When John went to the new health food store that opened up in his neighborhood he had no idea what he was getting himself into…
His girlfriend had asked him to pick up some “healthy-looking” bread and some heirloom tomatoes and then she wrote down the word “acaí” on the back of his hand and told him that she was only doing that because she really didn’t want him to forget that item. The truth, of course, was that she didn’t know how to pronounce it, but that didn’t matter to John. He loved his girlfriend and he wanted her to have any and all of the stupid berries she desired, from acaí to goji to huckle to bumble.
With acaí and some particularly vibrant yellow and green heirloom tomatoes in his plastique basket that was once a few hundred corn cobs, John headed to the bread aisle and tried to pick the right one to please his lady.
9 grain. 10 grain. Whole grain. Multi grain….which one?
But then he saw one that caught his eye: “Live Grain.”
What could be better than a living grain? A living loaf of bread to nourish the nerves, to heal the heart, to trap the tofurkey.
20 minutes and 47 dollars later, John came back in through the front door. His girlfriend, Ana, was patiently waiting. She had planned on surprising him with a homemade bruschetta and now that he was back she insisted that he sit back and relax and watch whatever crappy garbage he wanted to watch while she made dinner.
John sat down on the couch after gently kissing Ana on the forehead. The open kitchen in their new apartment was great because they could talk while one was in the living room and the other was cooking. Life is really cool. Wow, you know? Wow.
“What kind of bread is this, John,” Ana asked. “I’ve never heard of this brand.”
“I’m not sure,” said John, “it looked really really healthy because it said ‘live’ so I figured what could be healthier than live?”
“I love you so much, John,” Ana said as she carefully tore open the packaging, careful not rip it in a way that would stop her from hermetically sealing it back once she had removed the slices she needed.
As the plastic parted, an audible scream filled the room. John and Ana both jumped and stared at each other. Earthquake? Hurricane? Rapture?
“Oh, thank God…. I was dyyyyyyying in there. Holy cow!” shouted an unknown voice.
John and Ana were panicked.
“Thank you guys so much. I seriously….” the voice sounded out of breath “I mean I have been completely freaking out. Wow, really, thank you guys. I’m Patrick.”
It was in that moment that John and Ana realized where the voice was coming from. It was coming from the bread. Ana backed towards the refrigerator while John slowly crept towards the motionless bag of bread.
“Hey, hi, I’m sorry I’m a little bit flustered. I have been alone for a whiiiiiiile but okay, hi. Phew. Again I can’t thank you guys enough for bringing me home.”
“No problem,” said John, still flummoxed.
“So what’s up? What are you guys doing?”
“Umm…” Ana said as she’s slowly walked back up towards the counter. “I was about to make some bruschetta. It’s John’s favorite. That’s John, by the way, I’m Ana.”
“John and Ana,” said Patrick, “Ha that’s funny that’s like Joanna so it’s easy to remember. What’s bruschetta?”
Ana held up two of the heirloom tomatoes and said “Well, it’s really basically just chopped up tomatoes with some stuff in it and then you put some olive oil on the bread and then you bake the bread until its crispy—”
“I’m sorry, what did you just say?” asked Patrick.
Ana and John just stared at each other.
“You WHAT the bread?” asked Patrick. “Are you joking?”
“It’s Italian food,” said John.
“It’s FOOD!?” screamed Patrick. “Are you people crazy? Where the hell am I?”
“Look, Patrick,” said John, “We don’t want any trouble. We were just getting ready for dinner.”
“Listen, sickos. I’m a live bread, do you understand that. I can talk. And you want to sit there and talk about eating me? Do have any idea what I’ve been through, you assholes? Do you know what it’s like to be sliced? Do you know what it’s like in the back of a truck for two days with the likes of sourdough and pumpernickel? Do you have any respect at all for life?”
“I thought you were just bread,” said John.
“Well I just thought you were my new friends until now, but now seriously I’m really hurt.”
Ana’s eyes began to well up as she looked back and forth between John and Patrick. She knew she had been wrong to not consider the bread. She thought about every peanut butter and jelly sandwich she had eaten growing up. She was a torturer. Every crouton? A war criminal. Every croque monsieur? A monster.
“I’m so sorry, Patrick,” Ana said as she broke into tears and fell into John’s arms.
“You can stay here with us if you want, Patrick,” said John as he lovingly looked into Ana’s eyes. She was the sweetest woman he had ever known and now, Patrick was their shared project, their passion, their son.
A week passed and Patrick refused to be sealed, as it made him cough. He refused to go in the refrigerator, as it made him cold. John and Ana were afraid to tell him but certain parts of him were turning blue, showing his age, showing his steady march towards death, towards expiration.
Unable to tell Patrick, John and Ana just sat on the couch with him and put on his favorite television shows and they sat and they laughed with him, relishing each laugh as they knew there would soon come a day when their family room would no longer be graced by this laughter. The chuckles of a dying child.
“John…my back slices hurt…” said Patrick.
“Oh?,” said John, “I’m sure it’s nothing. Maybe you slept wrong.”
“Hey, look, I saved another episode of Jeopardy!,” said Ana.
“Awesome!!!” said Patrick.
Patrick stared at the screen and wondered if Alec had recently gotten a haircut and above him, over his packaging, John and Ana looked at each other and shook their heads, knowing that this would be Patrick’s last season.
Another week passed and Patrick hadn’t left the counter in a few days.
“Mom,” said Patrick, looking over at Ana, “I don’t want to be here anymore. It hurts too much.”
“You’re not going anywhere, Patrick. You’re staying here with John and me. We love you and you’re not going to leave.”
“I have to go, Mom,” said Patrick, his slices blue with mold.
Ana turned away quickly and behind her she saw that John was approaching. He has something in his hand: a twist-tie.
“No, John!” Ana cried.
“I have to, Ana. It’s not fair to him. He’s in pain.”
“He’s us, John. Don’t you see that? He is us!”
“No, Ana,” said John. “He helped us be us, but we had always been an us. We should love him and let him go.”
“Please, Mama,” said Patrick, in a voice as weak as she had ever heard. “Please let me die.”
Ana turned away and stared at the television. Another episode of Jeopardy! was on. Behind her, John gently laid his hands down on Patrick’s slices and applied the twist-tie to the opening of his bag.
Patrick was gently humming “American Pie” by Don McLean and as John twisted and twisted, sending Patrick towards his maker, the humming got softer and softer until it was just white noise. And then in time, it was nothing.
Ana dropped to the ground and John stood behind her and rubbed her shoulders.
“Sometimes the best thing to do for someone you love is just to let them move on. You loved him, Ana. And that is frozen in time. That is permanent and he will live in our dreams. He will live in our pictures, in our stories, and in our hearts.”
Ana kissed John and she had never felt closer to him.
Another week passed and life had began to normalize for John and Ana.
Ana was napping in the hammock in the backyard. John looked at her and knew that he wanted her to be his wife. To mother his children. Yes, he had decided. Tomorrow, he would propose. And they would be together forever.
John walked back down to the health food store, hoping to find something special for Ana, but on his way he stopped at the normal old grocery store he used to shop at. He walked in and was alarmed when an old woman asked if she could help him find anything.
“Yeah, actually.” John said. “Do you have any just plain white bread? I am fucking starving.”