To start reading “The Last House in Levittown” from the beginning, click here.
To see a chronological list of all excerpts published so far, click here.
Chapter 2 (cont.)
The second match took, and she lit the propane lantern on the counter. The flame glinted against the large dent Jimmy’s fist had left in it the night before he left. She’d hit it pretty hard herself in the months since, but couldn’t even manage to leave a scratch.
She had cherished that dent, stroked it, mythologized it into some demonstration of his love for her—that was just how angry he had been at the thought of having to leave her there. But as time had ebbed on, with no word from the Indoors, she had started to doubt her own romanticism and also realize how it might multiply in her isolation. They had officially ended things that night, to make things as charitable as possible to them both. Or so they had said. Her own loneliness had already led her astray, although what did that really mean—he was Indoors now, she was out here. She wondered if she’d ever even see him again.
She remembered the bread, and decided that if she just ate it slowly and in small bites, she might stanch the fear of poison. She opened the plastic bag, noticing the wrapping read “Little Portion Friary” in brown letters. Monk bread? Was she seen as so desperate by now that a loaf of bread was meant to inspire some “come to Jesus” moment?
She tore off a small piece and put it on her tongue. After months of canned soups and stale crackers, the moist, salty sponginess of it was nearly orgasmic—she waited just five minutes, felt fine, and maniacally set to task, holding the whole loaf in her hands and devouring it with all the gusto of a zombie ravaging one very large brain-baguette.
About one-third of the way through, she tasted paper. In terror, she stopped eating immediately and in even more terror, felt the wet rip as the paper already on her tongue separated from the paper still inside the loaf.
She fished two fingers inside her mouth, scraping off the tiny, wet mounds of bread that had congealed around the strip and then so, so carefully, she extricated the moistened strip from the rough grooves of her tongue. It was a surgical procedure for who knows what—a clue. A piece of paper baked into bread and sent to her in the dark of night.
She placed the wet scrap of paper on the counter, in the light of the lantern, and smoothed it several times to try to flatten it. It was mostly blank, about half an inch thick and two inches wide. Her hunger had produced an embarrassing amount of salivation. At the very right end of the strip appeared to be a handwritten O and an i. Or was it a zero and a one?
She carefully pulled the rest of the paper out, wishing she had some tape. Tape! She hadn’t even thought about tape in years. Even if she still had any, she’d be too afraid to use it. She would keep it in a special place, a relic from the Old World that she would check in on every now and then like a treasured souvenir from a particularly enjoyable trip abroad.
Lew might even have some, but the markup would probably be $20 by now and she could not foresee any urgent purpose for scotch tape on the Perimeter.
She lowered the lantern so the brightest part of the flame was at the counter level, and in the dim glow she uncovered the mystery. The two pieces, when placed together, read in careful, penciled handwriting, “Our Lady of the Ashkenazi, Exodus 2:8.”
Shit. Another thing she did not have was a Bible.
To read the conclusion of Chapter 2, click here.