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Burntbread

This is a short story about childhood and learning to live with the unsettled past.

Burnt

Baking bread has always been a sense extravaganza for me and the entire household. My cats watch me from their window perches, as I roll, knead, and shape the dough. My dog lays at my feet salivating, and anyone else in the apartment waits anxiously for the first slice of warm bread with my homemade honey butter.

I am standing over the first loaf of the week. My heart starts beating faster, my hands shake a little, and I feel sad and anxious suddenly, but not because of the expectation of the bread to come out of the oven. I inadvertently tear up as a strong sense of my childhood flashes in front of me.

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When we lived in Alabama, my sister and I got off the bus from school at 3:45 pm daily. She and I would walk down the long winding driveway, her gabbing about the art project she did, and telling me about the cool sweater a girl in her class had that day. I am 3 years older than my sister. This is not a great age difference, but always I felt much older than my young 10 years.

This week at home had been particularly rough. My dad had been on the road for seven days for his truck driving job. Each of those seven days brought more discontent in my mother, and her process of spiraling downhill was becoming apparent, even to my younger sister.

As we approached our enclosed porch, our lovely Lily dog was waiting with wagging tail outside, which, was very unusual, since she was a runner, and mom didn’t let her outside unsupervised. My hackles immediately went up. My sister, Benny, reached down and cuddled Lily. I let her roll around for a bit with Lilly before the inevitable ruined our day.

Even before opening the screen porch door, I could smell burnt something, with the lingering of something fresh that might have been delicious if it had been watched more carefully. I was nervous and Benny could see my tension, she started to cry.

“Hey why don’t you go check the bunnies. I bet they missed you all day!” Benny started to really cry and whine, because she didn’t want to be left alone, but I was sure that being alone with the bunnies behind the house, would be better than the scene she was about to witness inside.

As she scuttled off, I opened the dining room door. I saw smoke immediately, and the intense smell of charred food was stinging my nostrils. I ran in quickly, Lily at my heels, just as nervous. The oven door was open and three loafs of my mom’s normally delicious monkey bread were inside. The bread was fairly burnt and turning to something no one could call their favorite. On top of the counter was another mound of burnt bread that had been sliced into a bit, and next to the bread was an unopened bag of chips. I remember now, thinking how odd it was there were chips in the house. Mom never bought that stuff. I wanted to find my mom before Benny came back inside, so at least I knew what kind of night we had ahead of us.

I checked the bathroom, mom’s favorite spot to pass out, because it was the only room in the house with a door that locked. She wasn’t there today though, so I searched her and dad’s bedroom, but there were no signs of mom. Next I scooted into the living room and dipped down to investigate the fireplace, which oddly enough was were mom used to hide the cooking Sherry for a quick gulp, and after one too many would pass out in the fireplace mantle. But mom was not there today. I was starting to panic, Lily was anxiously looking out the window for Benny, and in her doggy style saying, ‘Hurry up!’.

Finally, I opened the basement stairs. The smell of cedar, for which most of the basement was made, drifted up. As well as the stench of piss and alcohol. Mom was at the foot of the stairs. Her head at a weird angle, her breathing erratic but present, and easily seen by me from the top of the stairs. She had dropped the laundry basket behind her, with the family’s clean clothes scattered all over. I could see my favorite skirt underneath her right foot, and knew that urine was soaking into it, as it was running down mom’s leg. I had really wanted to wear that skirt tomorrow. Why does mom always have to mess up things so badly?

I quickly flew down the 20 stairs, grabbed the few clean clothes, and kicked the wet one’s further into the basement. Lily licked my hand and whined trying to help with the basket. Our cat Sheba gave me a cat-lash-eye-bat as she perched on the stairs by mom’s head. She seemed to be promising to watch over mom till she sobered up. I love Sheba, she took care of mom, and Lily helped Benny and me. We all knew our places in this home. For tonight, mom could sleep where she was laying, because I couldn’t pull her all the way up the stairs. So, I hauled the basket and myself back upstairs. I looked back once more, trying not to cry at the sad sight of mom. I shut the door, and leaned against it, trying to steady my breath. Things would be ok. I could make them ok, for tonight at least.

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I was over working the delicate bread dough while my mind had drifted to the unhappy childhood memory. My nephew Tristan put his hand on my forearm,

“Hey, I think you killed it, Auntie!” He was smiling, but he saw my tears. He put his arms around my waist.

“It’s ok, we will still eat it!” I laughed then, and the spell of bad memories were pushed out of my head.

Tristan’s sweetness flushed away my sadness and the past smell of scorched bread and drunken mother’s. I oversaw the bread making today, and it would be delicious and perfectly baked. The last vestiges of burnt bread sped away from me, as I mindfully dwelt in the present. My yesterdays were burnt and grey, but today was a fresh and new and altogether mine to navigate through.

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