white bread

Posted: November 13, 2019 in grace o'connell
Tags: , , , ,


Nobody knew back then that feeding bread to ducks was bad for them, that so many wholesome weekend tableaus ended with the equivalent of filling a baby bottle with Pepsi as families tossed torn white bread into seemingly happy, floating gullets.

Auntie Jane always brought bread with her when we went to the duck pond, loose in a crumpled A&P plastic bag. She wasn’t really my aunt, but my mother’s friend. That was how they said it, friend, singular, like you only got one. Neither of them ever seemed to need more. Sometimes Jane would bring her boyfriends with her to the Galleries, which was the somewhat aspirational name of the park where the duck pond was. It sat on a sliver of rocky beach, about a fifteen-minute walk from our apartment, with the pond set in from the shore, and in between was a never-open building that that was supposedly some kind of art gallery.

I don’t know how many of the boyfriends I remember, because I’ve forgotten the ones I forgot. But my favourite without a doubt was Rick. He wasn’t handsome in any way a little girl would have cared about, not Disney prince pretty, but he had a way of combing back his hair, comb in one hand, his other hand following, smoothing over the already smoothed shiny blackness, that was somehow endearing. It was like a tic – I don’t think he even noticed himself doing it. It might have seemed like an affectation in another man, but in Rick there was a softness to it, as if he was politely rearranging chairs to make room so everyone could sit, as if he was raking the neighbour’s leaves without being asked.

He’d come to the pond a few times before but the last time he came he and Jane were late, not badly late but long enough that Mom and I had walked around the Galleries twice. It wasn’t a big park and by the time they arrived, Mom had me occupied skipping stones on the water. She had a perfect flick to her wrist when she did it and could bounce a good stone six, seven times. I was up to three, but even then I had to be picky about the stones I chose.

When they found us there, Jane’s face had a hard, faraway look and my mother’s face went soft and close in response without either of them saying anything.

“Sorry we’re late,” said Jane. Her voice was like a good rock, flat and thin. “We brought bread.”

Rick smiled at us. It was a winter sunlight smile, weak and watery, but he seemed to mean it. He rocked back on his heels and said “Skipping rocks eh?” He took out his comb and ran it through his hair and, quick as a snake, Jane snatched it out of his hand and snapped it in half.

“You’re always combing your goddamn hair,” she said. “It’s fine, damn it, it’s perfectly fine.” She threw the pieces into the rocky beach. One landed with its teeth straight up, like a tiny plastic bear trap, while the other just lay amongst the rocks.

Mom said, “You brought bread?” like nothing had happened and the bread hadn’t already been announced.

“You know I get all fidgety now, without my smokes,” said Rick.

“Why don’t you guys go feed the ducks?” said my mother, and she pushed me towards Rick and the bread. Jane was already turning away from him, towards Mom, her face seeming to get smaller somehow, and I knew she was going to cry.

I trotted towards the pond and Rick lopped along behind me, saying, “Wait up, kiddo.”

At the edge, he opened the bag, which was tied in a few knots, and reached in.

“I wonder if this is really good for them,” he said. “It doesn’t really seem natural, I dunno what ducks are supposed to eat, but bread doesn’t seem right somehow.”

“They love it,” I said, boldly snaking my hand into the bag he held and tossing a morsel out. The ducks, already gathered, went to war for it, shaking their feathers and poking their bills at each other in sharp jabbing motions.

“That isn’t enough,” he said, and then, as if correcting himself, “That doesn’t make it right.” Then he patted his pocket unconsciously and stiffened, remembering the comb was gone.

I thought of Rick when I read that you shouldn’t give bread to ducks. I thought about the things I’ve wanted that weren’t good for me, and how often I’d dove for them, swallowed them down. I thought of my mother’s wrist, flicking perfectly, and the good stones skipping and skipping, almost to the horizon.



Grace O’Connell is the author of Magnified World (Random House Canada 2012), a national bestseller, and Be Ready for the Lightning (Random House Canada 2017), which was named a Top Ten book of 2017 by The Toronto Star. Her fiction and essays have appeared publications including in The Globe and Mail, The Walrus, The Toronto Star, FASHION, Elle Canada, and The Journey Prize Stories. Grace was the recipient of the 2014 Canadian Authors Association Emerging Writer Award and teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto.

She can be found at https://graceoconnell.wordpress.com/




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