Milk and Honey

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She wandered lonely as a cloud….the words echoed in her mind like song lyrics without a melody. Lonely as a cloud. She floated through the aisles of the supermarket, as if a mere reflection on the bright linoleum floors. Lonely as a cloud. She passed through the cosmetics section and touched a glass bottle with fetching typography. As if a modern font could wash your hair better than a shampoo. Still, she wondered what was under the label. She imagined a life where she would purchase beautiful fragrant bottles the way other people bought hot dogs. Where her bathroom shelves would be lined with these neat glass bottles, where every bath would be as with milk and honey, and her hair would fairly glow with the fine health to which it had always been entitled. That would be the right way to live, surely. Her light feet continued soundlessly past the rows of bottles and typography and milk and honey. She had just opened a new bottle of shampoo, and hardly needed to bring home another. She glided through the aisle and gazed absently, and a bit lost, as if wandering a house a mirrors. She’d been to this store a thousand times, but couldn’t seem to keep her brain organized enough to make a “quick grocery run” quickly. She could never remember what she needed, and couldn’t seem to find it, once she did remember. She did feel awfully like a cloud, some days. She hardly expected people to go around her, rather than through her. She gave no thought to her appearance, though she imagined it would be somewhat bag-lady in nature. She wore jeans that slid down her hips and nearly covered her toes. They were held up, in fact, only by her bicycle-developed rear, it seemed. Her shirt fit snugly across her breasts and through the shoulders, though it bagged a bit around her middle. Her hair seemed to pour from her hair band, desperately gathered on top of her head. She was oblivious.

She was oblivious to everything, in fact, but her mirrors. The shiny floor, the glassy bottles. Through the soups, the coffee, the greeting cards and the bakery, she witnessed the soft lines and sharp contrasts, the symmetry and typography. Most of all, in the context of a crowded grocery store, abundant with middle-class goods, she saw the use of space. Negative space, the thin air between things of substance, the spread of white between the letters and the photograph, or the invisible block filling an empty basket, this was the most calming thing of all. None of the carefully lined items had been removed from their lineup yet. Any one thing could be something great.

She found herself, finally, at the register with her collection of keepers; dried lentils, fresh kale and sweet potatoes, coconut milk, and coffee. If purchases told a story, she wondered what the cashier imagined about hers. Annoyed, she paid quickly and left without more than a nod of greeting. Lonely as a cloud.

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The rain, if it could be called “rain,” was persistent. It was more like a fine needly mist that sparkled on the nose and dampened everything. She had stopped noticing it, mostly, as she pedaled through the gray, past blurry streaks of cars, sign-swaddled stores and tired-looking telephone poles. Her legs pumped in circles against the flat of the road, and she wondered how many circles it took to make it home. She biked this route every single day, to and fro, bounced back and forth between work and her apartment. She pedaled, pedaled endlessly some days and breezed back other days, but surely the spiral of circles stayed the same. Was it more than a thousand? Less than five hundred? She could see them like links in a chain, tying her to her own life. Perhaps, she thought…perhaps this would be a good day to stop at the bakery.

Despite her humble transport, her modest one-room dwelling with cache of thrift-store furnishings, and the damn-near Scandinavian minimalism of her paychecks, she lived rather next door to the bakery of her dreams. There was a perpetual rumble of crust crackle and coffee cups, warm paper bags swaddling loaves of every inclination, from Italian peasant to French bourgeois, and a museum display of pastries, those jewels of wheat and butter. Simply stepping inside was the perfect counterbalance to the rain and fog and endless circles of the biker’s commute. Warm and brown and aromatic with that primal captivating odor, there was simply no better armor against the gray. That gray. The endless gray.

 

Bikers have a way – they understand the utter vulnerability and freedom that comes from transporting oneself with the power of oneself, moving through space and time with legs that have become their own animal, of observing scenery more closely, more intimately, as you do when you are a part of it. Without the security of walls and windows, you are, surely, a part of your surroundings. This allows you to feel a kind of love for those ugly dead things on the side of the road, for the dilapidated bodega, and particularly for the biker’s turn lane, which provides the dignity of walls without the actual protection of them. There is an obvious but profound shock to be riding so close to cars without any sort of armor – and drivers continue to drive like we are all in the same game, like a bit of a bump will lose you points, rather than cause irreparable brain damage and internal bleeding. The fright is real, and close, and moving at 45 miles per hour, throwing a breeze on any bare skin.

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Because of all this, and the rain too, bikers nod at each other with an encouraging sort of nod. Especially if they see the same brave souls every day, pumping and pedaling, and most especially if they do so in the rain. It is a boy scout’s badge of honor, an alumni sticker, or a familiar tattoo – we fight the same fight. Today, with a loaf of bread that felt fairly alive to the touch, the aroma of bakery on her clothes, and a brief warm respite, she pedaled her endless chain of circles through the rain back home, and felt victorious.

The human brain has a way of giving itself what it needs. When one sleeps, the brain cleanses itself of all the dirt and grit of the day, making way for better things.

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That moment, that moment always comes when no no no no no. That moment. No.

It was mostly okay when the alarm went off, a gentle tinkling programmed to usher sleeping minds to the world. She was still in bed, still warm, still safe with the brilliant furnace of her dog curled up.

It wasn’t so hard to think that coffee must be made, and it must be made outside of the sheets. That is acceptable. Enjoyable even. Significant even. A sacred ritual of pre-dawn, the gentle tinkling alarm clock for the sun.

At that point, with the radio on softly and the smells of morning in the air, it was a simple transition to the ritual of the bathroom, the gratitude of the face and cheeks and hair, eye contact in the mirror like a firm handshake.

With coffee in hand and music in the earphones, the bike ride was pleasant. It felt fresh and foreign to be awake before anybody, traversing the earth like mars, feeling the glow of the place before humans disrupted its rhythms with their own. A light brocade of sweat appeared as her body heated from optimistic exertion, cooled quickly by the clear breeze. Satisfying. Today will be different.

And then she arrived at the school, parked her bike, locked carefully with helmet slung over the handles, and just stood. At work.

No. no. no no no no.

Sigh.

That moment.

 

by Kathryn deBros         |           Artwork by Krystal Fu            +          by Janelle Rainer 

 

 

Kathryn deBros

Exploring what is true under all the nonsense that we tend to create for ourselves, but I try not to be too too serious in my tone. Because life is sort of silly too.  I've had a poem ("Shadows") published in Release magazine as well, and have contributed numerous articles on education and children to Noodle.com. I teach children with emotional disturbances, who are the most human of human beings that I've ever met.