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The New Quarterly:
“Bread & Butter Story” & “Afterword”
Issue No. 122  (Spring 2012)


“Every so often I catch a glimpse of it in my window, that red, plastic, palm-sized sign. It leans against the glass, staring past its own reflection onto the busy press of Broad Street. Thirty years ago my mother used this sign to let our milkman know when we were out of milk: she would place it in our window at home until he rambled by––in his circuit around the neighbourhood––and then he would knock at our door, bringing the sweating pints of milk in his hand. Sometimes my mother would get tired of waiting and buy it from the store instead. Other times, by pure luck, he might drive past just as she was setting it in the window. To me, ten years old at the time, it was a magic trick, something summoned, incanted. Now, sitting in my window, the sign has faded to a hazy orange, the lettering chipped away to nonsense.

Where I work, all the offices are held hostage by this kind of clutter, but for each one it is different, personal. (Among mine: a photograph of Rosalind Russell with upturned hat from His Girl Friday, a race pennant from the ‘81 Regatta on the Housatonic, a Partridge and Orange fly lure [the last time I went fishing with my father], a stub from the first film I took my daughter to [Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz], a photo of my mother and me outside Mann’s Chinese Theater [her hair is griefed silver, her eyes shadowed behind dark sunglasses]. And the faded milk sign, leaning on the window, looking down.) Most of the time these things sit there inertly, minding their own business. But it’s an act: they are so loaded, so haphazard with memories that will zing around the room the moment they’re sprung. Sim sala bim! like unexploded ordnance, spilling out in every direction.”

To purchase a back issue (available in both digital and print formats) and read this story, please visit The New Quarterly‘s website here.