The bread man came twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. An unsmiling man who looked like Ernest Borgnine, he delivered loaves of white bread devoid of nutrition, and as a special treat, our mother would buy us a six-pack of pink-frosted chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles. Everything he brought us was square — the bakery truck, the bread, even the cupcakes. He had a soft spot for our mother, who’d been left in a bad situation when our father drove to work on Christmas Eve, took a taxi to the airport, and never came home.
With five kids to raise and no husband, the convenience of twice-weekly bread delivery meant she could take something off her plate. She began offering him coffee in a companionable way, and the bread man gave her the day-olds at half price. They carried on quiet conversations that were over my head. But for a man who came to our home more frequently than any other adult male in my life, he never had a word to say to me.
Then, one afternoon before my brother and sister came home from school, the bread truck came back empty, and it sat in our driveway for a long time. When Mom came outside, she stood in front of the bifold door and he opened it. From that day on, she spent some time in the company of the bread man.
This worried us.
My brother and sister and I would scurry upstairs to the bedroom window that overlooked the driveway. We stared down at them, keeping watch, trying to listen. He always kept the door open and their voices floated up, telling stories I was too young to understand. Sometimes, it seemed like they were in there for hours. More than anything, I wanted the door on the truck to stay open. What we would do if it ever shut? Or, my greatest fear, what if the truck were even to drive away with her inside? But the shape of her backside stayed visible for hours as she stood on the step, one hip leaning against the edge of the door. Anyway, the bakery truck had only one seat.
One day Mom happened to look up and see our three faces looking down at her. She left the bakery truck at a good clip and came inside, red-faced. “Can’t I have five minutes to myself, to talk to an adult?” she asked, pulling ground beef out of the refrigerator, grabbing an onion from the basket on the counter, digging in the cupboard for canned tomatoes.
“What were the two of you talking about?” my sister asked.
“The bread man is having trouble with his wife,” Mom said.
She washed her hands, letting the water run for a long time. Beside the sink, a package of six, square, chocolate cupcakes with pink frosting sat on the counter, waiting until after dinner. Spaghetti or chili, I wasn’t sure.
Mom stayed out of the bakery truck for the rest of the spring, and by the end of the summer, she was buying her bread at the Shop ‘n Save. Roman Meal. Always a reader, she’d seen an article in Good Housekeeping on the nutritional benefits of whole grains.