Marilyn Abildskov

When she rolls down her window, she can smell the bread two blocks away, can imagine breaking open a sale-priced loaf, can taste the sweetness even now. She turns onto 4th South, then parks. The Wonder Bread outlet will go out of business in a few years, not just in Salt Lake but nationwide and that will set into motion hoards of people buying cheap Twinkies. But Gayle doesn’t care for Twinkies. She never has. It’s raisin bread she loves, raisin bread she’ll buy today, raisin bread she’s craved all week—a long, stressful week.

Inside, she fills her cart with four loaves, three of which she plans to put in the freezer in the basement where her husband won’t see them. One she will keep in the bottom drawer of her slant-top desk, eating—she has already planned this,—a single slice each night, after Joe has gone to bed. She pulls out cash to pay, thanks the young clerk, wonders if the girl’s smudged eyeliner is by accident or design. 

With two bags of treats on the passenger seat, Gayle pulls out of the parking lot, intending to go directly home. Instead, on a whim, she heads for Sugarhouse Park. She’s wearing sensible shoes. She will go for a walk. A walk, like the raisin bread, will be a treat. Afterward, she will sit under a tree and read. In her bag she has an article she printed out: “Five Qualities of Happily Confident People.” Another treat. A whole day of treats.

Last week her son, Lane, and his wife, Erika, came from California for the blessing of their first grandchild–the first great-grandchild for Gayle and Joe. The men in the family, as worthy members of the Melchizedek Priesthood, stood in a perfect circle on a windless Sunday afternoon in the Laurelhurst 12th Wardhouse. Each placed one hand on the other’s shoulder, and one hand on the newborn girl, blessing her, naming her, ushering her into the bounty of the church. 

Lane and Erika stayed a week, sleeping in Gayle’s basement, taking over her kitchen, disrupting her routine. Maybe Erika believed she was doing Gayle a favor by cooking all week, but it drove Gayle crazy. So did Erika’s non-stop talk about organic this, organic that. Everyone in California was doing it, Erika said: eating locally, cooking out of backyard or community gardens, using all kinds of fresh ingredients, especially kale. “It’s good for the whole family,” she told Gayle.

One night, Gayle sat at her kitchen table knitting as Erika stood at the stove, sautéing kale, in butter with crushed garlic and sea salt, adding coconut milk and fresh grated ginger. 

“Look at that, Gayle,” she said. “It’s awesome! You won’t believe how delicious it is.” 

“It looks delicious,” Gayle said, needles clicking. She didn’t look up.

Not that you’ll need the calories in coconut milk,” Erika said, laughing. “Or the butter for that matter. But kale is awesome.” 

Count to three, Gayle thought. That’s what her mother taught her to do on occasions when she wanted to say something hurtful or unkind. Count to three. She pretended Erika meant no one needed the calories in coconut milk, not Gayle specifically. 

But then Erika continued. “It’s a vegetable, Gayle. Like cabbage. Like lettuce. If you want, I could plant you some.”

Gayle set her half-knit scarf down and stared at her daughter-in-law’s slender back. At forty-five, Erika looked good. Fit in black yoga pants and a loose pink t-shirt. Hair in a purposefully messy bun. She’d not yet begun to go gray. But she wouldn’t stay like that forever.

Had her son never told his wife that Gayle grew up on a farm?  That she knew well the nature of backbreaking work? That she’d helped her parents in Lehi every year plant potatoes and watermelon and broccoli and string beans? Gayle knew what kale was. If she wanted kale in her garden, she would damn well plant kale in her garden. 

She wanted to slap her daughter-in-law.

Instead she picked up her scarf, began knitting again and said, “Oh honey, I don’t think there’s enough room in the garden for kale this year.”

On her way to Sugarhouse Park, Gayle takes in the particulars: the warm June weather, the predictable hum of her car, all blessings, all hers. She likes to do this, to count her blessings. She started this before Oprah’s suggestion to keep a Gratitude Journal and wonders if Oprah knows that Latter-day Saints have long abided this, the power of positive thinking. She hums the old hymn. Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God has done. 

This Sunday in Fast and Testimony meeting, she will bear her testimony, thank the Lord publicly. For her general good health, which is nothing to take for granted; for her garden, her pride and joy; for her husband who, as an upstanding member of the church and community, brings the blessings of the priesthood into their home. She will thank the Lord for her four children, all grown with their own families now and mostly healthy–Carly had breast cancer two years ago but thankfully now seems to be all clear–and for her grandchildren, twelve of them, and now a new great-granddaughter. 

In her testimony, Gayle will leave out that she’s disappointed in the new great-grandbaby’s  name. Amber. She had secretly wished her granddaughter would name the baby after her. And she will leave out the rest, how her daughter-in-law Erika sees her–not as someone whose body is a temple, whose body has, Gayle knows, served her well, but as someone heavy-set. While she was buxom as a young woman, in middle age–when Gayle first met Erika–she’d expanded to become bottom-heavy as well. Now, at 72, she also had a solid pillow of flesh at her middle, flesh she covered in clothes from the Dress Barn, brightly colored blouses, always loose. On this visit, Erika served the kale she’d made alongside roast chicken for dinner, giving Gayle the smallest portion of anyone at the table and Joe had said, “Erika, this might be the best meal I’ve ever had,” and Lane had agreed, “Honey, you’ve outdone yourself”—the kind of compliments Gayle could not remember receiving from her husband or her son in a good many years.

She parks under a pine tree, turns off the engine, admires the park, the vivid red of its zinnias and the peonies in pink . She decides that before her walk, she will help herself to more raisin bread. Just one slice.

To be fair, she and Erika got off on the wrong foot years ago. It wasn’t Erika’s fault. It was Heather’s– Erika’s mother.

At the bridal shower that Heather threw for her daughter, Gayle said something offhand: that she was having trouble finding a dress she liked for the upcoming wedding. She had only been trying to make conversation. But Heather, stick-thin, said to Gayle, “And you won’t, Gayle. Not until you lose weight.”  

Gayle laughed and said, “It’s true! It’s true!” but burned with embarrassment, wondering if anyone else had heard.

She got up from Heather’s white slipcovered couch, grabbed her purse, and excused herself, saying she needed to use the restroom. 

In the bathroom, she sat on Heather’s toilet, seat down, trying not to cry. She was a grown woman. Her Lane was a good boy. He had served a mission to Manchester, England, had earned a college degree in accounting, and now had a good job working for the state. Now he was marrying Erika, a nice girl, a pretty girl, a graduate of Brigham Young, active in the church. Gayle should let it go, Heather’s nasty remark. She should not make waves. 

Besides, what Heather said was true. Gayle was not going to find a dress she liked unless she lost weight. She needed to lose weight. She knew this even as she had a hard time seeing herself as fat. She hadn’t been fat as a child or a young woman. She’d put on weight gradually, after each of her pregnancies, and then, in the year she’d spent caring for Joe’s mother–because what was Joe to do? just quit his job?–she’d put on even more, eating whatever her mother-in-law couldn’t. She hadn’t kept track. She’d stopped weighing herself. At the doctor’s, when she stepped on the scale, she looked the other way. Now she couldn’t find a dress she liked for her son’s wedding.

The bathroom, newly remodeled, was gorgeous. Spa tub. Slate floor. A freestanding cabinet that smelled faintly of cedar. Beautiful. It made Gayle ashamed of her own bathroom, linoleum peeling around the toilet, grout in the shower turning gray.

Opening the cabinets, she fingered the neatly folded rows of thick white towels. In a drawer next to a cluster of hair brushes, she found a small beige case and inside the case, a small tan cap. Heather’s diaphragm. Gayle clicked open the case, then clicked it shut, dropping it in her handbag, her heart racing as she ran her hands under the faucet and dried them afterward on her pants. She did not want her hands to be the one to soil the pristine towels lined up on the rack. 

In her parked car, Gayle eats a second slice of raisin bread, then another, then another. She licks her fingers, holds her hand outside, hoping for a bit of a breeze.

There is no breeze. 

After the bridal shower luncheon, Gayle drove straight to McDonald’s, relieved that there was no line in the drive-through. 

“Hello?” she said as loudly as possible into the intercom. “Hello. Hello?”  

She tapped her horn. 


Finally, a girl in a uniform came running out and said, “Ma’am? Ma’am? We’re broken! We’re broken outside.”

Inside, the restaurant was nearly empty and the girl was now behind the counter, smiling, then taking Gayle’s order.

When Gayle finished dipping the last of her chicken tenders in what remained of her last packet of honey, she looked up and saw the girl behind the counter smiling at her. 

“Good?” the girl said.

“Yes,” Gayle said. She felt grateful to the girl in a way that confused her and made her want to cry.

It was good. Salt, fat, the tang of mustard and sweetness of honey—food was always good.

Gayle takes another bite of raisin bread. She’s on her eighth slice now. Crumbs are all over. She’ll have to get the car cleaned or Joe will have a fit.

A teenage girl in shorts and a yellow t-shirt speeds by on the grass, revealing the ease of youth. A middle-aged man turns around and starts back, this time walking-jogging on the grass instead of the paved street. His face is bright red. 

Dazed by the sweetness of all the bread, Gayle closes her eyes and forces herself to list her blessings again. Her children—Lane, who is as reliable as the day is long, Carly who is so thoughtful, Spencer because he’s practical and good with money and Andrea who she loves best. perhaps because she lives farthest away, in Texas. 

And Joe? 

Gayle remembers her husband bringing home a new car, the only new one they ever had—a silver Ford Tempo, which she’d loved until the air conditioning went out–and Joe telling her, “We don’t have enough to get it fixed.” Joe saying, “Do you think money grows on trees, Gayle?” Joe saying Gayle’s garden—her beautiful makeshift garden—was a mess. Joe saying, “Gayle, you just don’t know when to quit.” Joe cutting down her apricot trees one morning when she was still asleep. 

She remembers Joe’s mother, Florence, her hip bones jutting out underneath the pink cotton sheet. The taste of chicken soup. Soup full of thick noodles and celery and fresh oregano. Warm soup that the Relief Society brought and that Gayle ate in the middle of the night, two days before Florence passed.

For Lane and Erika’s wedding, Gayle wore a pastel violet dress she found on sale at ZCMI. A few months after the wedding, she put it in a bag of giveaways for Deseret Industries. Let someone else wear the thing. 

Of all the family photographs taken at the wedding at the Salt Lake Temple and at the reception at the Garden Park Ward, the one Erika chose to blow up—the one that hung over her mantle in the apartment she first shared with Lane and in every other house they ever lived in–convinced Gayle Erika was not one bit different from Heather. Erika and Lane stand smiling in the center, Erika’s parents, Heather and Don, are to the left. Joe is to the right of the newlyweds. And  Gayle, smiling stupidly, is there, too, her head cocked toward Joe. But half her body is missing. Cropped out. 

Gayle reaches for another slice of raisin bread. She doesn’t notice the plentiful flowers in the park anymore. She doesn’t notice workers carrying clippers, preparing to prune overgrown trees.

She never said a word to Joe about Erika cutting her out of that photograph. What would he have said? That she was making a mountain out of a molehill, that she needed to learn to let things go? She never told anyone about the bridal shower, either, or what Heather said. She did not tell a soul about going to McDonald’s after the shower or what happened in the restroom when she washed her hands and remembered Heather’s diaphragm.  How that surge of pride swelled inside her, the boldness of what she’d just done, then a wave of panic. Or how she took the little case from her bag and dropped it into the trashcan where it landed next to someone’s half-eaten Big Mac, pickles, and mayonnaise splashing onto its colorless exterior so it looked for all the world like an exotic flower.

Instead, she kept what happened inside her like a bone to bring out and lick, scraping it so dry, it bloodied your tongue.

Now, in her car, her memories become a garden of unruly weeds. She’s twenty. She’s just moved to Salt Lake. She’s taken a room at a boarding house. A girl says, “Women like us carry our weight well.” Gayle smiles, unsure if it’s a compliment or not. She’s thirty. Her OBGYN says, “Your hips are made for bearing children.” She’s twelve. She’s in the field by her house in Lehi. She remembers heat. Her father digging a new row of beets. Gayle on the porch, taking it in. Sunlight. A gray cat. Rough wood. Peaches swimming in cream. 

She remembers a song from Primary. Spring had brought me such a nice surprise. Blossoms popping right before my eyes. Her thoughts are popping now, seeds blooming in spontaneous, unflattering sprays.

It’s a kind of lettuce, Gayle.

Not that you’d want the coconut milk.

I’m just worried about your health.

On her last night in Salt Lake, Erika said she’d clean up after dinner, then dumped the last of the lasagna Gayle had made, just a smidge, it’s true, but a smidge Gayle wouldn’t have minded eating later that night, into the trash. 

“Look at all that grease, Gayle,” Erika said, leaving Gayle’s glass pan to soak in the sink.

She’s on her tenth slice now. Frosting lines her lips. Maybe she’ll stop at Albertson’s on the way home and pick up some Slim Fast, something for tomorrow when her real diet begins. Today? She stares out the window of her car into the strong summer light, at the perfectly manicured green lawns, at the gloss of the asphalt, at the joggers in their neon-edged nylon shorts, at the pigeons gathering at the curb. A new jogger with skinny legs and a big belly lumbers by. She can hear him heaving as he passes. 

Early Friday morning, before Joe drove Lane and Erika to the airport, Gayle said her goodbyes, then went back to bed. When she woke, it was four o’clock in the afternoon. She was starving. In her kitchen sink, there was the lasagna pan Erika had left. And there was Gayle’s wooden spoon, engorged in dirty dish water. Split in half.

She hates Erika.

The thought surprises her as it floats through her head, as she’s chewing her raisin bread, as she’s staring out the windshield: that she hates Erika; and—this is most surprising of all–that the feeling of hatred, her mind naming it simply and clearly, it suits her, like a dress tailor-made, each seam intended for her body and hers alone.

All her life Gayle has been taught that every child is a child of God. All her life she has believed this, even as Erika left for California and handed Gayle a copy of a cookbook of healthy recipes, saying, “The chef is famous, Gayle. That’s how you know the recipes are good.”  

Even as her husband, when he took to sleeping in the basement some time mid-summer a few years ago, at first because it was cooler down there, said, “Geez, Gayle. You want to know the truth?  Your snoring? It’s like sleeping next to a power saw.”  

Even now as she brings another bite of raisin bread to her lips.

Every child is a child of God. 

Is this why, when she finally gets out of her car and sets out to walk with the sun shining on her face–a blessing, sunlight like that–that every grievance, petty or perceived, begins to drain away? She breathes in and out, happy to be outside, happy to be breathing. Not everyone her age is so lucky, she knows. The fresh air perks her up, boosts her spirits. She loved the raisin bread, does not regret a single bite. And now she will walk a quarter of a mile, staying on the flat part of the park, taking care not to wreck her knees. 

Already she feels lighter, more optimistic. Already she is shedding her earlier, negative thoughts.

As she walks, she remembers caring for Joe’s mother, how Florence, eighty-six and riddled with cancer in every sorry bone, used to take Gayle’s hand and say, “I could never have wished for a better daughter than you.”

She remembers wintertime, coming to Sugarhouse Park with Joe when the kids were small. They would go sledding, then sit in the warm car at the edge of dusk, the kids happy but exhausted. They passed a tall plaid thermos cup of hot chocolate between them. Joe would say, “You done good, Gayle. They’re happy kids.”  In her mind, it is winter, not summer. Joe isn’t nasty yet. She isn’t fat. And she can taste the hot chocolate, she really can.

Is this why, when a girl at the park says, “Runner to your right,” Gayle does not hear her? Or why, when the girl, who is running with a big dog beside her, brushes past, Gayle steps to the side and loses her balance? 

She falls to the ground. The runner and her dog take no notice. Gayle feels nothing, then everything. The sharp sting. A throbbing ankle. Pinpricks of blood seeping through her pants. She must have skinned her knee. Her hand is burning. Her body throbs, a scrape of blood and gravel and dirt. 

The girl ahead stops running now. She does not see that Gayle has fallen. Instead, she pulls a plastic bag from the pocket of her bright green shorts. Her dog, ginger-colored, is pooping. Big dark turds, nasty and fragrant.

Gayle watches in amazement.

There is something weirdly comforting in this, touching almost. She watches from the ground where she will, for the next few minutes, remain, until she can hoist herself up and hobble back to the car. 

How strange, she thinks. How easy it is to love an animal, easier than loving your own horrible clan. 

In the car she will feel a surge of affection for the mindless, pooping dog. She will shed a few tears, then dab water on her grazed hands. And she will eat what remains, breaking her raisin bread slowly, holding each morsel in the scorched palms of her bloody, outstretched hands.