Fiction #496

One day I come across four Brötchen lying at the base of a tree. They’re individually wrapped in plastic, which is at odds with the standard wax paper practices of most city Bäckereien.

My initial impulse is to describe the Brötchen as offered rather than scattered, as if they were given with intent, an oblation laid at the feet of a living representation of the Divine. Tree of Life. But I resist, for the haphazard quality of the four Brötchen’s arrangement, along with the hasty nature of their wrappings, suggests otherwise. Not to mention the tree itself is one of the smallish sidewalk varieties, much like the dozen or so other trees lining this stretch of residential streetage, roots neatly tucked away and out of sight—there would seem to be better specimens.

Or maybe that’s my bias showing? What would I really know of such things?

So we’ll stick with appearances: the Brötchen appear to have simply fallen thus. Or maybe even been flung, discarded. Or maybe that’s presumption again. The sandwiches are simply there, and in any case they’re likely unmissed. More presumption.

And in my self-appointed role as observer, I have no intention of picking them up either. I merely witness, make a note, and continue on.

However, having witnessed and noted, I find difficulty moving on. Though I’ve put the place behind me, the Brötchen linger in my thoughts where I turn them this way and that, a question mark, a handwritten anomaly on an otherwise familiar blueprint. The Bäckerei on the corner, and the Brötchen strewn only a street and a half north, plastic glinting in the afternoon light, or perhaps I can imagine them emitting a soft mysterious glow under the mantel of a midnight sky. I can feel the weight of them on my mind-map, behind my eyelids can trace their configuration like stars in the sky, and the longer I think on them, the more this arrangement feels intentional.

Another day or maybe more passes, the weather unusually warm and humid. The four Brötchen remain undisturbed, aspiring to become perhaps a regular feature of this little slice of landscape, like so many other items, plastic, paper, glass or organic. Nevermind mere appearing, I’m tilting full-presumptive now, can imagine a subtle warping of space around each Brötchen, as if the beginnings of awareness takes up residence in the empty places between their cellular structures, not expanding, but becoming denser and denser. Dissatisfaction, yearning. Ambitions toward integration (and acceptance), bespeckled now with bits of grey and greenish blue, like the soft shades of overcast sky belonging to former weeks and months, a season now out of vogue.

This hue spreads and deepens in the days that follow, Brötchen relaxing into the self-assured embrace of a multitude of beckoning multicellular filaments which eventually, and without unwrapping them first, consume the Brötchen.

Consumption had been wholly anticipated, of course, though not necessarily in this manner, slowly, almost shyly at first and then with a swiftness like a door opening up beneath one’s feet.

I’d like to say one day I come upon the place and find only four empty plastic wrappers, like so many shed garments or, better, like the brittle husks of outgrown exoskeletons, ghostly trails leading off in various directions, a bit like the meandering glistening footprints left by garden snails. As if evidence of Rhizopus stolonifer (like a visiting intelligence) tending, cultivating the Brötchen’s budding sentience, bestowing upon them motility, and a rudimentary sense of navigation at least on the order of that possessed by roving slime molds.

But no, one day they’re just gone, plastic trappings and all, secrets secreted or secreted away—read that however you will.

I wonder if they will manage to stick together, the four, or will they find themselves thrust into separate though near-identical fates, each snared mid-transformation, caught in the act of becoming but lost in larger processes.

This is where, if this were a fairytale, the narrator would suggest some special qualities of one of the four, allowing it to resist the same ill-fortune as its brethren. Something like will or wit or kindness or perseverance, exact quality being a variable, X, which would change with the telling, depending on which moral virtue to be emphasized, the context, the audience, the storyteller themselves and their associated psychological baggage.

My therapist has warned me (more than once) against excessive anthropomorphization of inanimate objects. And I’ve argued (more than once) that that’s not what I’m trying to do here.

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