M O N I K A M C G R E A L V I O L A
Monika McGreal Viola is a writer based in Washington, DC. She holds a B.A. in Middle East Studies from Brown University, M.A. in Fiction Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and MPhil in Anglo-Irish Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. Her work has appeared in PennUnion, Common Ties, Icarus Magazine, Thirteen Ways Magazine and AZURE. Her poetry has been shortlisted for the Fish Anthology Poetry Prize. Monika has attended the Yale Writers' Conference and Bread Loaf in Sicily, and she currently teaches and writes professionally. Find her at www.monikamcgrealviola.com.
H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
O U R D A I L Y B R E A D
You’ve brought her a loaf of bread. Bread in the nursing home – if you can call it bread – is a mix between hot dog buns and Wonder slices, rolls that flake when you try to butter them. Rolls bought in bulk.
Nights when you can’t sleep, you imagine the loaves of her childhood, bread made in primordial ovens dating back before the time of Catherine Deneuve, or Marcel Proust, or maybe even Marie Antoinette. Kilns that held the secrets of leavening, of whispering air into dough until it ballooned like a puffer fish with a crusty sunburn. Nothing like the wonderbuns she’s given now.
She spots the brown paper bag, a deli-wrapped baseball bat.
“Mon petit chou, bring that parcel here,” she says smiling. Her students were always little cabbage, endearingly, and she speaks the words now in her high-pitched lilt that has never lost the sophistication of French translation. She takes the bag between knobbed hands, brings her nose to the opening, and shuts her eyes as she squeezes through the crinkled paper. She reaches in and breaks off the stub, then holds out the package. You follow suit. White flour and crumbs dust her navy sweater set, but she sits delighted. You imagine her at night, taking out her rows of dentures, taking off her habit.
Tell me about the war.
When the Germans came, going from home to home looking for men, we were still in Alsace then. They’d line them up and, even when the men knew nothing, sometimes the soldiers shot them. Usually, they just took them away. People are people, though, and one soldier rubbed my sister’s cheek and said “kleine”, and my mother said he must have had a baby girl at home. Those were terrible times.
“Mmm, lovely.” Enthusiasm after months of overcooked lasagna and bottled salad dressing. Quality starvation for a woman who had survived the Occupation. You believe her sudden gusto.
Tell me about after.
The after was much like the during, only less unity, less anticipation. I remember how my mother would wrap bread for my father to eat with his meals, a gift from the country when he traveled to Paris in search of work. There was no bread in the cities, you see. On one such trip, a well-dressed man approached him in a café and asked for the last piece that lay in my mother’s linens. My father, of course, gave it to him, and the man took the crust back to his table to eat with his food. So well-dressed, my father would always emphasize by repeating.
Bread explains all in her world, the barometer for survival. Lack of it equals lack of sustenance. You watch her as she savors the loaf you’ve offered now, and you think about those wonderbuns.
“What’s the matter, mon petit chou?” Your portion’s cradled in your palm and so now, you bite off the jagged side as her French endearment pulls you close. Mmm, lovely.
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