Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Measuring by John Patrick Thurgood


For the last time in sixty-three years, Mr. Pratt locked the steel gaters on his corner bakery because Greg Bangsie found two knuckle bones in a bread pudding cupcake. The knockers in question were said to belong to a young child, and it didn’t take long for word to spread that there was a new evil, of which to be afraid. At that point, however, we had lost interest in the evil lurking round tight alleyways and steeping from frothy sewer caps.
We had grown accustomed to the dank smell of rotting horse meat as we strolled to and from and back to work. We learned to live with the fragrant burn of digestive fluids as they fought their way through desiccating organs and entrails and smaller bits of animal that, given normal circumstances, horses would never eat.
But these weren’t normal circumstances; these were only the circumstances we had grown accustomed to. Before Mr. Pratt’s Bakery closed we had bread pudding cupcakes to ease our misfortune. We took comfort in the sticky sweet custard cake with its confectioner’s sugar topping. If one held the fist-sized treat under one’s nose the smells of the city would nearly disappear. The hurt and the anger and the agony would all take heed in reverence of the almighty baked good—with just a hint of cinnamon. We found the one place that had not yet been corrupted by the ubiquitous vice maligning our once quaint though unremarkable city, but once word got out that the secret ingredient was young children, a few weeks passed before anyone could return the passing glance of a neighbor.
Soot hung in the air like sheets of linen, gas streetlamps burned like torches due to excess methane from the stockyards, and visibility at night was the same as being nailed in a coffin.

During the day, one would be lucky to see a city block; at night one would be hard off to see the block they were standing on. Theft was up, murder was up, and rape of all kinds was incessantly up. In the mornings we hurried to work, and in the evenings we hurried home, and in the in-between we hurried from place to place for the pleasure of having a founded destination to look forward to. It was hard enough living with the unknowable; traveling toward it every day would become unbearable.
Mr. Pratt always said it was our tenacity that gave us strength, and for some reason, no one questioned it. Not one person dared its stupidity: the fact that it implied our strength gave us strength. The statement was a slippery slope, but it was enough to give us something to lean on in order to support our lack of hope. Mr. Pratt would smile with his stained teeth, a bicuspid missing on the left side, his cheeks dotted with oldness, and with a bread pudding cupcake outstretched in a liver-spotted hand, persuade us to the side of optimism. Even the memory of it was something to cherish.
Memory was a funny thing, though, how a smell could unlock a deeply buried memory. It worked the other way too; without the olfactory senses, a memory would only ever be half-realized, and with the foul stench of horse bile lining the street, it was impossible to remember a time when we thought we were strong. That is, without forcing it, and forcing it only seemed to aggravate the sense we knew from the very beginning: if a people needed sugary treats to feel a certain way, that feeling probably wasn’t the most admirable trait those people had to offer. And it certainly wouldn’t be confused for strength. At least, not by anyone on the outside looking in, that is.

So for weeks afterward, even though we knew we should follow the straight route home, we found ourselves detouring so that we could pass by Mr. Pratt’s dormant bakery. We didn’t
know exactly why. The windows were gated. The door was gated. Even the sign above the shop had been taken down, presumably to be placed behind a gate of some kind. And yet, we found ourselves risking our lives, because we knew at one time we had bread pudding cupcakes, even though with all we knew, we didn’t quite know what that meant.

John Patrick Thurgood studied writing at a state university in San Francisco. Now he's a cook in Chicago. Soon he will be moving to Los Angeles to work toward an MFA. His work has appeared in Untoward, Freedumbzine, and The Logan Square Literary Review. He also tutors young people with 826CHICAGO.

Street artist unknown.
Photo by Adam Lawrence.

Noah and The MegaFauna are an LA band that combine indie folk and '40's big band jazz. 

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