As bread dough rises it develops tiny air sacs and breathes in whatever is in the air—oxygen, free-floating bacteria, pollen. Carbonic gases accumulate in thousands of microscopic pockets; cut-open dough that has risen should look like the inside of a lung.
—Maude H. Trefethen’s Book of Breads.
The best bread I ever made rose while highlights of Mozart’s Don Giovanni filled the air—amorosity, betrayal, murder, and rascal lust went into that bread. For the second rising, after shaping the dough into two long baguettes, I put the music on again, this time starting with the second act so that the bread went into the oven just as Don Giovanni was being dragged down into the flames of hell by a chorus of demons.
* * *
The bread had character—a dark crust, and inside it
was moist with a coarse network of holes big and small, and the
taste was nutty and so rich it didn’t need any butter. I ate
half of one baguette and left the other one uncut, to serve at dinner
that night to my love.
I told him that Don Giovanni is another name for Don Juan. He listened and asked if this bread would make him a great lover.
It was bread that rose to arias sung in Italian by Domingo, Te Kanawa, Taddei; an extravaganza of opportunistic lust and betrayal and hell on earth—all of that—the laments, the bragging, the recriminations were in the bread and Charlie wanted to know if he’d get a rise out of it.
He took my hand, kissed each knuckle delicately, and placed my hand in his lap.
He was lovely.
What life, what love I have for you, my sweet baker, he said.
I stood, raised my skirt, and straddled my lovely Charlie.
God bless Mozart, God bless your bread he whispered as I lowered myself to his rising cock. (I never wear underwear when I’m baking.)
* * *
The day before Charlie left for a three-month tour of duty I made bread to Madam Butterfly for her abandonment, and while he was gone I baked to La Traviata because loyal and consumptive Violetta dies at the end and Rudolfo loves her more than ever, and Tosca because Tosca kills to protect her lover then flings herself off a parapet after he is executed anyway. The bread was heavy, sat like a lump in my stomach. Charlie was gone and might never come back. I was a widow in the making.
* * *
I made bread in silence, with just my breath filling the air.
Is it Don Giovanni? he asked, and I said no, just eat. But he guessed Rigoletto—Barber of Seville? No, no, I said, just eat and be quiet. Which he couldn’t do, having seen the hollow-cheeked refugees, having heard their skinny babies cry, having gone to sleep every night for three months thinking of me and the night we fucked to Mozart in the bread.
Aida? La Gioconda?
I said nothing’s in the bread, not a note.
Which is not how he wanted his beloved to talk to him on his first night back from the back of the front.
We ate the bread and drank the wine and then he told me about it: the staring women, the hungry babies, the smell of cadavers and military-strength disinfectant in the air. He told me about the woman, a nurse at the camp he wanted but didn’t touch. He saw tears, took my hand, said it’s okay, I never touched her.
I kissed his eyes, each ear, his nose, his mouth which opened to mine, a latched-on kiss. Two as one, connected mouth to mouth and cock to cunt on the kitchen floor.
Lovely Charlie, my army-man-come-home.
I love you and whatever the hell you put in that bread.
I sneezed, I said. I farted. I coughed. All of that went into that bread—microscopic bits of me floated through the air and into that bread.
And something from the dog and there were a couple of flies. Mites in the flour, there are always mites in the flour. Put some flour in a jar, screw a lid on, and in a couple of months you’ll see hairy tunnels constructed by tiny mites.
You can stop now.
Queasy? Am I making you queasy?
I just liked it better the other way.
Priscilla Hodgkins' prose has appeared in The Fourth Genre, Creative Nonfiction, and Confrontation; her nonfiction has been recognized in Best American Essays. She is associate director of the Bennington College Writing Seminars, a graduate program in writing. (5/2002)