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Daily Bread


 

She starts at midnight

Later she will have to turn on the oven

And all she has is a single window unit

For a three bedroom house

Three ratty bedrooms

And one of them separated from the rest of the house

By a two inch wide gap she started to fill with foam

But ran short and had to stuff the rest with strips of old blue towel

Running short is the story of her life

She has never not been poor

She has never made it to the third week of the month

Without eyeing the 1st like a hungry dog

But its 1202 a.m. and 104 degrees across the street from the railroad tracks

And she hopes that by that hour the concrete has finally stopped radiating heat

Because she is going to have to turn the oven on

And the baby is asleep for the night

She hopes

And her four year old will wake up if the baby cries

But it’s midnight and she thinks she is finally safe

So she turns on the tap

So slow that it takes 30 minutes to fill a sink of dishes

She turns on the tap until it is warm to the touch but not hot

She would measure out 1/3 cup of water in a cereal bowl

But she does this every week so she doesn’t have to

She knows

She what 1/3 of a cup looks like

She knows how long it takes with her sorry water pressure

She knows how much it weighs in her hand

And ontop of the water she sprinkles

1

2

3

Tablespoons of yeast

She doesn’t buy the packets

Those are expensive

And sometimes past their prime

No

She spent some of the luxurious 675 dollars a month

Her Husband earned

Working 7 nights a week

No holidays off

No weekends

No Sick Days

No nothing

To pay for a membership at the warehouse store

So she can buy yeast and flour and olive oil and peanut butter and honey

And turn it into something they can live on

She takes a quart of water and a quart of milk

Milk from WIC

Milk, that comes with cheese, and eggs, and juice and cereal and more than once has saved her life

And puts that milk and water on to come to a boil while the yeast blooms

The more of a chance the yeast has to grow and expand the higher the bread will rise

So she starts them at the same time

She walks around the kitchen in a circle

Wipes the dining table

Drinks the cup of coffee

That special cup

With dirt at the bottom

That she knows will not fit in her husband’s thermos

But she makes anyway

For herself

She runs to the bath tub

Where the pressure is only slightly better

For the water to make another pot

One cup is not enough

To keep her up all night

And it helps to pass the time

So that by the time the coffeemaker starts grunting

the milk and water have come to a boil

and she can turn off the fire

And add ¾ cup of honey and ½ cup olive oil

And because she is impatient for the milk and water and oil and honey to be cool enough not to the kill the yeast and ruin the recipe

Bread without yeast

Is a brick

As hard as things are she doesn’t want to feed her children bricks

As hard as things are

She doesn’t want to feed a man who works every day, even Christmas, a brick

And she can’t afford to throw away this much milk and honey and yeast

She can’t throw away a half a cup of oil

She adds one ice cube and stirs

Until it’s gone

But it still feels too hot

The Milk and the air both

Her shoulders sag and she goes to the living room turns on the tv

Lays on the floor and watches the ceiling fan spin in a circle

And waits

She hates waiting

There are Happy Days reruns

And infomercials for weird things she doesn’t want

And couldn’t afford even if she did

She goes back to the kitchen

The milk is cooled enough to stick her finger in comfortably

And the yeast

Has more than come to life

It is bubbling and fierce and sacrificing to primitive gods

If she leaves it any longer they will invent the wheel

In her big bowl

The one she bathed the baby in until he got too big

She pours the milk

And the yeast

And flour

6 cups to start

Stirring with her long wooden spoon

Then 6 more cups

Then it is too thick to stir with a spoon

So she washes her hands in the bathroom and dries them on her shirt

And she goes back to the kitchen

And dumps 6 more cups in the bowl

She makes a fist and kneads it in

The dough is starting to look like dough now

But lumpy and shaggy

With her fist she kneads in 2 more cups

Then another 2

Turning dough out of the bowl

And onto the rickety table

She sprinkles more flour so it doesn’t stick

Folds the top down to the center with the heel of her hand

Turns the dough a quarter turn

Folds the top back to the center again and pushes with her fist again

Sprinkles a little more flour

Listening to the teevee in the other room

It’s Gone with the Wind now

And she thinks that’s marginally better than a paint roller that paints textures on your wall

She would turn the tv off but

The sleeping house is too quiet without it

She doesn’t want to hear the old drunk next door

Or his crackhead son with the burnt black fingers

The train whistles echo right through her

And suddenly while she wasn’t paying attention the dough became smooth and finished

And perfect

So she pulls it aside

And washes the bowl in the bathtub

Because it cannot possibly fit in the sink

Dries it off on her shirt

Because she has recently showered

And everyone who will be eating this bread

Has had her breast in their mouth

At some point

She drops a splash of oil in the bowl

Returns the giant ball of dough

Swirls it round and round and upside down til the shiny belly of it is greased

So it doesn’t dry out as it rises

She covers the dough like a sleeping baby and goes back to the tv

If she let herself fall asleep

She would wake up in the morning with ruined dough

But still she has a fantasy of laying down on the bed next to her husband

Not that he’s there

Not that he’ll be there in the morning

In the morning he will go to school

That’s why he works nights

So he can go to class in the morning

So maybe

Just Maybe

They won’t be poor forever

And that’s why she makes bread

She was told

by the lady who looked at her like she was going to steal the pens off her desk

She could not get food stamps

If she did not work

She tried to find a job

And put out 124 applications in a single week

Without one call back for an interview

And then she got out her pen and paper

And it came to her

That between day care

And the sort of clothes they expect at a job

It makes no sense

And she isn’t qualified for anything above minimum wage

Her husband already has a degree

And for that he gets a 25 cents above minimum

But if she gets a job

Paying as much as his

Which seems unlikely

Between daycare and all the added expenses of working

She realizes she will be breaking even

To leave her kids with strangers all day and

feed them convenience foods

And be too damn tired and over extended to be nice to her husband

the few hours a day he is home

much less the 45 minutes or so he is both at home and awake

It will be a long time before she fills out another job application

Trying to stay awake she checks on her four year old girl

sweating in her sleep

She hangs wet sheets in the door ways at night

It helps some

But it’s time to rewet the sheet

The baby is in her bed

Or her mattress and box springs on the floor

Drooling a duck shaped puddle

And on the way back to the teevee she doesn’t have to worry about occupying herself any longer because she has stepped on a fish hook

She does not understand it

But they when they moved into the house the orange shag carpet in every room except the bathroom was full of fish hooks

She wonders if it has anything to do with the fact that it used to be a crack house

But try as she might she can’t figure it out

What she does figure out

Limping to the bathroom

Tracking blood all over the plywood she used to replace the rotten boards in the floor

She figures out she cannot pull the fish hook out of her foot

Like her life

Like her husband working every single day

And going to school

And doing his student teaching

And barely having enough to make it through every month

She is going to have to push that fish hook through the way it is going

Grit her teeth and do it

The tub is spattered with blood

She scrubs the wound with soap

And pours the last of the peroxide on her heel

And gives herself a sponge bob band-aid for being brave

Then she cleans the floor

And decides if either of them had any sense Mellie would run off with Rhett

But no one asked her

It’s a stupid movie

So she sits in front of the tv with a book she’s read a dozen times

Jumping so hard she hurts her neck when she realizes she’s drifted off

But not for too long

Ashley Wilkes is still a weak willed watered down empty canvas for Scarlet O’Hara to Project her fantasies onto

And her dough hasn’t over risen

She pokes it with one finger and it leaves a mark

It’s 334 a.m. and she turns the oven to 400 degrees

It’s 334 a.m. and she punches down the dough watching it deflate before she turns it over and Pulls her pans from the cupboard

Technically they are supposed to be disposable

Aluminum

Three to a package

Easy to find around the holiday

And two years earlier she bought four packages

She has washed and reused them so many times

She has to reshape them after every washing

And lives in terror of one developing a hole

She brushes the inside of all twelve with olive oil

She divides the dough in half

Then each half in half

Then each quarter into three equal pieces

The length of the pan

She measures them against each other

And sets them all to rise in the pans while the oven heats

And she wishes the oven would be cool

Before the sun comes up

But she knows it won’t be

And the creaky window unit will have to fight the heat

When the oven is hot

And the dough is doubled

Twice the loaves they used to be

Peeking over the top of the narrow pans

She slides the first six loaves inside

Four long ways

Side by side

And the last two perpendicular to the rest

In front

And parallel to the oven door

Thirty minutes later she turns them

Golden crowned

Out of their pans on the counter top

Puts the next batch in just like the first

Turns the cooling bread so the steam doesn’t make it mushy on one side

Finally when she pulls the last loaf out of its pan and onto the counter

She hears Scarlet in the living room

Silhouetted in black

With her radish

Swearing she’ll never be hungry again

And she can’t help laughing

If only it was that easy