I met Lauren Becker only a few months ago, though I’d been familiar with her work previously, having discovered her in late 2012 when she published a harrowing essay on The Rumpus called “Safety.” That piece, about home invasion and, to a greater degree, invasion of the self, rang in my ears for days, and I didn’t know it then, but it began a countdown leading to the moment when our paths would finally cross. (And cross they did, over greasy slices of pizza, the day before she packed up her car and traveled across several state lines, from Oakland to Austin.)
Becker is one of those writers you’re happy to know. Her voice is commanding, not only on the page, but in person. When she reads, you listen and you listen well, and when she sings the praises of other writers, you take her up on her recommendations. An editor and former host of the Oakland-based reading series, East Bay on the Brain (or EBOB for short), Becker now has a collection of short stories and a novella out from Curbside Splendor Press called If I Would Leave Myself Behind.
Here at Midnight Breakfast, it’s an understatement to say we prize powerful writing. We love books that are thick with wonder, that remind us of the sheer strength of language, of narrative, of voice, of story — of all the things that make books things we imbibe until we’re drunk with awe. Which is why, beginning today, we’ll be publishing excerpts from titles we’re excited about, and titles we want you to be excited about as well. We’re calling this feature Small Plates, because why keep something so good to yourself when you can share it with others? We couldn’t be more thrilled to kick things off with this story by Lauren Becker, and we hope it’ll encourage you to support an outstanding writer (and press) well worth knowing.
—Rebecca Rubenstein, Editor-in-Chief
On his bad days, he warned me against having hope. He needed company in his desolation and I walked down dangerous steps to meet him. He made me scones and coffee. He watched me eat and drink and brightened when I said the scones were good.
I bought the raspberries at the farmers’ market because I know you love them, he said. I thought to tell him I do not love raspberries, but blueberries, but he did not attend to the things I loved. His bad days became mine. He no longer needed to warn.
On his good days, he did not call. He found more good days. He found a girl and took her to the farmers’ market, where she chose raspberries. He made scones for her and invited me over. She was tall with brown hair; some thought her pretty, including her. She looked like me.
He told me about her and we both listened to things she knew. She was a pediatric nurse, she grew up in Maryland, she used to dance ballet. They laughed about her ugly feet. I liked her. I felt lonely and went home.
We met awhile before at a café where he watched for the few minutes it took me to complete Thursday’s New York Times crossword puzzle. I thought guys only spoke to girls in cafés when they were interested. I thought when he asked me to get together, it was a date.
We didn’t go on a date. He pegged me as a caretaker; I took care. I listened to him talk about girls. Sometimes he cried. He likes selfish ones. He introduced me to a few. They looked a little like me.
I entered a crossword competition I learned about in a documentary. I practiced. I timed myself. I was close to the winning times from the year before. I didn’t tell him.
On a good day, I told him. He said he wondered why I hadn’t been around as much. It was too close to turning into his story. I was on flat ground. I didn’t want to descend.
He said be prepared to lose.
Waiting was unnecessary. Good or bad, they were his days. They had little to do with me when they didn’t have to do with him.
I thanked him for the caution. When we parted, my love for him halved. I stopped for ingredients. By the time I arrived home, it was halved again.
I made blueberry scones. They were the best scones I ever had.
The girl who looked like me – the ballerina – left him. He called me, crying. I listened to voicemails while doing crosswords. I had two weeks. I did not have time to take care. I was lighter, safer. I got better, faster.
I did not prepare to lose. I did not prepare to win. I did neither.
After, he didn’t ask how it went. I didn’t offer. I told him I liked blueberry scones. He made me blueberry scones. I told him they were good. They were not as good as mine.