Updated: Nov 21, 2022
I told my master the other day that I was going to go to the next corner to pick up some bread for him, and requested to be allowed to eat the always-burnt tip of the bread, hoping this request would disguise the fact that my real concern was whether he would allow me to leave the premises in the first place. This was a strategy: acting as though my leaving was the safest, most casual thing to him. I’d given an impeccable, though utterly silent performance in front of the tiny mirror I kept behind the basement book stash and was feeling confident. Plus, the other day, while cleaning, I evenly scraped some of Madame Bumblebraüer’s bronzer into a wallet I made by folding one of the pages from my shitty poetry diary into an envelope, and before my official performance I planned to carefully slather some bronzer under my eyes and the side of my cheeks to imitate the gaunt, starved doby-type. When the moment of truth rolled around I was still debating whether to also suck in my stomach, but, overall, was feeling like a fucking spykid.
It was two hours after I did my contouring. I felt myself approach the bubble of sound pollution created and inhabited by my master. The flare of his nostrils sent a tremble down my spine. Such a tremble was commonplace for me and did not arouse suspicion, but I think at one point I smiled at him, which he is probably now recalling angrily. To be quite honest I blacked out at this point and regained consciousness as I approached the bakery. The master had been busy that day, ripping off abandoned floral furniture upholstery in his fourth garage as a form of art therapy. At least that’s what Nurse Pipitonga says it’s all about. We can all hear him if we stand near enough, and his grumbly shrieks are seriously hilarious, even more so than they are bloodcurdling. Naturally, after such a thing a man will be slightly distraught, off guard. I could tell it was a particularly intense day, which gave my confidence room to grow. He tossed me the cash for the bread, trusting me to bring back the change, and stumbled up the stairs before I heard his body pummel into his large, old son’s goose-down single-pillow fort.
I tiptoed frantically onto searing hot asphalt, blinded by the sun. Geez, I guess it’s all coming back to me now. And I thought I would never remember this part! I ran and ran laughing maniacally, though quietly, of course. I would never be careless with my own undercover status, or that inconsiderate towards those taking naps during what I know very well to be nap-time.
So, at this point I reach the bakery, which is a block away from the house. I stare at the baker through the window. He hasn’t shaved today, I think with a smile, feeling quite silly, for my eyes had watered at the sight of the baker’s tousled hair.
You know, I think the baker purposefully always burns the tip of the bread slightly, knowing that he can afford to do so without losing clientele given his untouchable reputation. See, based on the consistency and uniformity of his tip chars and on his lovely, albeit condescending display of warmth towards an occasional breadfetcher like me (I’m not a breadfetcher per se, but, usually, if I beg enough, I am allowed to come here with one of the nurses, attached to her waist by a thick chain, and the nurses do always give me the loaf tip since they are aware of how much more porridge they are fed than I am), I speculate that he burns the bread to feed me. He feels sympathy for me and knows that people extravagant enough to own other people don’t eat charred bread. He sees the nurses toss me the tip every time I come with them. I am like a puppy and this baker feeds me. To be frank, I feel a slight (okay, raging) sexual attraction toward this baker.
So I’m standing there staring at the big, squeaky clean, vast window of the bakery, smelling the bread, thoroughly inhabiting the place in my brain where the love of bread and sex reside. I would’ve remained swept in reverie while being dragged back home in the roaring guard-jeep if I’d been caught at that moment. That’s how into it I was. I was probably stuck like that for thirty full seconds before I tiptoed through the door, slid behind the counter and asked for two baguettes. I should have been saving my extra cash but I wanted to impress the baker.
The unbelievable part was that today I was going to get to eat two entire fucking loaves. It’s really hitting me at this point! Holy moly, can you believe it? No, no, whoa. Imagine what Nurse Zelda would think. She’d be half annoyed, half cracking the hell up and slapping her knee and fucking sobbing, I bet. God, I wish I could tell her. Maybe I’ll circle back around and wave a loaf and rip off a chunk with my pointy ass teeth right in front of Mr. Titi’s window as Zelda’s cleaning, as I know she’s always alone in there at three o’clock sharp.
No, no way in hell I’m getting caught just because I wanna brag. That’s not how I want to be remembered by posterity. Not a chance.
So, now I’m staring, wild-eyed, at the baker. This next part I recall with a clarity clearer than real-life clarity. Seriously, like the kind of triple HD crisp that’s taking such effort to load up in my brain that I see the image beading with sweat. I swear it’s like that. So I can’t really explain this, but: with a trembling hand, knuckles white even though I’m not tightening my hand or anything, I take out the bronzer envelope and carefully begin to unfold it. It doesn’t even occur to me that it’s weird for me to be behind the bakery counter, which is a pretty official location in which I have never belonged. But something about staring deeply into the baker’s eyes makes me forget I don’t or perhaps beckons me further in, assures me that I do belong. I unfold the last corner of the envelope and raise it to my neck, shed a tear onto the small pile of bronzer, set the thing down on the glass counter, through which I can see rows and rows of loaves, crisp brown and creamsicle, blurry as hell in my post-eye-contact-with-the-baker stupor. I rip off my lacy pink uniform, cradle the crunchy paper in my bony hands again, and slam it onto my chest. I rub and rub until it looks like I’m digging a hole into my chest due to the bronzer’s optical effects. With both hands, now stiffer than ever before in my life, I stretch out the piece of paper and read this shitty poem for the first time, out loud:
Ginnsengger open your wings
and let me
which rings like a cling from
from a tower up high,
with a sound that
like leaden lye.
I cough a little and black out again. All I remember since then is waking up again, underwater. I can breathe. There are... women... with tails, instead of legs, and oh my God, I am one of them! I have long hair! I can swim, twirling around warm and cold currents in circles around fishes and sea grass and my mermaid friends, and whales! Those are whales, I deeply recognize their song and know their true names even though I have never seen a whale before now! How? How long has it been? Was I ever a slave?