By David Kaplan
My mother pulled the wax paper bag out of the coarse brown paper bag, which she was carrying in a gossamer thin plastic bag, its handles fraying scant minutes after we walked outside the bakery on the crowded avenue.
A bus roared slowly as it pulled away from its stop. Honking cars. The rusty, repetitive screech of precariously full shopping carts made their way around us. From my carriage, I saw a blur of knees whisk by as I looked straight ahead. I looked down at the shoes dodging other shoes on the pavement.
Large garbage bags dumped on the curb with a thud. In the opposite direction, frustrated men with handtrucks impatiently pushed past narrow shop doors to make their deliveries. A mix of shouting at the produce stand cashiers.
But it was all background. All I focused on was the sound of crumpling paper and plastic bags being extracted from each other. The tangle was pulled apart like nesting dolls that had been haphazardly jammed together.
I could smell the dough as my mother stopped in the middle of the street and handed me a thick slice from the exact center of the loaf. I stared at the slice’s holes and granules. Then I tore the soft, spongey middle with my left hand and gripped the empty ring of crust in the other. I could feel the pillow of rye and sharp caraway seeds swirl around my tongue, teeth, and the right side of my inner cheek.
“Too much! Small bites! You have to learn to take small bites!” my mother yelled way too loudly.
But I was too overjoyed to pay her any mind. I bit into a caraway seed and could smell its herbal, electric scent.
And then, in a moment, it was 40 years later. Schussel’s Bakery was long closed. I was standing at the counter of the Café Donelle, a funky pastry shop not far from where I grew up. About two dozen baguettes were stacked on top of each other in the shop window. They were initially arranged in a pyramid formation at 8am. But by 3:14pm, the pile resembled a chunky trapezoid.
“So, I asked the manager,” said the young woman racing back to the counter. She was holding a digital tablet, so “cashier” didn’t seem like the right description. “We don’t sell rye bread. Yeah. Sorry. ”
“Um, so are you going to order something else? There’s always doughnuts.”