Elaine Wilburt

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The Bread of Life

“Oh, so like an effigy,” said Carol in her crisp soprano, the speaker on the phone almost making Robin feel as if her new friend were in the kitchen with her as she kneaded.

Robin chuckled. “I never once thought of it that way.”

Robin pushed the slightly sticky mound of dough away from her with the heel of her hand. Then a fold, a turn, another push. Just like Nonna used to do. Robin liked the repetitive rhythm, the comfort of the small confident motions that would form the gluten in this challah studded with cranberries and pecans, the Christmas bread she had been making for as long as she could remember. As soon as Robin could stand on a stool to see over the counter, her grandmother had let her place the egg for its head. Later, Robin graduated to rolling the coils used to make the swaddling, then to braiding them, before Nonna had shown her how to make the dough itself. Closing her eyes, Robin could imagine Nonna’s hands on hers guiding her, teaching her to knead and judge the dough by feel.

“When does Sandy come home?”

“He’s not. He’s spending Christmas in California with his girlfriend.” This would be the first time Robin would not have all her children with her for the holidays. A prelude to new traditions, she thought. She pushed the dough away harder than she had intended.

“Wow, I guess it’s serious.”

“I suppose so,” Robin replied, drawing out the words like taking a deep breath. “When we used to call him, you could barely get more than a grunt about how classes were, or anything else. But you should’ve heard him talking about their first date last spring.”


“He spent a half hour telling Jim about just getting ready. What he wore, how long it took to dress. Then how he planned the date, everything.” A faint smile on her face, Robin could see her husband again regaling her with the story of Sandy’s excitement. Scooping the round of dough into a greased bowl, she covered it to let it rise and headed to the couch to finish her conversation.

The next day Robin wrapped her Baby Jesus bread, layer by layer in plastic and foil, and then slid it into a bread bag. She laughed at herself, recalling the many times she had kidded her mother-in-law about putting the plastic Jesus from the outdoor Nativity in his bag for yearly storage. Now, as if she were Mary herself, Robin lowered the bundle gingerly onto the cold packs and covered it with more before sealing the box to overnight her gift to Sandy, his girlfriend, and her family.

Wife of 26 years, mother of five, graduate of Middlebury College, Elaine Wilburt’s poems have appeared or will appear in The CressetLittle Patuxent ReviewThe Avenue, and Edify Fiction, among others; photo haiku, in Wales Haiku Journal and Failed Haiku. She received a 2019 Creatrix Haiku Award.

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