The Warmth of her Bread

My sisters and I abandoned the house on Cottage Road for the first time one night when Mom was working the backshift at the Sydney City Hospital. Dad was on another bender. He stormed around the kitchen, his heavy work boots stomping back and forth from the backdoor to the table to the fridge. Every now and then, he’d take his drink to the telephone table in the hallway to make a call. When he couldn’t get through to whoever he wanted to talk to, he’d slam the receiver down and say, “Answer the Goddamned phone,” each syllable deep and drawn-out like strokes on a big bass drum.

During one of these trips to the telephone he must have noticed Brenda’s shoes sitting at the bottom of the stairs, looking him, giving him attitude. Or maybe her school bag set against the wall pushed his buttons; it wasn’t clear, but I do know that he shouted one very loud, “Brenda!” When she didn’t answer, those boots mounted the stairs in a hurry, his fists meeting with her door. Like me, she’d been in her room since we heard his truck pull into the driveway. Often the collateral damage of his rage, Brenda knew the importance of a locked door. Later I wondered what he would have done if he’d gotten a hold of her. Would he have hit her? Shoved her against the wall? He could have pushed himself hard enough to break the lock, but maybe the show offered him power. As a ten-year old, I had no idea. I could only feel the room get smaller and darker, my heart galloping like some runaway horse.

I didn’t understand why he left me alone, but I was glad he did. Back then I got in trouble with Mom all the time. When I offered too much back-talk, she’d chase me up the stairs with her wooden spoon, but by the time I got to the top, I’d be laughing and so would she. I’d still bolt myself inside my room, but I’d never have to worry about her coming back.

As my father’s fists pounded harder, I imagined Brenda rocking back and forth on the bed, her eyes wide like the giant blue biggie at the bottom of my bag of marbles. If Mom were home, she’d would have made him stop. She would have tugged on his sleeve and stood in front of the door, a decoy for his ire and the whole affair would have made its way back downstairs. Then I would have sat on the top of the stairs to make sure she was okay, too. But this night, I could only listen in my room and wait.

When he retreated to the kitchen to make another drink, Brenda burst through my door pulling a sweater over her shoulders. “Come on,” she whispered and motioned for me to follow.

Without asking questions, I jumped out of bed, quickly dressed and followed her to Tish’s room where we wrapped my little sister in a blanket. Brenda hoisted her firmly on her hip, Tish’s skinny arms gripping Brenda’s neck like a tiny monkey. Without speaking, we tiptoed down the stairs and instinctively headed for our Nanny’s house, a route we knew well.

From our front door, we could cut through St. Joseph’s field, slip between the fence at Wentworth Park, skirt the lilac bushes that edged our grandmother’s house, and run straight through Nanny’s side door and into the kitchen, where on weekends whoopee pies and homemade bread lined the counters like the humps of a hundred camels. Sometimes we’d spend whole days exploring Ungle Bungle Jungle, the wooded ravine near her house. We’d harvest berries and seeds to survive, wade through dangerous brooks, dodge leeches and eels, and find shelter under leafy canopies.

But that night, our journey was real. We scurried across the street to St. Joseph’s field and ran, Brenda setting the pace. I glanced back. My father’s shadow loomed large in the big picture window at the front of the house. He’d spotted us in the moonlight. The chase began. Soon the Pontiac’s headlights licked our shadows like a whip, but in the vastness of the field there was nowhere to hide. My breath burned my lungs, and I reached out to grab the tips of Brenda’s fingers to steady myself. Growing closer, my father’s car bounced and swerved in ruts.

Brenda called out, “Faster!” and pulled me forward.

In front of the school, Dad tailspinned to cut us off, but we pivoted, passing Tish back and forth as we tired, her huge eyes beacons flashing under a mass of salty curls. The headlights grew brighter as the car sped towards us, but with seconds to spare, we squeezed through a secret opening along the park fence and disappeared.

In the darkness of the brush, we huddled together, my breathing thumping in my ears, my sister’s breath barely audible. Hunkered down, we tucked Tish tight in the blanket and waited until his lights finally passed. What would come next we didn’t know, but in that moment, we became explorers again dodging real danger. So, we ran. We navigated the secrets of the park, whistled past streams and gardens, dodged night sounds and tenebrous shadows. But in our hearts, we followed the scent of our grandmother’s lilacs, the warmth of her bread.


Carolyn Pledge-Amaral is a graduate of Florida International University with an MFA in Creative Writing. She was the winner of their 2016 Literary Award for Non-Fiction, and her work has also been published on the Be-a-Better-Writer website, Mason’s Road literary journal and Feathertale Magazine. A loyal island-girl raised on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Carolyn has spent the better part of the past thirty years combing the beaches of Bermuda where she lives with her husband and three children. When she’s not slogging away at rewrites for her first novel, “Full Hookup,” she’s teaching English or working on completing a memoir entitled, “Tailspin.”