First Apartment -Brooklyn, 2002Loaves rise, engorged as dangerous moons, all through the night. I ring the bakery’s back-door bell, buy Pumpernickel for a dollar. No matter the after-bar hour; the late-night bakers always take our neighborly buck. The dark street’s swollen with the smell of bread—intimate, in-folded—like the small humidity behind an ear, between the toes. I carry the bellied-out loaf to my brownstone stoop, where my roommate, Suzanne, waits with the Merlot she’d fetched from upstairs.

My cell phone, set to vibrate, purrs; my pulse purrs too. I take the phone out, place it on the stoop.

“Is that him again?” Suzanne asks.

“It’s 2:30 a.m. Who else would it be?”

“I thought you ended it.” She’s forcing the bread into her mouth, puffy handful after puffy handful. This is probably her first food of the day. All this summer long, Suzanne’s curtailed her eating to tea-soaked bread for breakfast, wine-soaked bread for dinner. A scale lurks under her bed—squat monster—snickering, bullying. She fears that if she eats too much, she’ll start to get hungry. “He’s an asshole, you know.”

“I know,” I say. My phone’s dumb noise finishes, then starts up again.

“His name means blood in French,” she says. “You shouldn’t call him back.”

“OK,” I say. “I won’t.” She dips the bread into her cup. It absorbs the wine, porous as capillaries, red and white in lacy filigree. Suzanne’s skin, lately, has also seemed a pale mesh, like cheese cloth, not quite holding her veins in.

Suzanne continues, “You’ve gone twenty-three years without giving it up. It would be a shame if that jerk was your first.” Her shoulder blades, under her tank top, curve out at the angle of danger. I wrest the pointy, elbowy end from the loaf, take a giant, stinging gulp of wine. The phone goes mute, but only for a moment.

“I mean, god knows who else he’s getting with.” She looks at the phone— its dull persistence—with disdain. A car hisses past. All that’s left of the bread is a stolid hollow of crust. I think of Suzanne’s concave hunger, of the wine sucked up, blushing, through bread. I think of the stubbornness that rests in bodies, deep as bones, and deeper.


When I return home, Suzanne’s sunbathing on our fire escape, the morning loaf settled on a plate next to her. This time, it’s cut in thin, nearly translucent slices, all pock and gauziness. Suzanne wears a blue bikini; the slats of her ribs resemble the iron slats of the fire escape. I clamber over the kitchen table and perch in the windowsill.

“Hey,” she says, turning her sunglasses to me. “I knocked on your door to see if you wanted some tea, but I guess you weren’t home.”

“Yeah, well. You know where I was.”

“I do. But at least you didn’t have sex with him. Right?” Suzanne and I have borne our virginities—those anachronistic, kitschy chalices—all through our college years. The porous air sucks up my silence; trees rustle with gossip.

“You did,” she says. She pinches out a nibble of bread, presses it into a globule. “Well. How was it?”

I had my period; blood sluiced through it all. I woke to summer’s dumb oven, and a feeling of sticky inevitability. That man rolled over and said he needed to shower, needed to go somewhere.

“It was OK,” I say to Suzanne. I sit in silence; the thing that had happened is now a fact of the body—errata. Discarded crust of the flesh.

Finally, Suzanne says, “You want some bread? I think I ate too much.” I notice the veins netting her pale temples. A few weeks ago, when discussing her eating habits, she’d plucked up the skin on her forearm. A sallow wrinkle—not yet thin enough.

The air feels muggy and yeasty, too full of too much breath.


Don’t get me wrong; it’s been ages since all this. Really, it would be too easy—the first apartment—an apt altar of innocence. Sure. But sometimes it still hits: when crossing my threshold in summer, for instance, or hurtling myself into the humid heft of night. That bread, that wine—that season, terrible with bodies.

Rachel Toliver has work published in Cutthroat, Night Train, Alligator Juniper, Literal Latte, the King’s English, Thieves Jargon, and Geez. Toliver teaches English at a Philadelphia public high school. She lives in bucolic West Philadelphia, and disagrees with all the nasty things people say about Philly.

Photo by Tory M. Taylor