The Loaf – Elizabeth Templeman

It sat precisely balanced atop a high concrete curb along the roadside, this perfect loaf of sliced white bread. How astonishing is that? Such an improbable, yet ordinary, place for such a commonplace thing as a loaf of bread. 

But this was no ordinary, run-of-the-mill white bread. It was that Italian brand with the green and red logo. Someone had paid top dollar for this. I started to imagine that person: a mother with a houseful of young kids; or a twenty-four-year-old guy living on his own, hungry for a cheese sandwich, or two.

How on earth did the bread get here, resting on a sun-warmed curb dividing the busy bike and pedestrian lane that began, just at this point, to follow the North Thompson River? That’s what I wondered, as I pedaled past. The homes, after all, are all along the other side of the road. On this side runs the trail, unspooling along the riverside. All that could be seen were a lone runner loping past a young couple pushing a stroller, and riding out ahead of them, my husband. It was not quite noon, and cool, on this fine Saturday morning.

I couldn’t get the loaf out of my mind. It made no sense. Had a dog dragged it across the road, the plastic would have been punctured. And no dog would leave it perched on the concrete, perfectly aligned with the curb. Even an impeccably well-mannered dog would have nosed the thing, pulled or poked at the plastic with a paw. The loaf had appeared for all the world to have been placed there.

My mind toyed with the image, not unlike that dog would have toyed with the object. Who had placed it there? Why? And what of the person I now imagined to have made a Saturday morning trip to the grocery store to pick it up?

Someone clearly had wanted this loaf of bread; someone would be missing it. At this exact moment, possibly. The idea of that loss tugged at me. I wanted to see if my husband had noticed, and what he’d thought. While I am known for not noticing—for oblivion to my environment, especially when in motion—he notices everything. Me? I tend to retreat to the comfort of my innermost thoughts, and to bicycle, run, hike, or ski in utter seclusion. Which might make me less than the ideal companion.

But on this morning I longed to share, and I tucked this small sad mystery in a corner of my mind. We were ten minutes into our one hour ride (which will be 59 minutes and 53 seconds this particular Saturday in September, for any who might obsess about such details). It’s a sweet ride, too, winding out and back along the river trail, and then beneath a bridge, through a few quiet city blocks, to loop around a sports park, and return to the parking lot where our vehicle awaits.

Some twenty minutes later, I’m still trailing my husband, who’s rounded back out to where bike lane meets road. I’m pushing to catch up, with about twenty meters of trail between us. The effort required to close the gap between us and also to pay some attention again to things like traffic and direction pulls me back from the recesses of my mind. On the river side of the trail, to my left, a woman rides past me. She’s riding, or driving, what looks like a cross between a cart and a wheelchair. She sits back, low to the ground, her brown hair streaming out behind her. She holds a leash, and a gangly chocolate lab runs along beside her, between us. I take this in, and become vaguely aware that she’s looking directly at me.

This can happen when I run or walk, too. I always feel solitary in the world; alongside others, but happily alone. It always takes me by surprise—is not unlike a tiny shock—to realize someone is connecting: maybe with a simple wave, or a comment about my t-shirt, or the weather. I don’t know why I forget to expect this social connectedness that our species supposedly thrives on. But not even six decades of tipping inward has accustomed me to the jolt of reconnecting, socially. It’s as though I’m one with the universe; but not quite so, with humanity.

This woman, with a broad smiling face, eyes seeking mine, is speaking. To me. Only as we pass one another do I hear her words: “I found my bread,” she says. And again, for whatever reason, she chooses to say (to me!) “I found my bread.”

The mystery is solved! I am awash with joy to know that the person who’d been missing her newly purchased loaf of bread has found it. Neither of us will know how the bread made its way up onto the curb. But we have shared, however incongruously, this surge of contentment.

It’s a rare and beautiful thing, when the universe delivers a story, perfectly packaged. And this story has seemed for all the world to drop right out of the sky. A blessing, fully formed—not unlike a loaf of bread. 

Elizabeth Templeman, a lover and collector of books, lives, works, and writes in the south-central interior of British Columbia. Publications include individual essays appearing in various journals and anthologies, and two books of essays, Notes from the Interior, and Out & Back, Family in Motion. To learn more about her, check out her website 

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