When I was a kid I had some really ratty pants. They scuffed the ground when I walked and I tucked them in my shoes so they wouldn’t make noise. The shuffling of my footsteps was not music to my parent’s ears but only a reminder of the burden that I laid on them.
We were a ragtag group of hoodlums, my brothers. We each had our role. I didn’t fit in so much but I made sure we had bread on our table. That was my role. I was fast as lightning. When I struck Pritchard’s Grocery, they knew I was there to steal bread. They would see me and everyone, woman and child, would run to grab me and sometimes I'd run down the aisle with the boxed goods or head for the can items to mix it up. I strummed my fingers against the shit like a harpist on strings that were old. My intentions were good but the sonic results didn’t match. I wanted the grocery item to land like cannonballs but most landed in soulless oceans. My brothers waited outside to kick the trash can or newspaper cart over in front of the door as Pritchard became good at sweating and old ladies pressed their hands against their heart and made noises that could heal a rainforest. I always jumped the trash can and headed for the field where we would meet.
I always thought sooner or later Pritchard would figure out our operandi. At first I thought he allowed it cause he knew we were poor. There were eight of us for christsakes. I knew my brothers started using the commotion I caused to steal from the registers while he was running after me. They would only get about 30 bucks a pop but Pritchard didn’t say anything. My brothers were probably taking their own share, but I was too. Cause they screwed me, this time, I was going to get a loaf for myself.
Being knee deep in not giving a shit, my mother usually drank away the day. Her job as a homemaker allowed her to forget her civic responsibilities of darning the socks and relegated her day to half-heartedly washing her dishes that weren’t supposed to smell of vodka. Her efforts tired quickly and she forgot about the shopping as pops forgot about the working and we were soon, all 10 of us, on fucking welfare.
She neglected the sewing kit so I appropriated it.
I sequestered some yarn and while Hosea (the oldest) wasn’t looking I tied it around my ankle before entering Pritchard’s.
I ran in like the lightning I told you about before and hit the bread rack with the immediate sound of thunder. I grabbed one and shoved it in my pants. Metal racks clattered and plastic bags burst. I pictured a cloud of flour in my tracks leaving the wolves behind and stuck my sweaty arm inside of the air-conditioning that was the dairy section.
Plastic jugs scrambled from my passing embrace and scattered on the ground acting like mercury, running every which way but contained. People slipped and slided and cottage cheese covered my hands and shirt sleeves as I ran homeward leaving a modern day chemical experiment in my wake. I ditched and dived like a pig slathered in butter (also in my pants) and gave a nice hip bump to a display of tuna that was shaped like the sarcophagus I deserved after fucking up Hosea’s existence.
Hosea, being the oldest, told us what to do. He always told me to go for the packaged white bread, not the fresh shit. I didn’t know it was because he knew what the baker did to it. I didn’t know it was because it was the best way to distract. I didn’t know a lot of things about Hosea. I didn’t know until this very moment but I just suspected he liked it cause he was used to it. Shit, if I had a choice I probably would have chosen white bread, but I don’t know what got into me that day. If it was just a wild hair up my ass or the overarching adrenaline that I felt as I ran to that fancy rack as soon as I got in…I had never done it before, but whatever it was, I fucked up and I fucked up good. I grabbed the second loaf on the way out and I think Abel kicked over a shopping cart and I leapt over it like a young nine year old should. My feet did tiny dancesteps between cracks on lost mother’s backs as my open palms felt the wind that her face cancelled all steps of dance and I ran to the secret spot.
They went in to pillage the cash registers cause everyone there did as they were told. Old ladies screamed and fell down. The boys shuffled their feet back and forth and up and down like elfin devils, giggling in the aftermath of faked terror. The women clutched their purses instead of their babies and my brothers stole their wallets. The victims didn't see the pictures of our names that may or may not hang in xeroxed sketches in post offices or grocery store check cashing stands but only in the empty photographs in school yearbooks. And just the same, they never saw us at all.
I cradled the loaf of free bread like an NFL fullback that had too many hits to the head. My finger was on the tip but somewhere I stumbled and it went sailing. I picked it up quickly but through the running and all the fucking melee I was leaving a trail of flour from the bread in my leg and the loaf I had in my hands for me until I found our meet-up spot. Nine-year old mistake. Lifetime of punishment.
Our spot wasn’t that far away from the grocery store. We always met there and Hosea divided up the profits but there wasn’t ever much that went my way even though I did most of the running. That’s why I thought of the yarn from Mama’s sewing kit and stuffing that other loaf down my pant’s leg. I could keep that one there and only share the other. They didn’t usually get there til half an hour after me. By that time I could have the butter slathered on and eat like a goddamn prisoner in a fancy jail.
I hit the grass at full tilt. I stopped then stumbled dragging my shoe through the dirt to let them know I was there.
I went under a large branch and stuck my hand in a batch of thorns and fell, dropping the bread. The loaf down there softened the blow. But as I landed, I heard the breaking of plastic and fell about 20 feet deep onto overgrown greenery and hit something sharp and solid bouncing me onto something softer. Corrugated pieces of plastic greenhouse splintered and landed on me like an epidural. I moved back and forth and then gave up to an exhausting paralysis.
I give you my word that the first thing I thought about was getting my ass whooped for losing the bread and instinctively looked for it. I couldn’t find it. It was probably up there. My leg hurt like hell but I rolled off the table that I saw to be steel or aluminum. It was clean but it was overrun by weeds.
I reached in my pocket and fished out what was left of the butter. My cigarettes were ruined. I stuck my hand down deep in my leg that was now a backpack and took out the loaf.
I put the butter in the middle and ate that shit like a goddamn sandwich and loved every bit of it. After I was done I was thirsty as hell and knew Hosea would know so I started sucking saliva and phlegm from the back of my throat to get the dryness down.
Time passed and they didn’t show. I got scared and guilty and still had the butter smeared on my face and Hosea wasn’t there. I didn’t know at the time of the robbery, but Abel had different plans for our eldest and when he left the scene of the crime, Abel kicked the shopping cart into his feet sending him careening into the newspaper stand that we usually left errant. Hosea went face first and a few bills went running. Those dollar bills became airplanes in a second. They congregated in the alley where I hopped the fence.
Abel hit the alley first and grabbed as much as he could before going over the fence and my brothers pursued the green that was chasing his pockets and footsteps. My biggest mistake which I would later learn to be my greatest hope of being found was now destroyed by prying fingers and shuffling hand-me-down shoes. The brother and Abel’s escape covered every track that was dusted with the flour of evidence of my location that would lead the police or even my fucking family to our fucking spot. A white powder was now meshed with dirt. All of this over a loaf of goddamn bread.
Hosea went to jail. Abel disappeared. The others languished.
I sat there in that fuckin’ hole surrounded by what looked like an underground marijuana garden. I was surrounded by greenery that most would consider Eden. It smelled of sweetness. I would have smoked myself to the neverafter but I didn’t have a lighter, only buttery smokes. I was nine.
I died down there eating leaves in hopes of killing pain but just kept vomiting them up. Mr. Pritchard now owns our house but doesn’t even have the grocery store. The room I slept in is now a game room.
Fucked up isn’t it?