Elise Blackwell

Your Daily Bread

 

The smell of bread told me the new bakery had finally opened, and I followed it and then, much more slowly, the long line of other gluten-tolerant people to the counter. She took my order—she was doing everything—and plated my cinnamon roll. Maybe it was the pastry’s earthy sweetness that made me look at her smooth hands. Or maybe it was the soft efficiency of her working movements as she slipped loaves into brown paper bags and nestled small metal bowls of purple jam into the curve of croissants. When I looked up at the rest of her, I realized I’d been seeking evidence of a husband or a wife, wondering which it would be if there was a gold band, which there was not. Sugar still on my lips, I was thinking already: I will be whichever one she wants, will be the you to her I. My favorite pronoun: uncomplicated, requiring no explanation, yet automatically not alone.  You: always in relation to an I.

I returned every day for three weeks, and by then she no longer asked what I wanted but simply reached her tongs toward the tray of cinnamon rolls when I crossed the threshold. My pants were now hard to zip, but still I had no words of acceleration, no words to make us anything other than nouns—a baker and a customer—or third-person pronouns observed by others.

Several months earlier, I’d stopped going to the psychic on Chartres. I’d cut myself off when I noticed the thought patterns of my whack-a-mole addictions and even the psychic told me that her predictions could not come true without time to unfold, that I couldn’t inquire about my romantic future with every soul I met. She was mildly surprised to see me, by the momentary smoothing of her smoking-lined face. My question for her was specific, and she gave me a real answer: Prove your devotion for two years and she will be yours. Later at home I did the calculations of days and calories and saw myself seventy pounds heavier but with her floured hands soft on my neck. “You,” she would say to her plump love. “You, you, you.”

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Elise Blackwell is the author of five novels, most recently The Lower Quarter. Her short prose has appeared or is forthcoming in Witness, Brick, the Collagist, and other publications. Her work has been named to several best-of-the-year lists, translated into multiple languages, adapted for the stage, and served as inspiration for a Decemberists’ song. She lives in the American South.