We called him Bran Flake, but his name was Dan. Maybe because everything he wore was kind of wheat-colored, or that 1970’s shade of light M&M brown. Those tortoise shell rimmed glasses. It was the 2000’s but he had a 90’s hangover. The polyester bell bottoms and ringer t-shirts with old company logos. He gave off a kind of sepia tone vibe, with that fallen leaf pile colored hair, or maybe we were kind of mean, like 20-something girls can be, though he was my best friend’s boyfriend. We both flirted with him, Elsa and me, like girls in their 20’s do when they’re dating older men. They get shared a bit. The nickname was part of it. We liked the sound of it too. “Bran Flake Daaaaaaan!” we’d call, velvety voiced down the hall of her Barnard dormitory in unison, as he lagged behind. He didn’t mind it. He was quiet, and 30-something. Always a little amused by our shrieking and drunken antics. Never impressed. Possibly turned on. Mysterious, Bran Flake Dan.
When I came down to the city to visit her, he would plod along behind us, allowing us to be together. Stepping aside for my presence, he was unlike other boyfriends who insisted on being the center of attention, or were sometimes threatened by how close we were. Bran Dan let us be as close as we wanted. It wasn’t until my second or third trip down to the city that I realized he was living with her in that all girls dormitory. It was one night that he didn’t leave when it was time for bed. It was clear there was nowhere for him to go, he had moved in. He climbed into her single bed as I slept on the floor. In the ant hours of the night, I awoke to the small yelps of my best friend’s pleasure. It wasn’t unlike her, we were drunk, and she’s a nonconformist, a free-spirit, but I wondered about him. Who was this dead-sober 30-something man insisting on fucking my best friend right in front of me? For a man so previously irrelevant, Bran Flake was becoming a peculiar player right before me. A lifting of a mist with the flash of something sinister in it. A peripheral character, now in plain view threatening to take over the narrative.
I visited Elsa in Florida for Spring Break and we got into Disney for free because Bran Flake worked as a waiter in the 1950’s Sci-Fi cafe. He wore roller skates and delivered burgers and milkshakes to exasperated and sunburnt nuclear American families. We got caught smoking cigarettes in the Magic Kingdom and asked to leave. I still remember Elsa winking and lifting her skirt slightly as she talked to the security guard. “C’mon, you can’t be that mad,” she’d said in her best Marilyn Monroe. He agreed to let us stay. I loved to watch her squirm out of stuff. She was brilliant. She could make anyone see things her way. I felt lucky enough to be close to her. Lucky she loved me, because everybody loved her, and she was picky.
The last time I saw Bran Flake was in NYC right before he and Elsa moved back to Florida. They were in Brooklyn then. A three story walk-up near the F-Train. In her apartment, she had a stack of clothes for me that no longer fit her because she’d gotten rail thin. Her blue-eyed Betty doll of a roommate was putting vintage dresses on the pile too. It wasn’t until I saw them cutting up lines that I realized what was going on. Bran Dan was in the background, silently out of view this trip. Blending, blending into the beige wall the way he did. Slinking in and out of the apartment at odd hours, often next door with the Latvian-born artist neighbor. I can’t remember how close Bran Flake was to the neverending powders.
I got a call on my cell as I pushed through 14th street one April afternoon. It was after work, and my post-grad-corporate-job blazer blew open letting the wind paw my ribs and nipples. It was Elsa: she’s on heroin now, she’s okay, she’s functional, but it’s time for her to stop now, and so she’s checking in somewhere to get things straight, get college-ruled paper lined out. Branflake Dan was gone, long gone, out of the picture, but the powders had stayed, evolved, rolled into different powders, new khaki and ginger colored powders, new terracotta powders, that turned into taupe liquids, that slurped up a bevel into a hazy coffee-colored hub, that pushed into a stripe of a vein, that turned out to be a problem. A big, burnt sienna bronze-brown fucking tan problem.
Suzanne Richardson earned her M.F.A. in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the University of New Mexico. She currently lives in Utica, New York where she’s an Assistant Professor of English at Utica College. She is the writer of Three Things @nocontactmag and more about Suzanne and her writing can be found here: https://www-suzannerichardsonwrites.tumblr.com/ and here: @oozannesay
image: Kyla Houbolt