Breadcrumb #174

ZACHARY LENNON-SIMON

Sophomore year in college, I was taking a sociology class to learn how to make friends. I was learning how to pick up on certain social cues such as if people are staring at you, it’s probably because they disapprove of you wearing a bathrobe to Sociology class. One day our teacher assigned us to go out and talk to someone about a topic we wouldn’t normally discuss with them. I had just gotten out of a long relationship and had recently wanted to try and flirt with girls again but didn’t quite know how. My therapist seemed like he was getting a little bored talking about flirting, so I decided to ask advice from the group of people who I talked to more than him: take-out restaurants.

    My first call was picked up by a woman around or a little older than me. “Campus wings, can I take your order?” 

    “Yes hi, first I’d like the chicken fingers and the dipping sauce as well as the large order of spicy chicken wings. But also I was wondering if I could get some advice about this girl I’m interested in.”

    And that’s when I told her about Jessica. Jessica who lived down the hall from my dorm room and walked and talked like she knew all her lines and we were all seven pages behind. Jessica with the long brown hair and a California suntan. I had managed to have 3 conversations with her in the laundry room and had since been convinced that we were perfect for each other. 

    But there were a few things I wasn’t sure about so I asked the Campus Wings lady, “Are you allowed to ask someone else out, 3 months after your last breakup? Also how can I be certain she’ll say yes? What if she has a boyfriend who is taller than me?”

    There was a bit of silence where I imagined the Campus Wings lady was determining whether to take me seriously or not.

    “Well maybe you should try and go to a party that she’s at and see how she behaves,” she suggested, “If she seems open to talking to people then she might not have a boyfriend and you could talk to her.”

    “So Campus Wings is suggesting I follow Jessica—“

    “Woah, woah woah!,” she interjected, “Campus Wings is no way legally allowed to tell you to stalk anybody. I’m just saying that maybe that’s a good plan.”

    I thanked her for the advice, asked her how long the food would take and then hung up.

    The next place I called was a pizzeria that I think was called Michael’s. The guy picked up on the second ring and I immediately went into my schpeel, “Hi I’d like a large pie, one half pepperoni one half peppers and an order of garlic knots with the dipping sauce but also I was wondering what you thought I should do about this girl who lives down the hall from me. We’ve talked a few times and had some casual flirting over laundry and the Afghanistan war and I’d like to see more of her but how should I go about this?”

    There was a very long silence and then the man at Michael’s Pizza said, “Que?”

Hi I’d like a large pie, one half pepperoni one half peppers and an order of garlic knots with the dipping sauce but also I was wondering what you thought I should do about this girl who lives down the hall from me.

    I elaborated, “Well we’re at college so are you allowed to go out on dates or is it strictly a ‘hook up until you decide you’re in a committed relationship’ type scene. Because I would feel more comfortable with the date scenario but I don’t know if that’s acceptable. What are your thoughts?”

    The man at Michael’s Pizza put the phone down. There was static for a few seconds and then one of the cast members of The Sopranos picked up the phone, “Yeah dis is Micahel’s Pizza, whaddya want?”

    I carefully explained my predicament, while also making sure that I got the dipping sauce with the garlic knots, and then asked him what he thought was acceptable in a college atmosphere for how I should approach Jessica.

    Without missing a beat, the man said “Look buddy, we sell pizza’s here, awright? We don’t have any gurls or guys for you, if that’s what you’re into.” As if the act of calling a pizzeria and asking for advice clearly meant I was a homosexual.

    “How could you tell he was gay?” someone would later ask him.

    “Well he was calling up restaurants and asking for relationship advice, know what I mean? That’s what they do.”

    I apologized for wasting his time, asked how long the pizza would take and hung up.

    So far, I was getting a lot of good material for class but none whatsoever in terms of advice on what I should do about Jessica. Dejectedly, I started flipping through the menu folder when I found the rarest thing you can possibly hope to find in White Plains: a Jewish deli. Eagerly, I dialed the number and after about five rings an extremely weary voice picked up and said, “Hullo Abe’s Deli.”

    Not only had I found the only Jewish deli in White Plains but I probably also found the only one on the east coast still run by a Jew! Excitedly I started to explain, “Hi I’d like pastrami on rye with gruyere, mustard, tomato, and salami but also I’d like your advice about this girl Jessica who lives down the hall from me. I just got out of this fairly long relationship but I’ve become very infatuated with Jessica and I don’t know how to approach her or even if I should, I mean how long should a person respectfully mourn the girl you were with before trying to flirt with another one?”

    The man, who probably could only have been named Saul Abelmann, sighed wearily. As if he had been dealing with this problem his whole life. “My friend,” he said slowly and deliberately, “you can ask me about salami or mustard. The rest is up to you.”

    “Wow!” I exclaimed, “that’s incredible! So you’re saying this is something I have to work through and figure out myself.”

    “This is what I’m saying,” said Saul.

    “Thank you. So how long will it take?”

    “Forever. Rest of your life.”

    “No I meant the sandwich.”

    “That also. We don’t deliver” and then he hung up.

• • •

Breadcrumb #142

BARB ROSINSKI BENINCASA

Life equals a big, big mess. Nobody plans it that way, but shit happens. It begins with those diapers. When you become a parent, nobody tells you that you will be changing not only the diaper, but the cute little outfit and the perfectly coordinated crib sheets, multiple times the day you come home from the hospital. So much for the illusion of the perfect life.

    When you get the middle of the night phone call that your parent is dead, you think that life cannot go on. Who is going to love you unconditionally? Who is going to slip you a few bucks to buy something that you don't really need? Who is going to call you "kid?" Yet, you look into the eyes of your child and realize that it is your turn to do those things for somebody else. Life does go on and it is a big, big mess.

    When you find out that the love of your life doesn't love you anymore, you panic. You say "I cannot be a single parent." You go to therapy and courtrooms, places you thought were for "other people." You come out of the ordeal wounded, just hoping your pain won't ruin the lives of those beautiful children. Life does go on and it is a big, big mess.

    When you watch your best friend in the world lose her child, it is so fucking unfair. You rail at the universe, wondering why it is so cruel. You attend a funeral you never expected. You never forget his name, his birthday, or to talk about him. Life does go on and it is a big, big mess.

You rail at the universe, wondering why it is so cruel. You attend a funeral you never expected.

    You step on Legos and action figures in the middle of the night, because you hope that leaving them out encourages your children to build worlds in which they are powerful. You buy paints and crayons and markers and get giant refrigerator boxes so that your kids can build structures to take them to the safe, happy places of their imaginations. Life does go on and it is a big, big mess.

    You get in trouble at work because you just cannot keep your mouth shut. You want others to see that children are important. You speak up for what it right, even though it does not win friends or influence people. You go to a job every day in which you know you make a difference, even if your superiors feel otherwise. Life does go on and it is a big, big mess.

    But life is more than the shit that happens. It is also the realization that lagniappe comes out of those messy experiences. It is watching your children grow into men who create more beauty than you ever thought possible. It is seeing the children you've helped over the years become people who like to communicate. It is watching that best friend devote her life to bringing joy to children, in her son's memory. Here's to a life filled with big, big messes.

• • •

Breadcrumb #138

KASIA MERRILL

We are not in love.

    We are standing, two feet apart, and I keep saying the same thing over and over.

    I am in love with you.

    She keeps shaking her head, her hot pink hair swaying with each turn. No, you aren't, she is whispering. We are both crying and neither of us love the other and I wonder what exactly it is that we are mourning. 

    We have been in fake love for 2 years. Our fake love was at least not real hatred. Our fake love was comfortable. Our fake love was more than I expected from a relationship.

    We are standing in the hall of our apartment building. Her torn backpack is on her shoulders, her  black hoodie is hanging out from the unzipped opening. She has not zipped it, she never zips it, and this bothers me again as we stand here, and I deeply wish to fix it, but I wonder Who am I to fix someone I am not in love with?

    I don't say this. Instead, I say Maybe we can fix this and she is shaking her head again. 
I imagine the two of us together. I imagine us kissing, laughing, holding hands. We have said I love you one thousand times and not meant it once. We have picked furniture and watched one another sit on it like props. We have existed in one another's space and imagined what love might feel like.

    This is not what I expected, I say.

    She looks down at the ground. She has a gold nose piercing in the shape of a ribbon and she is wearing too much eyeliner. Her nails are expertly painted silver, but her jeans are ragged and ripped. I suddenly remember that when she is happy, she has a sleepy half-smile. I remember liking this about her when I first met her. I had witnessed that smile and I immediately imagined what it would be like to wake up beside her, to see that smile against the blue of my pillowcase. I imagined us listening to Sufjan Stevens and smoking weed. This was how I had fallen in love with her, this fake memory I had constructed.

I suddenly remember that when she is happy, she has a sleepy half-smile. I remember liking this about her when I first met her. I had witnessed that smile and I immediately imagined what it would be like to wake up beside her, to see that smile against the blue of my pillowcase.

    I later realized she loathed Sufjan Stevens and got paranoid when she smoked weed. She didn't like drugs. I did not fall in love with this version of her. I didn't fall out of love with my fantasy, either, and perhaps this was what went wrong. Perhaps my heart was already taken when I met her by somebody she never was.

    In the apartment hallway, people are passing, neighbors we never spoke to. I clear my throat.

    I want to love you, I say to her. I really do.

    She exhales loudly, runs a hand over her forehead. Her hair sticks up and I remember placing it back when we were first dating, before she told me that she hated when I did that. She looks at me, but it is hard to take her seriously with her hair propped up from her head.

    The problem is you want everything, she says. And none of it works.

  I am unsure what she means by this. Before I can ask, she says she has to go and walks past me, her shoulder brushing against mine. I stare after her and watch her steal the life I had created, the life we were meant to live. I watch her steal our cute date at Ikea, our MDMA roll at Electric Zoo festival. I watch her steal our Pitbull mix, our shared closet. I watch her rob me of the girl I had fallen in love with and never had.

    We are not in love. 

• • •

 

Breadcrumb #137

CAROLINE REDDY

Parisa stood by Navid’s old bedroom, holding tight to the hyacinth flower, and wondering if her brother’s soul had found a home yet. She had changed into her yellow polka dot dress along with the white stockings even though they made her knees all itchy. On her feet she wore her new shoes--with insoles that were decorated in lemony polka dots. 

    Parisa had been standing there a while daring herself to take a peek into her dead brother’s room that had been left undisturbed since the car accident.  

    It had been a quick death. 

    Navid hadn’t felt any pain-and her family had told her all the things that adults say when they are not sure how to speak to children. Mina, her mother, cried for weeks as she straightened up the house. Sami, her father who was an accountant, had lost himself in his work and treated Parisa like she was the one who had died. 

    When Parisa asked her parents about her little brother they always said the same thing: Navid was in a better place.

    None of that explained what had happened to Navid and why his bedroom was tended to every few days- as if he would run upstairs with a slice of pizza to play his video games or read one of his comics. 

    Her mother had been in Navid’s room that morning straightening things up. When Mina caught her daughter’s confused eyes she cleared her throat and said:

    “Spring cleaning is part of Nowruz...it’s our tradition. Parisa-borro bache get the flowers I bought and bring them downstairs. Stay out of your brother’s room.”

    Then her mother went to work on placing the items that represented the coming of spring on the haft seen: coins, goldfish, sabzi, mirror, colored eggs and the poetry of Hafiz instead of the Qu'ran since her family didn’t practice Islam or any other religion. 

    Nor did anyone ever enter Navid’s room-except for her mother. Parisa was caught once but her aunt Haleh pulled on her arm: 

    Boro-boro bache...boro ye jaye digge...hichi ke inja nist barre shoma. Go child...go somewhere else….there is nothing here for you…

    Parisa had gotten angry and remembered how everyone always fussed over Navid even though he was such a little brat: always tugging at her hair and stealing her peanut butter cups: her favorite Halloween candy. Still, Parisa missed her brother’s scent: a mixture of peppermint sticks, cinnamon and maple. It was a sweet scent and thinking about it almost made her cry.  

Parisa missed her brother’s scent: a mixture of peppermint sticks, cinnamon and maple. It was a sweet scent and thinking about it almost made her cry.

    “If his body is buried and his room is still the same-what happened to his rooh-his soul?” Parisa asked her uncle because she thought that maybe Navid could appear for the Pars festival. It was a silly thought by a silly little girl-but it wasn’t impossible. No one could see her lemony polka dot insoles that matched her dress for it was hidden. It was sort of like Navid.  She thought she had seen her brother on Shabe Yalda-the winter solstice when they had stuck out their tongues at each other like it had been any old day. 

    “If he came to see me during the Winter Solstice why wouldn’t he come for the spring?”

    Her uncle sighed heavily and turned the page of his newspaper. His forehead was crinkled and he lifted his eyes slightly.

    “Ey babba...veleshkon. Leave your brother’s soul alone. Navid is happy. That’s all that matters,” Uncle Behrooz said. 

    Her uncle had been immersed in the news about the recent lifting of sanctions in Iran. Since the summer it had been the one thing that had been on his mind more than anything else...because it meant that things might get better for his kin back home. 

    She heard him speaking on the phone with Mr. Saman, his friend, and advisor, who had been helping Behrooz with his dissertation.  Her uncle had been working on a long project  but had taken some time off to help the family. 

    Parisa poked his shoulders.

    “Hmmmm?” Her uncle said.   

    “I think I saw him...on Shabe Yalda…dooroog nimigam ke!” 

    “Parisa, joonam...maybe you saw him in a dream. Your baradar is gone...but we still have you...” 

    Uncle Behrooz smiled thinly and cleared his throat. His mustache seemed to wiggle. She knew  that it meant that the conversation was over. Parisa found herself sitting in her room and resting her chin on her Snoopy doll. 

    She heard her uncle and mother screaming at each other downstairs while her father tried to keep the peace between the two:

    “Both of you need to calm down…”  

    “That room…it’s sick and it is confusing her.”

    “Behrooz now you care? Where have you been this past year? In your own little world getting a useless degree in theology…”

    “My studies are separate from Parisa. Babba...the girl thinks she still sees her brother. She needs help...”

  “My daughter is fine. If you want to help you can get your head out of books and help us with the bills. We took you in when that gende...that whore left you.”

    “I work at the university.”

    “Azizam, we are fine. Let Behrooz finish his studies. I can adjunct again if needed.”

    “No. Your daughter needs you and you ignore her. No wonder she speaks to ghosts.”

    Parisa thought about her brother. 

     On the winter solstice, Shabe-Yalda, where her family celebrated the long winter night eating watermelon, sharing pomegranate seeds, the poems of Hafez and keeping warm by the fireplace, she had heard something outside. When she looked out the window she thought she had seen her brother. Then he stuck his tongue at her and she did the same-feeling horrible afterwards and wondered if his soul was cold.

    Parisa dropped the hyacinths on the floor. She placed her hands on the bedroom door and opened it slowly.  She entered quietly, and stood in the middle of Navid’s bedroom hoping that he didn’t mind; her brother hated it when she went into his room without his permission. 

    Her eyes spotted David Beckham on the closet kicking up a soccer ball that splattered dirt beyond the edge of the poster. Parisa felt the big red eyes and wide grins from the video game characters standing guard with their swords for they were still pinned to the wall as well. Navid’s bed was also still there, with the dark blue Justice League bedsheets and his Akira manga all stacked neatly on the table next to his bed.

    Parisa walked towards his desk and pulled open the drawers. She found envelopes that held foreign coins from countries that uncle Behrooz had visited. On the windowsill a few mason jars held a collection of preserved insects.  Parisa picked one up and stared at the shriveled grasshopper, wondering about its soul, wondering if it too was keeping her brother safe.

    There was an awful scream. 

  Parisa dropped the mason jar as she flinched and turned around. The jar rolled over to her mother who was standing there in her long green dress and her apron. She was speaking fast in Farsi and Parisa just looked down at the blue carpet that had been freshly vacuumed. 

    “Biya biroon as inja...chi behet goftam? Bare chi be man hitchvaght goosh nimikoni! Get out! What did I tell you? Why don’t you ever listen to me!”  

    Parisa closed her eyes and thought about Shabe-Yalda, the winter solstice, where her family celebrated the long winter night eating watermelon, sharing pomegranate seeds, the poems of Hafez and keeping warm by the fireplace.

    Navid had still been alive and she remembered that they had stuck their tongue out at each other-just like when his ghost had visited her. 

    All of a sudden, Parisa realized that she wasn’t sure if she had seen her brother’s ghost or if she had simply mixed everything up in her head. The little girl sat down on her brother’s bed, confused by the string of memories that all of a sudden didn’t make much any sense anymore and she began to cry. 

    “Chi shode...what happened? Why is my Parisa crying?” Her father was standing at the threshold with Uncle Behrooz.  Both men looked at Parisa and then at Mina. 

    “She was supposed to help me with the haft-seen and I find her in here messing up her brother’s room…” Her mother was whispering as she held the hyacinth and the mason jar close to her heart. Parisa saw the dead grasshopper and imagined it blinking its eyes as if to say the little girl was next since she was ruining the Spring Equinox for everyone.

    “Yes…we need to set up the haft-seen for Aide Nowruz…” her father said.

  “Nowruz...it literally means a new day Mina,” Uncle Behrooz said. He looked at his sister and then the walls. Then her uncle began to take down the posters carefully. 

    Mina nodded her head gingerly. 

    Sami held Parisa and gently rocked his daughter in his arms. 

    It had a while since Parisa had hugged her father.

• • •

Breadcrumb #134

KIM DIETZ

Up on the hills where the smoke from the mills fills the clouds and the hawks circle, crowding the treetops, as if the last animal to ever die just did. Crickets and katydids are all that are heard throughout the night. The mountains and blinding greenness fill the backdrop against the stark horizon. Nuclear veins branch outwardly across the sky as the rain blurs the silhouettes and flashing of images through the glass of the unwashed window. Children grimace and aimlessly meander on rusted, creaking bikes, throwing rocks at faces that appear to be watching.

     The water, it seeps like sap down the hill of mud and buried black tires. She used to play in them once. Rolling down inside at undeniably dangerous speeds. Her devilish grin upturned toward the warm sun, popping kernel-tinted freckles on her cheeks, arms reaching, fists clenched upward above her head, as if to say, I’ve conquered this.

     Every dog barks when you walk down these streets because they're not used to people. The people are not used to people either. There's no reason to be dressed up unless it's Sunday, so we're all a bunch of weirdos headed into a Denny’s in suits and dresses on a Saturday, sitting around a sticky table drinking black coffee.  

_____

     “Your grandmother was known as ‘Queen of the Hill’ around these parts, you know.”

     “She was all that and a bag of chips.” 

     “She never took no for an answer, and she had a sass to her that not many could handle.”

     “Strong-willed, quick, and a serious eye for fashion...there wa'n't much for ‘er here. She wanted more than jus’ the simple stuff.”

     “Her daddy was beggin’ her to come back after she moved up there to New York, but it's prolly better she di'n't.”

     “Heck yeah! They both woulda drank themselves to death... By golly, him and that moonshine…”

_____

     The steam from the mugs rippled off the surface of each cup — eyes closed, lips pursed, heads tipped backward, as throats swallowed with discretion.

     When Christmas was near, she practiced her wrapping; folding neat, tight corners in perfect edged triangular patterns, ribbon curling, bouncing, tearing, and placing the perfect amount of tape, just enough to be barely visible. She put the bows in her hair and decorated the tree in white angels with paper skirts and tinsel halos.

     Even as the years stole the golden brown color from her hair, she made gingerbread men with different-colored icing suits. One unique cookie for each unique grandchild. The smell wafting from the kitchen could send a pack of howling children into a rabid frenzy. Pasty flesh was kept pink and warm even when the heat didn't come on. She radiated joy, which was fitting, as that was her middle name.

     And all these men around here sure have some character to them, even after this funeral. Maybe it just runs in the family — the wisdom of a man who's lived with the spirit of a boy, expecting so much more time to play from the world and the gifts it has to offer.

     That's what we all need. Just a little bit more of that.

• • •