Breaking Bread

Diane Payne

We had just finished our run, the neighbor ladies and myself. Two nights a week, several of us meet for a jog through the neighborhood. After running about five loops, we walk the final bend and get caught up on things that are hard to discuss while running.

A few of the neighbors had already left for their homes while the rest of us were still heading home, when we noticed Jessie pushing the stroller. Jolted into silence, we moved aside a bit to make room for her to pass, and we mumbled feeble greetings about how it looked like rain, then more nonsense about needing rain. She deliberately bent over the stroller to adjust the blanket, cooed something about feeling a bit chilly, then continued walking while we stood there sharing a weird form of generic déjà vu: Hemingway’s six word story about baby shoes and the psycho movies with women pushing dolls in baby carriages. Beneath the baby blanket a loaf of bread emitted a hearty fragrance. Not just any loaf of bread, but a loaf specially selected from our local bakery, a multi-grain Vollkornbrot.

Instead of weeping, as we somewhat expected, Karen rolled her eyes. Four months ago, she endured another miscarriage. Maybe miscarriages hardened Karen the way childbirth softens mothers. Karen’s pregnancies never lasted long enough to warrant a baby shower. We went all out for Jessie’s shower. Maybe Jessie’s shower was too soon after Karen’s miscarriage. All of us probably thought we were the only ones who knew she was pregnant again, and also the only ones who knew when the pregnancy was over.

Then there was Jessie, pregnant with her first child. We hadn’t gathered for any kind of celebration in a long while—only met for our runs, which felt more laborious during the winter when the skies darkened by five. And then it was April, flowers emerging everywhere, and we gathered at my yard for an outside shower. Everyone but Jessie drank mimosas. We hired a masseuse to give Jessie a massage. Lying there on the table, Jessie oohed and ahhed, while we poured ourselves another drink and stuffed ourselves with desserts, olives, and cheese.

Maybe she’s got another baby in the oven, Karen said. We were silent. Get it? A bun in the oven? she said.

Foolishly, we nodded our heads this way and that, did our stretches, and returned to our homes.

That night, we dreamed of cats meowing, then the meowing turning into cries, the cats transforming into babies. We woke to the smell of freshly baked bread, the aroma so strong we could detect every seed kneaded into the dough. We felt the same deep hunger pangs as when we later woke in the middle of the night to cats fighting outside, shamed by our inability to grieve.