Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Binding Code

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

Janie spent her weekends purchasing containers of bread crumbs and attempting to reassemble them into loaves of bread. She'd been working at it for decades but still hadn't mastered it. It had taken years just to get the first loaf together and that thing was a fiasco compared to the work she was doing now. Loaf number one was unidentifiable as a loaf of bread unless the observer was prompted by Janie as to its true nature. It actually looked like a fat gerbil covered in sawdust. It still sat freeze-dried in her storage locker, what she insisted on calling The Janie Mulmer Museum of Reconstituted Bread Loves.

Nowadays, her loaves really looked like loaves. "You've got to approach it like a jigsaw puzzle," she told her patrons. "Do all the crust pieces first. Then it's easier to fill in the rest." The new loaves were often missing slices. As they began to resemble actual bread, Janie looked to recreate the flavor and the texture of the real thing. And of course, the only way to really know was to try them.

First off, they didn't taste like bread, they tasted like bread crumbs. For some reason, she hadn't expected that. Janie hadn't considered that herbs are added in the production process. Even loaf number six, from which she extracted each and every herb with the aid of a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezies (tweezers were old school), still tasted wrong enough that she had to switch bread crumb brands. It felt, for some reason, like a great setback to her life's work, but hell, it had to be done.

Her philosopher's stone was something she referred to in her notes as The Binding Code. It was the formula that would bring crumbs together into a loaf indistinguishable from one store bought.

Until she cracked the code, texture would be an issue as well. The flour water she now used to glue her crumbs together made the loaf gummy and gross while the crumbs themselves were much crunchier than bread had any right to be and she always had to work in freezing temperatures so the whole mess wouldn't get nastier.

She kept the phone nearby as she worked, always expecting a call from the MacArthur people to lay one of those sweet genius awards on her. Janie had always considered herself a sweet genius. Apparently no one else did, because the call never came.

After four decades of toil she met a man named Javier at the grocery store while she was buying milk (I'll bet you thought she was buying bread crumbs. What did you think, she never drank milk?). He gave her cow eyes and she melted. She invited him over for dinner and they ate the cow eyes and drank the milk. After the best night of her life, Javier held her in his arms and said:

"Janie, I know your work means everything to you and you have no reason to forsake it, but I have to ask. The angels will banish me to Hell if I do not ask: Janie, will you spend the rest of your life with me? Heck, just spend the rest of my life with me, that's all I ask."

She thought of her work, her museum. Just eighty more years of toil and she was sure she'd have her breakthrough. She'd have The Binding Code.

"To Hell with it," she said, "I'll just learn how to bake."