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Pumpkin Bread | Wendy Palmer

There’s a loaf of pumpkin bread in my husband’s backpack but the backpack’s gone and so is he. A quick walk around the the block he said, for some air. Back in a flash then we’ll go. But more than a few flashes later, he’s still gone.

 

An accident? A tree branch loosened by the last nor’easter fell and flattened him? He had a heart attack and fell face down in a ditch. A bank robber’s getaway car jumped the curb and hit him. Is he carrying his wallet? How long before they find where he lives, before they find me? If they find me.

 

Ms. Worst Case Scenario. He hasn’t been gone that long. Why do I torture myself like this? I doubt he’s left me for his receptionist and her slutty high heels. Not his type. I’m more concerned about the pumpkin bread getting crushed in his backpack, my contribution to the in-laws’ anniversary dinner. So perfect coming out of the oven. The kitchen still warm with ginger and cinnamon. The smell of his aftershave, oddly, left with him.

 

A quick check of the clock shows an hour has passed. I’ve ironed my skirt, checked my messages, just in case. He’s chatting with a long-winded neighbor over the fence probably. Or sneaking a cigarette in the hardware store alley. Some other  perfectly reasonable explanation. Except reasonable is not in my repertoire. He could be with someone I don’t even know. Is that why he took his backpack? What else is in there?

 

You don’t leave a person right before your parents’ anniversary dinner, especially not your spouse who’s bringing the pumpkin bread specifically requested by your mother. He wouldn’t dare show up without me. Although he does have the pumpkin bread. Is this more about his mother than me?

 

Maybe he was mistakenly picked up by the FBI. Or maybe purposefully, for running some scam I know nothing about. What kind of scam could an optometrist come up with? Diagnosing imaginary astigmatisms? So people buy more overpriced glasses?

 

An hour and a half! Now I’m really worried, where could he be? Pacing the house hasn’t helped, same empty view from each window. If he’s in jail, I’ll have to sell the house to bail him out. The lawyer who did our will is probably not qualified to take on the FBI but might know someone who is. More expensive no doubt, but if he’s innocent we can sue for damages, emotional distress, maybe come out ahead. And where is jail anyway?

 

Oh god! What if he’s in the hospital? In a coma? And I’m just standing here. I’ll bring music, his favorites, even the ones I don’t like so he’ll feel the love. And I’ll talk to him, relive old times. They say it helps, they say he can hear you. I’m choked up just thinking about sitting by his bed holding his hand. Squeezing it. Come back to me! I’m terrified. Where are the car keys? Oh for a slice of warm pumpkin bread with butter to calm me down.

 

Suicide is out of the question but just the silent saying of the word puts it in play. A horribly inappropriate use of that word in this moment. Play. It reminds me of that children’s poem that traumatized me. A.A. Milne. All the other poems in the book were sweet, filled with lovely animals like Pooh and his friends. This one was so unsettling. Disturbing. And easy to memorize. I can still call up the whole damn  thing. An unstoppable parade looping through my brain.

 

James James


Morrison Morrison

 

Weatherby George Dupree

 

Took great

 

Care of his Mother,

 

Though he was only three.

 

James James said to his Mother,

 

"Mother," he said, said he;

 

"You must never go down

 

to the end of the town,

 

if you don't go down with me.”

 

 

But she went anyway, disobeyed and was never seen again. What kind of story is that for a kid? The mother disappears, the worst that can happen does happen. No wonder I’m a mess.

 

James James

 

Morrison's mother

 

Hasn't been heard of since.

 

King John said he was sorry,

 

So did the Queen and Prince.

 

King John

 

(Somebody told me)

 

Said to a man he knew:

 

If people go down to the end of the town, well,

 

what can anyone do?”

 

Just a big royal shrug. How very British. The boy couldn’t save her, he was only three, his life forever altered. Heartbreaking, and a bit perverse. It doesn’t belong in a book of poems for children. Although by the last stanza James James seems to recover.

 

             James James

 

Morrison Morrison

 

(Commonly known as Jim)

 

Told his

 

Other relations

 

Not to go blaming him.

 

He’d warned her. As I should have warned my husband when he went out for air. Not enough air in here? Am I stifling him? Suffocating him? Never go round the block if you don’t go round with me, I should have told him. How will I tell his mother? What will I do with his stuff?

 

What will I do if he never comes back, if I never know what happened? Spend the rest of my life wondering, unable to move forward, unable to grieve. A tragic old woman alone, seeing her lost husband in every tall man across the park, in every Red Sox cap. The flash of a face in a passing bus.

 

Out there somewhere. Disintegrating into bones all alone, nowhere I can kneel and mourn. Or wandering blindly on some insane mission for god. Or trapped in a cult he can’t escape, can’t reach me, can’t call me. Aliens? No, don’t go there. I might never learn if he’s dead or alive. Each of us forever wandering alone, me in my empty life, him in the wilderness. How long can one survive in the wilderness with only a loaf of pumpkin bread?

 

Was that the screen door?

 

Wendy Palmer is an ex-social worker who lives on an island. Her work has appeared in Rosebud, New Millennium, Nimrod, Confluence, Sixfold, Lunch Ticket, Spillwords, Martha’s Vineyard Magazine and various anthologies.

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