The Bagel Rye is my favourite bakery on Grantbrook near Finch. It’s right near Mr.Grocer and Mr. Grocer is right near Leo Baeck, Lisa’s Hebrew school where we’re always behind on payments. Anyhow the Bagel Rye was initially owned by a Jewish couple, old, I think, or so they seemed to me—the husband still had a twinkle in his eye and very even false teeth, the wife was fat and bossy, except if you took the time to talk to her, she’d gossip about her customers and maybe take a shine to you. I adore bread. I love challah, the old man’s whole wheat rolls, croissants, muffins, but since I started bodybuilding I’ve stopped eating white bread although I occasionally relapse and devour a whole loaf of challah in one shot. I’ve managed to side-step stereotype Jewish guilt, but when I do suffer, I mean with what-is-the-meaning-of-life intensity, it’s after these bread episodes. Otherwise I’m practically amoral; I’m an ardent eudaemonist.
Eventually the baker and his wife sold the store to an Irishman with oily thinning red hair and a moustached skinny Lebanese fellow. Then Elaine started working at the Bagel Rye. I’d talk to her about bodybuilding and bread. Sometimes Mike the baker would listen in or list ingredients of his breads. He was trying out new breads and even had pamphlets made up to match—Irish soda bread, special muffins on order. I bought three dozen of the muffins on order, despised the first four, and became attached to the remaining thirty-two. I put them in our big freezer in the basement so I wouldn’t be tempted, but then I’d sneak downstairs and eat them frozen. I threw twenty-nine out. Or I’d leave one on the counter for twenty-four hours
just to tempt myself. Sometimes I’d win. I learned to count to twenty when I opened
the fridge. I’d talk to myself in the sweetest way—“Now, Janice, you just walk out of the kitchen, there’s a dear, and if you’re still in the mood after twenty minutes, possibly we’ll talk again. Now go on, there’s a good girl, find something to amuse yourself.” I learned to go to close the fridge door and seek out my bathroom floor instead. Even the two-piece on the main floor. I’d squeeze into the space between the toilet and the corner of the door.
Now I buy only one item when I drop by the bakery which I still visit once or twice a week. When I’m there I show Elaine my muscles, talk about Bernie and my anorexia, about John, even about ‘roids. Elaine says she had free-weights in her parents’ basement but now she lives in a house with three female room mates close to the bakery. She’s pretty in a full-bloomed way and her complexion is nearly perfect. She has blond-brown hair with highlights which she sometimes pulls back with a silver barrette or caught at the top with a gold bow or swept up pompadour style. I don’t know whether she has blue eyes or brown. Her figure is like her face. She thinks she’s terribly overweight, but she really looks like a healthy farm girl in a city bakery. She’s not particularly bright, but then the gym has made me less snobby than I used to be.
Anyhow the night Abie and I had our steroid discovery fight, Elaine phoned. I could see she wanted to talk. I had learned a variety of responses in my child development course at Guelph. At first I opted for repetitive empathy without being too obvious, which I quickly discarded in favour of bolstering dialog. “I’m really glad you called. Really. I mean last week my coach John called me—he thought his best
friend was ripping him off, gave him a used motorcycle when I gave him $600 cash for a deposit on a new one . . .”
“You bought him a bike!”
“Yeah well, we have this thing, like I’m his sugar mama although he doesn’t know I’m all of out sugar, know what I mean?” Sharing sometimes takes the edge off. I have a feeling a story’s at the door and damn it, I’m going to let it in and copy word for word. “Anyhow I was honoured with him calling and all, because I guard my muscle sleep—I don’t give a fuck about beauty—but he needed to confide in me and it touched my heart.” I let my voice go all soft and sweet. “Now something is troubling you. I can tell.”
And then she started jammering about Bill the Lebanese baker. She could have snagged any man, she always had the cutest guys and even her friend said how come you got the hots for that creep, but then she fell hard for him although he was so skinny “you could pinch his ass and feel his bones.”
“Some guys just grow on you,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s right. That’s what he did. I always gave him compliments. I was really good for him, I know I was. Sometimes he even told me so. I was always going up to him and telling him he was the best lover and how he had this great body and he made me so wet I started bringing in a change of underwear. Ten times a day I told him.” She started to sob. “Hey, hey,” I said, making little clucking noises with my tongue. Turned out Bill came by her place, left his car in the front with its flashers on, out front being a no-parking zone, came in, and closed but didn’t lock the door—“We fuck,” he announced. “Sure,” Elaine said. She lay down on the beige sofa and hiked
up her skirt. Bill undid his zipper, walked to the sofa, flipped her over and took her from behind. She said she could feel the heat on her face. “Bill,” she said, “Bill,” while he rammed in for about three minutes and then came. She wanted him to kiss
her, but he just zipped up his fly and walked to the door. “Aren’t you even going to kiss me,” she called out. “Aren’t you going to fuckin’ kiss me?” “Cunt,” he said under his breath, but loud enough for her to hear and slammed the door. Elaine sat on the sofa, a movie piece with smudged mascara and tears rolling and then called his wife.
I like the kinks in people. The discordant parts. Elaine is like that—a regular small town teenage kitten. One day she’ll kill herself over Bill. I befriended her because I’m fascinated with edges—round that should be square, square where there should be sweeping curves. I like her because of her dialog and upward intonations. Part of me cares and wants to help and another part thinks let the cow eat her way into some gigantic bakery in the big beyond. Or as we Jews say let her grow upside down like an onion with her feet in the air and her head in the ground. Elaine was alright. She coped. I guess she’s better at coping than I am, and maybe I have something to learn from her. She met a guy her age at the Scarborough Roller Skating Palace—the kid is sixteen and inexperienced, she thinks he really looks up to her, sure has the hots for her, but he’s afraid; he’s real innocent and he treats her so nice. And he’s good-looking all clean like some young boys are. She feels older and experienced, a bit like her and Bill, only in the reverse.
I know I should be glad. But I’m getting bored with this kid who sees life through the eye-hole at the tip of a prick. After all those hours listening and commiserating, the truth is I don’t give a fuck and I miss my sweet girls. I worry about losing track of fame —I’m sailing off on an old yellow school bus with my
mother frantically waving a brown paper lunch bag. Or the reverse. Mostly I miss my daughters. Even muscles can’t fill that empty space on my lap. Before the evictions
we had an old rocker, actually two — one was pale wood from my grandmother’s country house and the other a rich mahogany with etchings on the back. We’d sit, my girls and I, belting out every song we knew, like when Abie and I were camping in Kilarney and this brown bear came lumbering down the hill as we paddled in the stream at its base. “Sing!” Abie said, “Sing loud and don’t stop until I tell you.” The girls and I used to sing like that. Abie was the bear.