DAY OLD BREAD: A FILM
Scene 1. Ext. 1962. A gas station, pumps gone, buried tanks gone.
It is positioned on the corner of a neighborhood, the only business
on the block so the exposed concrete shines gray against the green of
30-year old elms. The building has been reconverted to sell day old bread.
As the scene opens there is a panel truck parked by the front door. A delivery
man wheels a silver rack of red, white, and blue plastic-wrapped loaves down a
corrugated ramp he has pulled from beneath the truck and into the store.
He wears a uniform of stiff blue cotton, pants and matching shirt. There’s
a white tag above the left shirt pocket, his name sewn in script. He enters the store.
Scene 2. Ext. A car pulls up. It is a blue Chevy Bel Air. A mother gets out.
She has three children in tow: a boy, and two girls. All are blonde. Not one
of them has their father’s eyes.¹
They enter the store.
Mother: [inaudible]. The two girls follow. The boy lingers a moment in the door.²
Already their skin is chilled. The floor of the building lies in the shade
of the abutting yard’s overhanging trees so there is the coolness of a church
in the place, or mausoleum. A slight after-smell of oil. Their arms are gooseflesh.
Mother: [to the youngest girl who has reached out to touch a loaf]:
Don’t, honey. The freshest loaves are over here.
The mother has made an art of shopping. Each Friday she rewrites the list
though this is unnecessary. She knows the routine by heart. How many cans
of Spam, condensed soup. Heads of iceberg lettuce. The cheapest milk.
Box of Carnation Instant. What she buys has to last the week, there is no
extra money 11. And so the staple—bread—is bought here. Three loaves.
The girl pulls her hand back.³
Scene 3. Int. The mother moves to the farthest rack. The boy
watches. It doesn’t occur to him that is where the freshest loaves are.†
But the mother hesitates. It is clear she does not want to pinch each loaf.
There seems to be a code: touch it, it’s yours.
So she stares at the racks.
A cashier, an older woman, sits by the door behind a small glass-top
counter. She has the morning edition open and is reading the comics.
A black plastic ashtray holds down the upper right corner. A cigarette is
pinched in one of the slots, smoke drifting to the ceiling through a bar of sunlight.
The boy is clearly bored. It is before headphones and tapes, the Sony Discman,
Apple iPod, so the only music he can conjure comes from the steel racks and
the rub of the wheels on the floor. Even the plastic shifting makes a little
noise. A suffocating whisper.
Mother: [to the boy]: Stop it.
The boy looks up and considers this. It is clearly his mother’s voice, but
he is elsewhere, not in the store but in his head—a mix of anxiety—he doesn’t
know how to behave—and longing. He is wearing shorts and a soiled t-shirt.
He has a stone in his left front pocket that he thinks looks like a skull.‡
Scene 4. Int. A boundary moment. The older of the two daughters
looks for something to do—she is only 18 months younger than the boy
and is therefore the catalyst for his alpha state.
So when she pokes him in the ribs—she is practicing to be the boss,
a mother—he pushes back.
Their mother grabs him by the bicep and hisses into his ear. He is like
a dog that has barked at a neighbor and embarrassed the owner.
The delivery man, still in the store, glances briefly in their direction.
The boy flashes red for an instant, goes white again. Chameleon. Stoic. °
Scene 5. Int. The delivery man exits the store. Sound of the panel
closing, ramp put back.
Engine starting up.
The boy pinches the loaves. Randomly. Top shelf. Bottom.
Middle. With the same gesture his mother grabbed his arm.
Touch it, you disown it. The bread keeps the shape of his hand.ª
He has marred seven loaves before she sees him and strides over,
Grabs his arm again. There may be a whipping later.
The two girls are behind her. Each cradles a loaf like a new born child.
For an instant the boy’s arm is in the air fighting against the mother’s arm,
his strength now enough to force a draw.
She lets it drop.††
Scene 6. Int. The mother begins reshaping the loaves. The boy, sullen, has
gone to sit in the car. Passenger side, back window.¤
Inside, the daughters wait. Watch their mother re-plump the loaves.
Pick each one up and set it back.
It is a worthless gesture. The three of them stand at a wall that pens them in.
Scene 7. Ext. The door opens. The mother and two daughters walk out
each carrying a loaf. The trunk is full so they have to ride home with the
loaves on their laps. They are careful not to scrunch them.
The mother starts the car, then hesitates, as if she is thinking about
lighting a cigarette. It would bring glamour to the drive.
But she thinks better of it, puts the car in Reverse.
Looks at her son, then the lot, then shifts to Drive.
Eases the car onto Centerpoint Road.
It is before the era of seatbelts, child seats, air bags.
So when she hits the brakes, the momentum carries the boy’s head
forward as if he were crashing into a wall.
Forehead to back of the front seat.
A little exaggerated.
Then when his mother accelerates, up again like a doll, or the drowned, or the
resurrected, as the taillights, those four bright dots, flicker on and off.
She takes great pride in this: her eyes, their father’s hair. Her presence.
As for the car, she has mixed feelings. Though new, the Bel Air is basically
a cheaper version of the Impala. Same profile wheel to wheel. The difference
is in the taillights—the Impala has three rounds dots signifying wealth, the Bel Air two.
He hates being pinned to his mother in any fashion. In fact, refuses the
notion. Spends years honing his behavior to avoid any likeness. Even now
he lags behind as if he were adopted.
She will be hit by a car in the coming winter. The other driver will carry her
to the front door weeping his apology. Her name is Barbara. She will nearly
die in a ward down state with macrocephalics. That’s what the boy will
remember—not the white crack in her skull on the x-ray like the ghost
of lightning, but all those babies with heads the size of watermelons.
In fact, it is years before he discovers you can buy a loaf of bread on the day
it is baked. This is a revelation and a delight wherever he lives. The smell
of the bread cooling fusing with the warmth in his hands until he opens
the bag right here on the street and tears at the crust.
He will call this time later his Huck Finn Years. He owns a fishing pole,
has a jackknife and a bike. Is allowed the whole northeast side of the city
to roam with the Blakeslee boys. Railroad yard, creek, the oily slough.
Five or six times each summer they nearly die or blind themselves with acid,
get hit by cars, molested, chased by older boys. But always crawl home:
raw-boned, cut and scraped, laughing, chevroned in drying blood. His father
is even a beginning drunk and beats him with a belt when he is bad.
That’s what one of his high school teachers calls him six years later.
He has been in a car accident, four people are dead, all friends, they’ve
cancelled the prom, the pale blue tuxedos stashed another week in their
toxic sheathing, the corsages chilled, the extravagant hair-do’s reconceived,
He’s in class on Monday, having surfaced through all that grief, and now is
walking on it. People stare at him. He doesn’t know any better: he stares right back.
It’s inedible anyway. You have to rip the crusts and make a ball with the
rest to get any density and taste, and then it is all chemical. Soft, fleshy,
preserved. He feels like a cannibal eating it.
Whatever the boy has desired has been achieved. He has marked the scene.
Basically pissed on it. His hope if that she will leave him home next week
when they go shopping. It is only an hour. He will plead: one part full-grown
man, one part beggar.
He can lay his temple on the window’s edge when they start moving again and
feel his scalp tugged at or play his hand like a flag. It is what he has wanted all along.
Dennis Hinrichsen is the author of six books of poetry. His most recent are Rip-tooth(2010 Tampa Poetry Prize) and Kurosawa’s Dog (2008 Field Poetry Prize). New work of his can be found in Hunger Mountain, The Literary Review, Sou’wester and Third Coast.