Bread

[fiction]

One morning, there are people in her house.

Caren lives alone. She never married and her last long-term thing ended five years ago. She’s fine. She likes it: those early hours sipping coffee, her cat, Guster, winding through her bare legs. She can wear her rattiest t-shirts, hum off-key while getting ready.

But now as the light slants in the front window of her little city rowhouse, two people are sitting at her kitchen table. She’s never seen them before. Their clothes are formal; the man in a yellowed button down and the woman in a white dress with a lace collar. Their posture is impeccable. They’re not from around here, she’s pretty sure.

The man and woman stare back at her. The woman looks frightened. She turns to the man as if Caren’s the interloper, a pale ghost before them.

Caren thinks about picking up a fork or a butter knife. Calling the police. Her cell phone’s in the bedroom.

Guster threads through the strangers’ legs. The man clears his throat. “Bread,” he says in a strong accent.

Caren wants to ask all the questions. She still wants to pick up a butter knife. But instead, she looks through the fridge.

“It’s low carb.” She’s apologizing to them. She’s lost her mind.

The woman still looks frightened.

*     *     *

Two days later and they’ve fallen into a routine.

The man is Michael, she’s learned; the woman’s name is Bea. Michael speaks English, badly, then translates for Bea. Caren doesn’t recognize their language.

She’s just not sure about the whole thing. They’re so quiet, so dignified. They sleep in the living room, only use the bathroom when she’s at work. They eat modestly, hardly more than Guster. She probably throws out that much in a week.

*     *     *

The next night, she brings home candy from the office. Twizzlers. They each take one and manage to eat them neatly, which seems impossible.

Then Michael brings out a fruit plate. He’s carved her last, neglected apple into thin slices that cover the entire surface. Caren feels like crying. Michael’s a magician, making something out of nothing. A meaningful gesture out of what would otherwise rot.

*     *     *

In her bedroom, she decides she will call the authorities. She’s not in any danger, or not, at least, the usual kind. But she can’t let them break her heart every night.

She won’t be that bourgeois woman whose life is transformed. She refuses to make them her new family. She’ll never truly know them and that is as it should be.

The trouble is, she shouldn’t have waited so long. It would have been easier to call right away.

Two weeks later, the number’s still on the notepad beside her bed.

There’s a knock at the door.

A tall, sandy-haired man smiles at her, lines crinkling around his eyes. “I’m looking for someone. Two, as a matter of fact.”

The living room is empty. They must be hiding.

Caren smiles back at the man. How easy it is to be with someone who speaks her language, whose gestures mirror her own.

“Sorry,” she says. “There’s no one here but me.”

 

Genevieve Abravanel is Associate Professor of English at Franklin & Marshall College. Her scholarly writing has appeared in such venues as Novel: A Forum on Fiction, Modernism/modernity, Mosaic, The Journal of Caribbean Literature, Journal of Modern Literature, and Modernist Cultures. She’s held grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Association for University Women, and the Penn Humanities Forum; in 2012, she published a book of academic nonfiction with Oxford University Press. She lives in Lancaster, PA, with her family.