Sanctum Excrementum 1

{Dear Readers: Allow me to introduce to you Mavis Marble, reporter extraordinaire. In her guest blog, Sanctum  Excrementum, Mavis continues the Animarrative tradition pioneered by Francine Lafollette in her Romantic-Recovery blog Francine’s Guest Post 1 (Or see Francine’s Guest Posts on main page.) For those unfamiliar with the term, Animarrative is a story-telling form that combines narrative with animation video, pictures and drawings, ideal for those readers affected by attention deficit disorder.               June O’Sullivan-Roque}

Sanctum Excrementum

Greetings! Some weeks ago I agreed to present a series of events that are being recounted to me.  Please note that  I am only the recorder.

First, a bit about myself:  My name is Mavis Marble. For twenty years, I worked as a reporter and writer for newspapers and magazines in a large and bustling city. Three years ago I decided to give up life in the concrete jungle and move to a semi-rural area. My two-acre property, which includes a sizable garden, is nestled in the foothills of a mountain range, and I run a small craft shop in the town itself, a half mile away. I consider myself a free and fearless fifty year old,  with no family ties or other constraints.

Many years ago, I decided to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, sometimes subsisting solely on raw foods, mostly because it helps me to keep my chakras open and allows my mind to explore, but also because it makes eating easier.

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My habits, which some consider odd, are very suited to country life. The few friends I have no longer consider it strange to see me eat a rose or a petunia when they visit me in my garden. And they are always surprised at the tasty dishes I create from simple items growing there. Flowers, herbs, and plants in general, have always had special appeal to me; I enjoy their flavor and find them very palatable. In fact, I consider everything in my garden to be of culinary or medicinal value. Of course, my garden is untreated by pesticides, and I happen to know intuitively which plants are suitable for consumption.

On Mondays, when the craft shop is closed, I walk to the top of Daisy Hill, (Dizzy Hill to some locals) where I relax in my favorite spot under a beautiful oak tree. I take my journal with me, and sometimes lunch, but there is always plenty to eat there – purslane, red clover, wild raspberries, and mushrooms growing in abundance in the shade of an overhanging rock.  A spring bubbles from a crevice close by. That day, the sun was shining hot, but there was a nice breeze coming from the west. I remember thinking how perfectly harmonious the setting was –  birds chirping, water trickling, sunlight dancing on the branches swaying in the breeze. I settled back on the rolled grass pillow I had made, and watched a train meander through the town below.

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I must have been there for a while, scribbling, nibbling, meditating……Suddenly, a man (or a woman, I couldn’t really tell) appeared before me. He or she was trying to get my attention by shaking my shoulder as if I had fallen asleep, though I know I was quite awake.

When he thought I had come to full awareness, he introduced himself as Elisiba, leader of the Resistance in Merigonia. I later found out that he considered himself neither male or female; however, I get a decidedly male energy from him, and since we do not have a pronoun in English to represent both sexes, I am going to refer to him in the masculine. Merigonia, he explained to me, is a nation in a world very similar to ours in its composition, except quite invisible to us in our normal state. I understood that they spoke English, or at least that English was one of their languages.

The leader of their nation, in addition to a host of other atrocities, had imprisoned, banished or disenfranchised all the writers, reporters, literary professionals. In their attempt to restore order to their country, Elisiba and others had found the ability to cross into other worlds. Among their many tasks, one was to find a writer to record the events, which he insisted should be made known to as many people as possible. Somehow this was considered a service to humanity, and some kind of Karmic obligation – to alert other nations contemplating the kinds of choices they are making or have made and that are leading to their destruction. Elisiba did not clarify whether their annihilation has already occurred, whether it is imminent, or even whether it can be avoided. He is very dismissive of my questions about this.

According to Elisiba, I was chosen for my general integrity, and for my ability to stick to the facts and make them clear.

At some point during our conversation, Elisiba was joined by two others, clearly a man and a woman. They did not introduce themselves, but held my hand, which I took as a gesture of assurance that they were indeed flesh and blood.  Elisiba seemed to be about forty, and the other two were older. They all had short curly hair of different colors and a goldish-brown complexion.

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One of them gave me a fountain pen with which to sign an agreement, written on parchment, the main thrust of which was that I would tell the truth as it was presented to me; on this they were quite insistent. I do not remember if there was any finger-pricking or any blood involved, but I was impressed by the sincerity and the seriousness of everyone present.

So, I agreed to become an official chronicler of the Merigonian affair, which I have entitled (rather aptly, you’ll agree) Sanctum Excrementum.

To accomplish the task, I would be provided with video and audio recordings, meeting minutes, and diary entries, with Elisiba filling in whatever information he can. And though it seems like a technological impossibility, I have to convert their video into a format that can be displayed by our system. I assure you, no one was as surprised as I was when it worked. The informational material is kept in a cave nearby, which I have tried in vain to find on my own; this leads me to suspect that it does not really exist in our dimension.

When they left (disappeared, really), I realized that only a half an hour had passed since I was under the tree, though my time with them, talking, taking notes, visiting the cave, felt like hours. No, I did not get a copy of the agreement I signed; neither did I think it was necessary. It felt like a symbolic thing. I did have in my hand, though, a small metallic box containing a video and instructions on its conversion.

I am going to start from the very beginning, that is, when things began to take a turn for the worse in Merigonia.

It was the time of the 49th election, and the people were choosing their new leader.  The Merigonians have a curious tradition for choosing their leader. They begin by gathering all candidates who can secure the greatest wealth. Their followers are willing to give them great quantities of cash if they believe in their leadership. Many presented themselves, but they managed to narrow it down to two, a man and a woman. The day of the final decision arrived, and each candidate prepared to present their spoils to the people.

The video below has been converted from the Merigonian, and the sound is not perfect, but it is a fine representation of the springboard from which the subsequent events took place.

 

 

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Francine’s Guest Blog 9

Wedding Warps, but then…Cake

 

From Patrick’s funeral, I rushed to the wedding.

Normally, I would have felt quite out of place at a gathering where I know only a handful of people, but for some reason, I did not. Grace and I had been roommates at university and though we kept in touch, we did not really mingle with the same crowds. Grace’s dress was beautiful, very lacy, and strapless. The dining hall, which did not have formal seating, was elegant, and the guests were mostly well-dressed. I found a seat next to a couple I knew vaguely.

Halfway through the meal, I looked up to see a familiar figure, which I quickly realized was no hallucination: Mr. Wrong, with the tramp in tow. He saw me before I could bury my face in my food and we both stared at each other in embarrassment. He hastened to introduce me to Tracy as “the girl I told you about”. It turned out that Tracy was connected to the groom in some roundabout way. Wrong had never met Grace, so he had no way of knowing I’d be there, so I forgave him for that. In fact, I forgave him for everything (in my mind) on the very spot, mostly because of Tracy. She was drunk again, and was dressed in a rather decent peach colored dress, which looked nice with her skin. Unfortunately, she was wearing flip-flops, which totally cancelled whatever elegance the dress had managed to convey.

I don’t understand how flip-flops became an acceptable accessory for formal attire. I don’t care how many sequins they put on them, they do not belong in a wedding, unless you’re 6 months pregnant. And the other thing is that if your feet look like two tired trout, you need to show as little of them as possible. And not waste money on expensive manicures either. I’m just saying.

The servers had placed huge pieces of cake on every table, and I was planning on taking some home, but not openly. So I went into the restroom to rearrange my purse. I came back to the table to find that the couple had left, and two guys, one of them really loud, had taken their place. I caught the end of the conversation, which I assumed was about the valet.

“…the idiot had parked my Benz next to a beat-up blue Toyota,” said the loud one. “Of course, I made him move it…”

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The cake was still there, so I sat down, but turned and looked at him. If there is one phrase that describes my car to a T, it is “beat-up blue Toyota.”

“I thought you said there weren’t any attractive women in here,” he said to his friend, when he saw me; then to me, “Are you married?”

Not thinking fast enough, as usual, I said, “No,” and thought about the most sarcastic way to phrase a response to the affront on my vehicle. I wasn’t quick enough.

“Got any kids?” he continued, leering.

“As a matter of fact, yes,” I said, and showed him the pictures of the Somalian and the Syrian. “Different fathers,” I explained, smiling. And suddenly they both had to go talk with the groom’s father. The cake was delicious. Moist and compact, with a light strawberry filling.

My phone rang, and I went outside to answer it. It was Sam the detective!

“I may have a lead,” he said, “but you’ll have to meet me for dinner to discuss it.” My eyes were popping out of my head when my mouth sputtered my acceptance. I vowed not to pursue the bread bandits. Without them, I would not have met Sam. It was fate that led me to remember that I had books to sell that day, and it was fate again that pushed me to go to the police, when I didn’t even want to.

I had had enough of the wedding, and as I floated to my beautiful “beat-up blue Toyota” I reflected on how far I had come since my last encounter with Mr. Wrong. The insignificant dent that he made in my life is all but forgotten. I can move forward with this business of life. I can’t say that any one thing helped, but that everything did.

According to my mother, time is the undisputed healer of all emotional pain. One of the ways to help Time, I’ve discovered, is to fill your days with meaningful things, to be grateful for the things you have; to be generous. And to forgive.  Apart from those early days of the break up, my days have been full of activity and incidents, some good, some bad. Without them I think I would have spent a lot more time feeling sorry for myself. And getting fatter. Lots of people have worse lives than I do. As it is, I feel better about myself; I can sleep through the night; I’ve got a romantic prospect, and…

I cannot end this blog without showing you the dress I’m wearing to dinner with Sam. Robbie says it’s “the bees’ knees.” That means it looks super awesome.

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Francine’s Guest Post 8

This One’s for You, Pat

 

It was the day of Patrick’s funeral. I had to find something to wear. I am not one of those people who will just wear anything to funerals and weddings. I find that  disrespectful. I finally found in the back of my closet a black dress, a little short, and some would say a little flirtatious, but quite elegant. Robbie would love it. Then I found a perfect hat to go with it.

At the funeral were a few of our department colleagues, with whom I did not mix much, since they think they are superior, being full time instructors. After the very short service, we gathered in a reception room. There was an abundance of wine at the bar, around which hovered Pam Cadell, the department know-it-all and alcoholic. She was wearing a slightly louder version of her everyday jumper-type outfit, which Robbie called “the pinaform” (a word he had coined from pinafore and uniform.) Her dreams of becoming a lawyer having been squashed by middle age and lack of brains, she contented herself with torturing her colleagues with political announcements and unsolicited legal advice. She had already put away several drinks and when she saw me, she said,

“Fancy dress! Isn’t that a bit expensive on a part timer’s salary?”

My friend Doreen, whose free and expressive use of profanity I’ve always admired, would have responded with a hearty “Now that’s none of your f***ing business, is it?”

All I could manage as my voice rose higher was, “Ha-ha thank you my mother made this dress yours looks very practical with the red flowers to hide the wine stains in case you spill it and with those big pockets you could carry out grapes crackers sausage cheese just kidding ha-ha.”

“Francine, my dear, you look divine,” Robbie said when he saw me. Robbie looked strangely relaxed, and when I commented, he admitted that he was relieved that the ordeal was over. It had been very sad and stressful for him, caring for Patrick while he helplessly watched him suffer. Robbie’s and Patrick’s gay friends were mostly elegant, except for one, whose loud handbag caught the attention of both Robbie and me at the same time.

“Cow skin? Really?” Robbie gasped. “With a leather jacket? Should I say something?”

“You know you won’t,” I said. And we comforted ourselves by shuddering and saying “Ugh!” a few times.

People kept coming, and the little reception room was getting quite crowded. The line at the bar was a twisted mess; drinks were being spilled on the nice gay suits; napkins were on the floor, some wet; but I noticed that the disorder did not bother me a bit.

I met Patrick’s young sister, Jane, and had a very nice conversation with her. She rejoined a group of their relatives, and I could see that I had caught the eye of an old man among them. He was a tall, thin, really old man with a thick shock of white hair. And he kept raising his glass to me every few seconds.

People were leaving and I wanted to say goodbye to Robbie before I left, so I went into the room with the coffin where I thought I’d seen him go. But there was no one there but Patrick, with his colorful silk ribbed tie in the Windsor knot, a beautiful contrast against the pale pink shirt. Suddenly I heard,

“I’ve been admiring your lovely chapeau…”

It was the white-haired man. I’ve always liked men complimenting my attire, even when it’s not sincere. I think it shows attention to detail and dedication to craft. And the use of the word “chapeau”, common with the gentry of the early part of the twentieth century was refreshingly cute.

“Merçi,” I replied.

“I could buy you several hats like that,” he said, “if you’d marry me.”

I looked at him, amused. I could tell that he must have been pretty hot in his youth. His body was still straight, relatively tight; he had nice teeth (not the original, certainly), exquisite clothing, and very likely, plenty of money. Half a century too late.

“I’m just guessing,” I said, “but I think we’d have only a few years together before I’d be left a grieving widow, and I don’t think I could stand that.”

“But what wonderful years they’d be,” he said, smiling, and looking deep into my eyes.

Just then, a woman about the same age as my admirer appeared at the door.

“Are you coming, Al? Jesus Christ!” She said, and downed the rest of the contents of her glass.

Suddenly Al’s shoulders dropped and the twinkle left his eye. He did bow to me, though, whispering “Adieu!” Then, mumbling “Yes, dear,” he went to join Mrs. Al outside.

On my way out, I overheard Pam Cadell say, in her most drunken, sanctimonious, over-indulgent voice, “He didn’t deserve to die.” And I thought, now, that’s just stupid. Nobody “deserves to die,” or “doesn’t deserve to die.” Death comes to everyone. And when is not a matter of merit. Otherwise, you would not still be here, Miss Pam Cadell. It certainly was sad, and it was nice that so many people had shown up to comfort Robbie and Patrick’s family. But from all the talk from those who’ve had NDE’s, the other side is pretty awesome, because they never seem to want to come back from it, what with the bright warm light full of love and everything. We, the living, are the ones who are left to suffer. So, we just have to deal with it and hope that time really does heal us quickly.

(I am going to tell you about the wedding in the next blog post as I don’t like to make things too long.)

Francine’s Guest Post 7

Be Still, My Beating Heart

But I couldn’t get the bread out of my mind. And not the bread itself, but the bread bandits. It had become a compulsion, which I recognized as completely out of my range of compulsions as it went against my normal live-and-let-live philosophy. But something was telling me to pursue it.

WWTC is across the street from the courthouse and the Nth Precinct, which, besides being very convenient for some of our students, is a comfort to us, knowing that help is always close by. I decided to report the robbery. Who knows, these people may be a lot more than just bread thieves. When I inquired, an officer came to explain how to file the report, but very quickly, she was called away by a coworker, who came to replace her. He was dressed in regular clothes and quite good-looking, so I had trouble remembering all the crime details, in which he seemed very interested.

After a few questions from him, I couldn’t remember any of the details at all, nor did I care about them, so I just started to make stuff up. Then I was feeling so bad about reporting the poor people that I gave him the address for a totally different bakery. I have no idea what that will do. I did give my correct telephone number though. I wish I could show you a picture of him, so you can understand. All I’m going to say is that his first name is Sam and that he’s a detective. Don’t worry, I’m not planning to rush into anything. One thing I know for sure is that he has a real job.

Robbie sent me a text to say that Patrick had died and that the funeral was on Saturday. My friend Grace is getting married the same day, and I will have to attend both events.

I Stumble Upon a Scientific Discovery

Thursday afternoon I saw Dr. G again. I was debating whether to keep the appointment, and yes, I had to look at my pro and con list again. I got to her office and there were no chocolates. I made a mental note to add this to the con list.

“So, how have those exercises been working?” Said Dr. G., after a few grunts.

“Exercises?” I said. “Oh, those! Yes, working quite well.”

You probably know I have not been doing any exercises, but I didn’t want to disappoint her. Who can keep track of exercises when stuff keeps happening all the time? People dying, people getting robbed…. She asked me about improvement in my symptoms, and surprisingly, there was quite a bit. I was getting more sleep, not losing things, hardly thinking of Mr. Wrong….

I read something somewhere about a scientific experiment in which one group of people played basketball while the other group of people imagined they played basketball, and guess what? When they measured them, both brains reflected similar activity, and they had comparable improvement in their physical skills. This could be what is happening here. If I pretend to do the exercises long enough, I could indeed see significant improvement.

There were no calls from Young Grizzly during the session. I assumed she had put him in check. Good for her! Sad to report, though, she was wearing the same outfit, except the blouse was a little different.

She continued with her questioning and gave me some more exercises, which I promised to do, (wink, wink.)

Some guy outside of Whole Foods was selling goldfish, already in the bowl, so I bought one, in another attempt to add more generosity and caring to my life. He has a florescent green color, with red stripes, and very delicate fins. Very cute. I named him Phillip.

For some reason, I felt like eating salmon for dinner. Can you tell me what it is with the fish people who refuse to skin your salmon when you ask them nicely? They’re in this exclusive environment, made for skinning fish, surrounded by an array of sharp knives, running water, garbage receptacles…and, yet…

“Well, no…. we don’t really…” or

“We-ell…, I could…but it’ll take a while….” It takes me 30 seconds at home if the knife is sharpened.

Some have the nerve to say, “The skin comes off easily once you cook it.” And I want to reply, “Yes, with all the flavor that I seasoned the fish with, and what do you know about cooking fish? You’re a fishmonger; it’s not a given that you know anything about cooking fish.” But I don’t, because I’m polite.

I was in bed that night when I realized I had no food for Phillip. The fish seller did not sell food, only fish. In my pantry, I found a box of bread crumbs and gave him some of that.

A Mournful Morning

Well, Phillip was floating in the bowl when I woke up this morning. I was horrified. We had had such fun the day before, him darting back and forth in the water. I began to wonder about the cause of his death. Either I was sold a defective fish, or…. I went to take a careful look at the box of bread crumbs I had fed him, and my worst fear was realized: it wasn’t just plain bread crumbs, but seasoned bread crumbs, with onion, garlic, and the dreaded cayenne pepper. Life must go on, I told myself, and flushed Phillip down the toilet. At least he went quickly and before I became too attached to him. I also vowed not to buy fish from ambulant vendors.

Francine’s Guest Post 6

 

As you can see, the gym is working out. I’ve lost two pounds, and I’ve mastered the elliptical machine. I’ve read that sufficient sleep will help you lose weight, so that must be helping too.

I’m going to see my friend Robbie today after my class.

I teach English part-time at an urban technical college, which I’ve always wanted to call Wilbert Wannabee Technical College (WWTC for short.)  As part-timers, we have no office; we are forced to use public places like the library, or the cafeteria, to prepare our lessons. A full-time instructor, Robbie took me under his wing when I first arrived at WWTC and allowed me to share his office. Robbie and I hit it off immediately because we liked each other’s fashion style. Robbie always wears impeccable suits to work, and his ties or scarves are always striking, some would say flamboyant.

When we see each other, which is three or four times a month, we have tea, and conversations about the finer things in life, like art and, of course, fashion. In a ledger Robbie keeps in his desk, we make lists of guilty names under fashion flaw titles such as “Lycra Lied to Me” and “Color me Blind”. Though we also note the times (rare) when we see a lovely outfit, which Robbie usually describes as “fetching” or “smart”. Yes, Robbie is over fifty, but he has an excellent eye and appreciation for style. We do not take pictures, as that could get us in trouble, but drawing is a skill we both share and we use it freely. Neither of us is bold enough or rude enough to give unsolicited fashion advice, but when you have a sharp fashion sense, there must be an outlet. The ledger is ours.  Robbie would weep if he met Dr. G.

For tea, I bought a cake from the bakery next to my second part-time job, which is tutoring ESL (English as a Second Language) to a family of recent immigrants. Very enthusiastic about learning American English, they meet twice a week for lessons. I feel pretty sure they keep a goat in their apartment, and equally sure the landlord is unaware, as every time I ring the doorbell, I hear whispering and scuffling, bleating, loud music and a door slam shut. As soon as I’m in, they turn the music off, as they seem to sense that I will not report them. And they would be correct.

I might as well mention here my third part-time job, which is writing menus for a small chain of restaurants. It does not pay well, but they give me food, and I do share some of the work by turning it into writing assignments for my WWTC students; they get to practice their writing skills, and everyone wins.

The class today was Creative Writing, a class which I got by luck, when the full- time instructor fell down a flight of stairs in the middle of last semester, and took an early retirement. Today, the first short story was due, and of course only half the class was ready. I sat and listened to the excuses.

“I left mine on my parole officer’s desk. He asked to see it. He wanted to know how I was doing. But I’ll get it back when he comes to work on Monday….”

“Mine’s on my flash drive. I tried to print it here, but the computers here are… different.”

And the inevitable,

“Miss Lafollette, can I have another copy of the assignment? I lost mine.”

In a weary voice, I repeated the policy about losing half a grade for each day the paper was late, whatever the reason.

Robbie was nowhere when I got out of my class, and he didn’t answer his cell phone either. Then I found out that he was absent today. There have been more of these disappearances since his partner became ill with cancer three months ago. Every now and then he gives me an update on Patrick, whom he calls Pooky, but only when I ask him. I sent him a text to say that I missed him and told him to call me if he needed just to talk. I sat down and began to read the assignments. The first one was full of malapropisms, one was that the writer’s character was “curled up into a fecal position.” This would have brought a smile to Robbie’s face.

At home, I saw a heart-wrenching commercial sponsored by an organization that specializes in helping refugee children for $5.99 per month. Now, this is something I can do, I said to myself.  In addition to practicing gratitude, I have been reading a lot lately about charity and generosity and the connection between them and receiving benefits in your own life, and this looked like an excellent opportunity to do that. Some of the children are lucky if they get one meal a day, the announcer said.  With tears in my eyes, I called the number and said, “I’ll take two of them.”

I am now the proud sponsor of one child from Somalia and one from Syria. I am posting their pictures below, so you can appreciate the position I was in.

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Sukina – Isn’t she the cutest thing?

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And Sami – adorable…..

To tell you the truth, neither of them look malnourished to me, but photographs can be deceiving.

Feeling exhilarated from my newfound philanthropy, I jumped in my car and headed down to the bakery to buy bread. It was true: being generous does cause you to feel good about yourself, and about life in general. I rolled my window down, despite the damp weather, gave my scarf an extra wind, and breathed in the cold air. I remembered there was a new Half Price Bookstore beside the bakery and I had a crateful of books I wanted to sell in my trunk. I parked and took the crate out and headed for the bookstore first, where I saw the stupid sign that said, “Closed. Grand Opening April 3rd.” So, I stepped into the bakery next door with my crate and bought my bread. Back outside, I almost bumped into a ragged, homeless-looking guy, who asked me, “How much do you want for your books?”

“Well, how many do you want?” I said.

“Just one.”

“Oh, you can have that for nothing,” I said.

I put the crate on the parapet on the side of the building and he picked a thick, heavy volume of American Literature. I was feeling quite pleased with myself for having contributed to the literary uplifting of a homeless man and happy that he took the heaviest book… He headed into the alley, where I spied an open, junk-filled, parked van. Back in my car, I noticed I did not have the bread. I walked back to where I had stopped with the man. Nothing. I didn’t remember putting the bread down, and thought I may have left it in the bakery. But I remembered smelling it while I carried it out. I walked to the homeless van, which was still there. Inside was the man, with a woman now, just as ragged, sitting at a three-legged table, the fourth corner of which was propped up by two bricks, an oil tin, and American Literature II.

“Did you see a loaf of bread when you got the book earlier?” I asked.

“No, no,” they both said, very quickly.

I looked more closely at the woman.

“Are those breadcrumbs on your scarf? Wait, is that my scarf?”

I never cease to marvel at how paralyzed people can become when they are the ones who have been violated. I stood there, dumbfounded, while I watched the woman fling her leg over the seat into the driver’s position and the man reach up without a word and roll down the back door of the van in my face. For several seconds, all I could do was watch the license-plate-less van rip down the alley in a cloud of smoke.

In a daze almost, I walked back to the bakery, where luckily, there was another loaf of country white wheat. Thoughts about the theft flooded my mind. At what point did the scarf leave my neck? They appeared to be able to afford gas for their van, so how hard up were they that they had to steal bread? And why did they hang around after they stole it? Was he too stupid to figure out that I would suspect him? Or were they just too hungry? That is terrible, to think that they were so hungry they had to eat right away. And there I was again, over-analyzing something that I could not change. I resolved to not think about it at night before I went to sleep. All this waste of gray matter for a simple loaf of bread and a scarf that’s older than Adam. Would be nice if I’d read Dr. G’s breathing exercises more carefully… Enough, Francine! I thought. At least you can afford to buy a second loaf. And I was grateful for that.