she'd been someplace else and said, "You going somewhere?"

       "Yes and no," I answered.

       She nodded and sort of shrugged.

       "You?" I asked.

       "Nah. Just waiting," she replied.

       "For what?"

       "Nothing," she said vaguely.

       "Want to walk for a bit?" I asked her.

       "Sure," she said. I saw her eyes scan the horizon again before she turned to me sighing and then smiling.

      "Unless you need to wait." I said.

     She shook her head. "Nah."

      We started to walk. We didn't say much. We went down by the docks at the lake and talked a little about fishing. Callie said that someone once caught a fish around here that no one had ever seen before. She said maybe around World War II and that they never caught another one. She said that there was a museum over in Dauberville where they had it mounted and everything. I told her we should go see it sometime and she smiled at me. It was the most whole-faced smile I'd ever seen, the kind that you can't help but smile back to.

      I liked her story about the fish and I told her. It made me look at the lake a little differently.

Callie said that someone once caught a fish around here that no one had ever seen before.

      We didn't say much else. Mostly we just walked and threw sticks and rocks into the water that Mal kept trying to catch.

      "I have to go home," Callie said when we got to the edge of the old Porter property where some kids went to smoke pot and others went to make out. I couldn't tell if she was afraid I was going to try to kiss her. It felt like the wrong time of day for kissing with so much sun everywhere.

      "Okay," I shrugged.

      She looked at me with squinted eyes. "You want to walk me?"

      I shook my head. "I think I'm gonna go for a swim," I told her.

      "Well," she said, "maybe I can come right back. I just have to run home for a minute."

      "Okay," I said.

      I watched her walk away. She took steps that seemed too close together, not very economical. I figured for a second it was because she probably knew I was watching her. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine seeing her without her knowing she was seen. Her body was long with steady legs, swaying her hips around. I'd seen her walking a million times. When I opened my eyes again she was almost to the warehouse where she'd turn out of my line of vision.

      I looked out over the water. The grass everywhere was white-lit and fiery. Mid-summer had already sucked all the green out. I sat down by the edge of the lake and tucked my knees up. I thought about what it would be like to kiss Callie Anderson.

     I'd never spoken much to Callie unless it was something about school. I liked her. She was mostly quiet but when she talked it was always full of ways to look at things I'd never thought about. Teachers often told her she was wrong and you could tell it really rattled her. Mrs. Dunlap even made her cry once when Callie said that the Robert Frost poem seemed more like it was about finding something bigger, even though it seemed like he meant everything was small. Mrs. Dunlap shook her head and said, "No, Callie. Look at it again."

      I always liked what she said. Usually I liked her answers better than the right ones.

      I laid down in the stiff grass and Mal came and licked my face. I half patted her while I pushed her away. She huffed down in a heap beside me and we stayed that way for a while.

******

It was the part of the day when the air has about sweat itself out and is ready to call it quits. I was standing up to leave when I heard her call, “Hey!”

     "Still feel like swimming?" she asked as she approached.

     "Sure," I said.

     I watched her pull her shirt over her head. She was wearing a red bikini top. I tried not to stare as she took off her pants, so I threw a stick for Mal.

     “Where’d you go?”

     “I had to pick up the kids for my stepmom,” she answered.

     "Oh," I said. "My parents split up too."

     "Let's not talk about that," Callie said flatly.

     "Okay," I agreed.

     She dove in. I followed. Callie splashed and kicked water at me. I chased her but she was slippery and kept getting away. She was laughing really hard and breathing deeply. I almost caught her but she ducked under and came up near shore. She walked out with her long limbs shining and her hair dripping water down her back.

     She turned to face me laughing.

     I wanted to watch her like that all night, dripping with lake water, laughing.

     "I want to dry off while there's still a little sun left," she called.

     I dove under and swam towards shore. I climbed out and laid down in the grass beside her. She was up on one elbow looking down at me.

     "Adair?" she said.

     "Yeah?"

     "I like your name."

     "Why?" I asked.

     "It's strong."

     I raised my eyebrow. People usually said it sounded like a girl's name.

     "I mean I always thought your name was just `Sonny.' But then in fifth grade, Mr. Kinley only ever called you Adair, remember?"

     "That's right," I said. "I think I took a lot of heat for that."

     "Well, I thought it was beautiful, and my stepmom had a baby name book around because she was trying to have a baby, so I looked it up. It means oak tree by a ford. Did you know that?"

     I shook my head.

     "See? It's a really strong name."

     I was staring up at her and she was looking down at me. I raised myself up onto my elbows. Her stomach made a noise and she looked down at the ground. When she looked back up she bent forward and kissed me quickly then she pulled back a little.

     "Is it okay?" she whispered.

     I nodded and swallowed.

     She came in close again and pressed her mouth against mine. I felt her tongue lick the space between my lips. I closed them together then opened them again and felt around a little for her tongue. Her arms wrapped around my shoulders. I dropped back down to the ground pulling her with me. I listened to the quiet sounds of her kissing noises. She kissed all around my mouth and then back on my lips. I rolled her onto her towel and held her head in one hand and touched her face with my fingers. The sunset light was purple and orange and she looked like she was made out of glass.

     She pulled me in so that my head rested just below her chin. I closed my eyes and felt one of her hands tangle itself up in my hair while she rubbed my shoulder with the other.

     She said softly, "I was waiting for my mother this morning."

     I moved my hand to her hip and squeezed her there.

     "She left when I was ten."

     We didn't move and suddenly our position felt awkward. I tried to listen closely to what she was saying and not think about it.

     "We were in her car and she pulled over, right there on that street where you found me." Callie's voice was steady and slow. "She told me to get out. She just said, `Get out.' And I didn't even say 'Why,' I just did."

     I ran my hand down her thigh and let it rest on her knee.

     "We were on our way to the grocery store. I thought she'd be there so I walked all the way to town, but I couldn't find her. So I went back to the place where she'd dropped me off and then went back the next day and everyday that whole summer and waited, like she'd just dropped me off but that she'd come back to get me."

     I turned my head so that my lips could touch the skin by the bone below her neck.

     She said softly, "I heard somewhere once that if you lose something, you should go back to where you last saw it."

     I picked up my head to look at her.

     Callie shook her head. "What else can we talk about?"

     I replied, "My sister's baby cries all the time."

     Callie grinned looking straight into my eyes. "I think it's funny that we all come out crying but it takes us some time to learn how to laugh."

     I leaned down and kissed her softly. I kissed her cheeks and her eyes. She let her head fall back and I kissed her neck. The sun had almost completely set. I picked Callie up in my arms and pulled her onto my lap. She draped her arms around my neck and leaned her head on my shoulder. I breathed the lemons in her hair.

We sat like that until the stars came out.

• • •. • • •

Breadcrumb #471

RAJNI MISHRA

The woman pushes the door open with one hand, holding her bag in the other, and enters the salon. She walks over to the reception where she's greeted cheerfully by a young girl dressed in a white shirt and black skirt. The girl says with a well-rehearsed smile, ‘How can I help you, ma’am?’

‘I have an appointment at 6:30 pm for a haircut.’ She glances at her watch. The time is 6:27 pm. She's never late for an appointment. The girl at the reception checks her system and asks the woman to wait for two minutes. The woman's usual stylist is on leave today so she has opted for another stylist. She needs the haircut today. It can't wait till tomorrow. Because she has made up her mind. The woman likes the casual and friendly ambience of the salon. The huge glass walls are covered by the trees outside. Her usual stylist has come to know her hair too well. At times, she doesn't even have to say a word and he does what she needs. She hasn't changed her hairstyle in seven years.

Today is different. She wants a change. She needs a change.

 **

She has prepared for this moment all night. She had her coffee in the morning like a silent prayer. After reading for an hour, she watered the plants, made eggs and laid the breakfast on the table with the coffee. They ate breakfast in silence, the woman and her husband, she read her book and he flipped through the news on his tablet.

While leaving for office, he said, ‘I will be late today. How does your day look like?’

‘I have to do some shopping for my trip’.

‘I envy you. I wish I could take a sabbatical too’. He failed to hide the cheerfulness in his tone.

‘I will be done by dinner time though. So let's go out for dinner today. I will see you only after two weeks then’. He planted a kiss on her lips.

It tasted bitter.

‘Hi, ma’am’, the stylist says, ‘Please come this way’.

 **

Seven years ago, the woman’s father tried to kill himself. After he was discharged from the hospital, she left her home. She cut her hair short for the first time in years. So short that she didn’t have any to tuck behind her ears. The world was not so round as she imagined it to be.

 **

‘You have beautiful hair’, the stylist says.

‘Thank you’.

‘So what do you have on your mind?’

‘I want them short’.

He shows her a few pictures on his phone and she picks up one.

‘Let’s go for a wash, ma’am’.

He gently massages her hair. He has soft hands. Unlike her husband’s. Her husband has firm hands with a strong grip. Does the other woman feel the same when he touches her? Does he hold the other woman the way he embraces her? Does he fuck the other woman the way he fucks her? She is surprised at her own thoughts. She chuckles at the word ‘fuck’. She likes this change. Since she found out about the other woman, she hasn’t made love to her husband. She has been fucked by him though. She has watched herself being fucked by him. This word is so detached and dirty - fuck fuck fuck.

‘Please get up, ma’am’, the stylist says.

He wraps a towel around her head and shows her the way.

Snip. The hair begins to slip down from her shoulders to the ground.

 **

She comes home from work and is surprised to see her husband home early. He looks up from his laptop and tells her that he has to go out for dinner. She lays out his clothes while he takes a shower. A message appears on his phone. She walks out of the room and fixes a sandwich for herself. He leaves. She follows. He comes out of the building after 77 minutes. The woman thinks if she should confront him or ram her car into him. But this corner of the world is turning flat.

 **

Her head feels light. Most of her hair is gone. Scattered on the floor around her.

Have they been acting with each other since the beginning or they didn’t realize when they turned into strangers?

Confrontation never helps. They would argue, her husband would feed her stories in the name of the truth, she would believe him because he’s nice. Without her notice, his guilt would seep into her and fill that void of lies.

She is sitting in the middle of a dark cloud. Her thick, luscious dark brown hair surrounding her on all the sides. The stylist grazes the hair on her neck with a razor.

 **

‘Since you are born, we haven’t been happy. You are a curse’, her mother used to say when the woman was a young girl. She could never understand the reason but she felt guilty. She was impregnated with the guilt. She felt guilty for her father losing his job. She felt guilty for her being groped by her music teacher. She felt guilty for her father’s suicide attempt. She felt guilty for the world not being round.

Without her notice, his guilt would seep into her and fill that void of lies.

She remembers the first time she cut her hair. She felt light and liberated. She felt free. The guilt was in her hair she thought.

Her husband wanted her to grow her hair. He loved to pull on her hair during sex. Sometimes he slept with his face buried in her locks.  

Does he pull the other woman’s hair the same way? She is sure he does.

 **

A gush of hot air makes her shut her eyes tight.

She opens her eyes and smiles at her reflection in the mirror.

‘What do you think about it, ma’am?’ the stylist says.

‘Guilt-free’.

 **

The woman wonders if her husband has come to this restaurant with the other woman. She waits for him at the table he has booked for them.

‘Oh’, her husband says as he pulls the chair and sits. ‘Why did you cut your hair so short?’

‘There were just too many patterns. My head was getting heavier.’

‘I don’t understand. Why didn’t you tell me about it in the morning?’

‘I didn’t feel the need to.’

‘How can you be so reckless?’

‘I am hungry.’

His attention is caught by his buzzing phone. He picks it up and reads the message. The woman sees the glimmer of a smile in his eyes. His world is round.

He keeps the phone aside and places the order. The message has his mood lifted again.

‘Is the hairlessness the part of the preparation for your trip?’

‘Yes. This is where it begins’, the woman says.

Her world is flat.

• • •. • • •

Breadcrumb #469

ASPEN JUNE

After the ceremony he takes you out on his boat. His grad students are there too, leaning their beautiful bodies against the rails, wetsuits folded down at the waist. Strapping themselves into equipment like they know how to keep themselves alive under a hundred feet of water.

Luckily you are the only person on this boat who can drink this good champagne because you are the only one not planning to increase the pressure inside your body till your blood wants to bubble in its veins.

He handed you his award to hold while he’s diving. It’s just a ceramic disk on a ribbon striped like the flag. You could have bought it at a party store, or at least a good mimic. The edge of the ribbon is making your wrist itchy where you’ve wrapped it.

It’s just a ceramic disk on a ribbon striped like the flag.

You lean your elbows on the railing. It’s just windy enough to pull bits of the dark surface up into foam. You’d never get into it like he does, like his students. They go under like they’ve been fantasizing about that cold wet on their thighs.

The water looks at you like it expects something from you. You are wondering what he’s been giving it when he goes down and kisses its floor. Why does it think it can keep him?

You have to do this thing to get him back and you don’t need anyone to tell you. He’s not the only one who can know secret things about the ocean.

You set the champagne glass down by your feet and unwind the ribbon from your wrist. It falls fast but there is a moment when the ribbon spreads itself out on the water before the disk pulls it under.

But you have saved him, look, there he is, rising from the water, pulling up his mask, laughing.

• • •