A SHORT STORY
"I am aware I am breathing in—"
Laying on our backs we moved one arm from our side, swept it up into the air, and landed it beside our ear. The teacher’s in's floated us upward, mingling with the air above our mouths as if to indicate we were only halfway through the—
"I am aware I am breathing out."
Her outs were definitive. The ‘t’, a sure ending. No air left in the body. Bellies acquiesced. This, an exercise we would repeat. Would repeat. With one arm. With both arms. Inhale—
Exhale. We were meditating with movement. Conscious of our breath. Conscious of our bodies. Mindful, and nothing else. Except— I was also thinking about bread.
Her voice was soft like warm bread and I wanted to become butter so I could melt all over it. My body, so relaxed it felt like her cosmos was what controlled the movement of my arms. I was made hungry by her. Without her, I would drift into the deepest most sensual sleep, starved, into dreams so leavened and porous I might never dream of waking.
My eyes were closed. I opened one. In the corner of the tall room, plants soaking in the sun around us, she was just—
—looking at me. A smile. Slowly. Like the spread of mediterranean olive oil making its way around my solar plexus. My solar system. Smattered on a bun, I was.
You see, I love bread. Fresh bread, baguette bread, banana bread. Naan, pita, pizza bread.
Sourdough. Rye. Pumpernickel. Toasted, warmed, day old, dried.
Challah, brioche, biscuit, ciabatta. Tortilla.
Pretzel, pretzel bagel, bagel, scone, oh, and focaccia.
Brown bread, white bread, corn bread, flat bread. Anpan, arepa, damper, kifli...
Bread is the only comfort I have when the sun goes down, when I drink too much, when my cat Mantou falls off the balcony after a bird. When I get bad test results, when I take a risk, when I call my mother for advice and she says: "Eh! Just forget about it."
When I found out I had HPV, when my HPV went rogue in my ovaries, when I broke down at a party and gave a speech about how my tubes are getting lasered and two other women yelled, "I had that too! It’s okay, it's common!"
When I called my mom to tell her about it and she told me, she said: "We all have it honey, even me. When I was pregnant with you, I got it lasered. You were in the way. Just forget about it."
In this tall room at the back of an old house off Bank Street, I was breathing in and out. Inhaling— close to my alma mater where I was giving my "Cold Butter: The Best Way to Spread Joy Without Tearing Holes in Your Loaf" talk, close to my Airbnb which was, I just realized, right above the bakery I'd always loved.
Exhaling— I've dreamt of a life like this. This is it. My best life. Where everything smelled of bread. My bed. My hair. My nose. My clothes. Even this old house, every inhale exhale, smiling at me. I’m melted.
Who can I blame? It was the tiny speckles of bread scents that weaved their way into the apartment I was renting. They clung to the hairs in my nose like sticky tack and I awoke them with every breath doing yoga in the back of that old house. I fell in love again in the back of that old house. Smiling at me.
"I am aware I am breathing in—" she said as my arm floated upward until gravity took over. Eyes closed. I opened one. She was just—
—leaning against a support beam covered in vines and looking at me. Smiling. Her words rolled over my chest fell on my belly kneaded into me like the life inside fresh flour. Refined. Both arms, inhale.
Exhale, the scent of bread.
See, the thing is, I love bread. The smell of it, the texture, the taste. Bread with butter. Bread with jam. Even avocado toast, yes. The feeling of bread is her voice and that room and those tiny scented specks that had settled upon every object in the Airbnb, including the insides of my own nostril hair, thick and ready to be taken. We were alive, those specks and me and her and that room in the old house, and I know why: because I love bread.
Bread was the only comfort I had when I found out Mantou didn't land on his feet last time. When I found out it wasn't my dad who gave my mom HPV. When I found out my body had turned against me — the monster — and smacked a label on my file that made me gluten-free. Bread was the only comfort when I said the words aloud for the first time and got this reply:
"Are you celiac, or are you just, like, gluten ‘aware?’ Because there’s a difference, you know.” The clerk's fingers bending into quotation marks like my ‘awareness’ could be part of an abominable trend. This bakery, a place I used to covet. A sanctuary. A refuge. A place I used to own, because I spent so much dough here. I wanted to punch this fool square in the mouth, their smug cheeks moving with their lips, their quizzical eyes just—
—looking at me. Like I didn't know the difference between being celiac and being casually gluten-free. Like I didn't know that I palmed that rosemary potato loaf like it was Thelma and I, Louise. Like I didn't know that moving my feet backwards, one after the other, was backing away from them and out of the store and onto the street. Like I didn't purposely make air quotes back at their stupid face as I went. Thinking of Kevin in Home Alone stealing the toothbrush because he needed it. Like I kneaded the rosemary loaf. Like I wasn't aware of what was going on. Like I called my mom when I got outside to inhale fresh air so I could tell her about all about it and ask her what to do and you know what she said? ◇
Image by Louise Lyshøj