Breadcrumbs to Home
by Michele Zimmerman
17. Jenn sits at yellow Formica table and eats a deli sandwich with turkey, ham, salami, and provolone cheese. Her daughter, Chrysanthemum, is on a camping trip. Her wife, Sadie, is out of town visiting her mother. The car is at an auto body shop about ten minutes of a walk away. Jenn is left to herself with nothing to do in this new, increasingly strange, town they have recently made their home. Jenn eats her snack and thinks of buying the two chocolate chip cookies wrapped in cellophane she noticed up at the counter. She watches her neighbors drift in and out of view through the storefront window.
16. The shape of the creamsicle-colored moving truck parked in front of her new home, reminds Jenn of vintage ice cream trucks. When the truck is emptied and the house made full, she immediately goes out to a grocery store. She picks two flavors of ice cream, grabs a box of sugar cones, and returns home. At the kitchen table, surrounded by labeled cardboard boxes, Jenn smiles as her daughter wipes a dab of chocolate ice cream from the tip of her nose.
15. For too many nights in a row, they share cans of store-brand vegetable soup for dinner. Jenn hopes the offer on the house upstate is accepted. Nothing from her recent collection Honeycomb sells at the art gallery; city life becomes unsustainable.
14. Jenn wakes to hear Sadie screaming in her sleep. Sadie tells her of the nightmares she has: old women drifting above their beds, their daughter gobbled up by gigantic catlike creatures. Jenn boils water, pours some into a white mug with lemon juice, and brings it to Sadie’s nightstand. She tries to remind Sadie that sometimes nightmares are only nightmares, nothing more.
13. Jenn doodles dancing cutlery with thought bubbles onto small, squared notes. Have a good day! Enjoy! You’re great! She places the notes gently inside her daughter’s lunch box, keeping in mind all the times her daughter has come home from school saying the other girls in her class were mean.
12. At her daughter’s third birthday party, Jenn swears she can smell her father’s cologne on her hands. But Jenn’s father is long gone and Jenn doesn’t wear cologne. She avoids looking at her wife, who she knows is watching, and cuts a thick slice of cake with pink frosting.
11. Jenn nearly misses her own daughter’s birth while she sips tea in the hospital lobby to calm her nerves.
10. On a 6 train going downtown in the middle of winter, Jenn meets her wife, before she is her wife at all. They are seated next to each other on the overwarm plastic benches. Sadie is a tall, curvaceous woman who smells of cinnamon and patchouli. Jenn notices her immediately.
Sadie leans into Jenn’s shoulder, whispers that Jenn’s father is there alongside them on the train right this very moment. Jenn leans away, and Sadie offers to take Jenn out to a café. There, Sadie fixes Jenn’s tea with milk, and too much sugar, before she pushes it towards Jenn across the table. Then, Sadie pulls a pen from her purse, and on a napkin writes the name of the secret sauce Jenn’s grandmother used to make with elbow macaroni. This is who I am, Sadie says. This is the truth of what I can do.
9. Jenn eats three quarters of a grilled cheese sandwich while sitting on the borrowed couch of the shitty rental apartment immediately upon returning home after seeing the body of her father in the hospital. The sandwich is made of toasted nine grain bread and thick cheddar cheese. She doesn’t want it, but it has been made and placed in front of her. In the days following there are: crème filled chocolate cupcakes in loud, clear plastic wrap. Cereal bowls of ice cream for dinner. Cereal bowls of ice cream for breakfast. Microwavable TV dinners. Canned chili poured over tortilla chips. Cheeseburgers. Double cheeseburgers. Cups and cups of hot, sweet tea. She consumes all of these things the way she would like to consume all of her sadness.
8. When Jenn goes home from art school for holiday meals, she looks down at her plate and tells lies about fake men she’s gone out on dates with. First she tells her father about the musician who took her to a concert. Then she tells her father about the writer who introduced her to a book club. Finally she tells him, neither of them were for her, but she’ll keep looking.
7. The girl with the shaved head drinking a can of orange soda is the first girl Jenn ever kisses. Then there is the girl who is a new vegan and has a pierced septum. Then, the girl with the undercut who is fond of foreign chocolate bars made with bits of fruit. Then, the girl with a tattoo of a bird’s nest between her breasts who is afraid to eat eggs. Later, the girl with the shaved head drinking a can of orange soda again, just for good measure.
6. During Jenn’s freshman year of art school, her father suffers his first heart attack. At night, while the school celebrates the end of the year with a dance party on the campus lawn, Jenn sits on the floor of her dorm room with a take-out hamburger from the local diner.
5. Jennie goes to a party with her roommate where she lets a stranger lop off her hair with blunt scissors and dye it purple for free. All three women drink warm, spiked cider and sit on the floor of the stranger’s dorm room. Jennie is reborn: Jenn.
4. Jennie’s father moves into a condo upstate with his girlfriend, who is also named Jennie. Other Jennie enjoys animal print boots and pop ballads on the radio. She decorates the condo with cows. Cows on throw pillows. Cows on cookie jars. Ceramic cows dangling from overhead light fixtures. Other Jennie does not enjoy eating. Jennie and Other Jennie cannot relate at the dinner table. Or anywhere else. Other Jennie watches Jennie when she eats as if she watches moving parts inside a museum exhibition. Slowly, foods Jennie knows disappear from her father’s pantry and are replaced with cow decor. Their secret treats melt away.
3. Jennie’s father moves into a bachelor pad with a water-stain blooming in the right hand-corner of his bedroom. He strings a curtain up in the middle of the living room, and makes a space specifically for Jennie. He puts together a metal shelving unit to hold painting supplies and stuffed toys. He lets Jennie pick out a tie-dye poster for the wall and a purple inflatable couch. Jennie learns that in this new space, there are no rules.
There is canned chili poured over tortilla chips for dinner. There are cereal bowls full of ice cream for dinner. There are frozen TV dinners with chicken nuggets shaped like giraffes. There are crème filled cupcakes from the late-night mini-mart. When Jennie returns to the apartment where she lives with her mother, she does not mention these details. These treats are secrets, just between her and her father.
2. For a time Jennie lives with her grandparents; they have a carpet that looks like the hexagons of a honeycomb. Her grandmother is a short woman with blue eyes, and a black canvas fanny pack full of prescription pills to keep her alive. Jennie’s grandmother is the type to push food onto her family’s plates. Eat, it’s good. A fork full of brisket from her dish onto theirs. Here, have mine. A smear of chopped liver on a cracker placed in a warm palm. Take, you’re too thin. Elbow noodles with a secret sauce only the family knows. At night, Jennie’s grandmother makes decaffeinated tea with three spoons of sugar for herself and for her granddaughter. Everything about the honeycomb home, as Jennie refers to it inside her head, is safe. No one is coming, no one is going.
1. When Jennie is six, her father moves out. She watches from her second-story window as he loads all of his belongings into a creamsicle-colored moving truck. After he says goodbye, she chases him down the dim apartment hallway holding chocolate chip cookies inside her fist. She presents them to her father before he steps into the elevator. A snack, she says. So, you won’t be hungry.
Michele Zimmerman holds a BA and an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work appears in Catapult’s Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Tales of Horror, Lockjaw Magazine, Psychopomp, and others. She is a Sundress Publications Best of the Net 2018 nominee & a two-time Finalist for the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers. Find her on Instagram @m.l.zimmerman or on Twitter @m_l_zimmerman.