The Baker

The Baker had been known for years as just that: the Baker. Some knew his name, of course, but most didn’t. He didn’t mind. Being a baker was his pride, his profession and the thing he loved most, and he was pleased to be so well known amongst the others of his trade so as to be the only man called The Baker in the whole market. He knew he was a good baker. Little girls begged their papas to buy his cinnamon rolls, boys filched their mama’s coins so as to get a raisin filled treat, youths brought their blushing young ladies to his stall for a warm apple turnover to share on wintry days, and the poor, eyes wide with hunger and bellies swollen, came to his back door for the many loaves of stale bread that he would have leftover at the end of each week. The Baker was a warm-hearted man, and always made too much bread – accidentally, of course.

He awoke every day of the week before the sun had even risen. He liked to work that early, because the mornings were cool enough so that the sweltering hot oven didn’t make him sweat too much at first as he began to heat it up for the long day. He had different assistants over the years – some stayed and some left. They all left in the end, though, to marry, to have children, to open their own stall or to change trades entirely. The Baker stayed constant, and could never envision doing aught different.

When he had been a child, he’d been rail-thin. He had been the kind of boy who had arms as thin as sticks, a belly-button that puckered out because his stomach was so flat, and ribs that seemed to almost poke out. As he grew, his thin arms developed muscle and his belly rounded a little, all while helping his uncle in kitchens of the big house they lived in. His uncle taught him to bake. Not to cook, no, the Baker never enjoyed cooking meals, but he loved working with any and all kinds of dough, and he became good at it. When his uncle died and the rich family they worked for kicked him out, he’d found work at a smith, as an assistant. It was his strong arms, muscled with constant kneading of dough, that had gotten him that job. He worked, and worked and worked some more, hating the smell of burnt metal and hot coal and the mixed, unpleasant scent of sweat-soaked leather aprons and smoke. But the Baker worked, and when he’d saved enough coin, he opened his bakery stall in the market, as far from the smithy as possible.

He stayed, and his stall grew, and his rolls and pastries and cakes became known, and he became a real baker, The Baker. He never knew aught else – for even as a servant boy and later an assistant smith, he was always thinking of the way clean flour looked on a wooden board and the way dough felt in his hands and the the way a freshly baked loaf would be just that perfect shade of golden-brown. He never knew aught else, and he would never do aught different, not if it were up to him.

Molly, Gas-Station Attendant

Molly blinked, sleepy eyes feeling slow and sticky, and tried to stifle a yawn. Failing utterly, she tried to hide the yawn behind her hand. It had been a long night, and Molly’s shift wasn’t quite over yet.

She silently cursed Thom, her boss, with the most colorful language she knew. He had convinced her to work the night shift a month back or so, promising that she would find the slight pay-raise well worth it. Oh, what a gullible fool I am, she thought.

A car pulled up to the self service lane. Molly sighed. Almost no one used the full service gas lane anymore. It made the night shift even worse – it was bad enough to be bored during the day with only a few cars to deal with every hour. During the day, at least, there were other workers around. The night shift was manned by one worker only.

Molly looked at her watch. 4AM. Two more hours to go. She cast a shift look around, and seeing that no one was there – the car had driven away from the other lane already – she plopped herself down on the curb and produced a book from her uniform’s back pocket. It was a cheap paperback romance novel, the kind that cost $4 if you bought it new.

Molly had been purchasing another of these books every day for the past month for 99 cents at the used book stall near her dad’s apartment. These books were what saved her from falling asleep on her feet, much like a horse, during the long, boring night shifts.

She opened the book at the page she’d folded down earlier and scowled. She’d finished about three-quarters of the book already. Damn, she though, I’ll finish it in less than an hour and then what will I do for the rest of my shift? Well, she resigned herself, I’ll figure that out in an hour, I guess.

An hour later, after quite a few jumps to her feet so she could look busy to the drivers pulling up, Molly closed the book with a guilty, girlie sigh. Rudolph had won Cathy over and Cathy understood just how wrong Patrick had been for her. All was right with the mushy, romantic world of Cathy Learns to Love.

Molly loved these novels. She loved the simplicity of the stories and the good feeling they left her with when she finished reading them. As a literature major at her local community college, she also felt a bit ashamed for loving the cheap romances, but not enough to give up her nightly saviors.

Molly still had fifty-eight minutes before she could walk the mile to her father’s apartment and sleep for a few hours before running to her classes. She sat with arms propped on her knees and chin leaning on her hands and let her thoughts wander.

Hopefully she’d be able to convince her boss to give her at least a couple day shifts a week. He was nice, in a gruff sort of way, and would probably agree if she begged him or pestered him enough.

Classes were still as interesting as they’d been in her first year – Molly was happy about that. She only had this ear and a summer term left and then she would officially complete her BA and then, hopefully, she’d get into publishing and do something with it.

Simon, her dad’s dog, was sick. The poor old mutt was 13 years old, and Molly knew he wouldn’t last much longer. It broke her heart to think that when she moved away after finishing her degree her dad wouldn’t een have Simon to keep him company.

Maybe I’ll get Dad a puppy as a gift before I move away, she mused. I think that’s a good idea.

Molly looked at her watch again. 5:04AM. Damn, she cursed, in the books people always get lost in thoughts for hours. With me? Two minutes.

She got up, stretched, and stuck her book back in her back pocket. The pocket was a perfect size for a small paperback book, and it made the whole uniform worth its baggy ugliness.

Looking around, Molly decided that she could risk going over to the Quick-Stop across the street for a couple minutes – there hadn’t been a car in the station for ten minutes straight.

Molly looked up and down the empty road and seeing no cars, crossed it rather slower than necessary. She laughed at herself inwardly. Crossing the street slowly wouldn’t really pass the time.

She pushed the door of the Quick-Stop open, and was greeted by a warm gust of air. It’s not fair that they have heating here, she fumed silently. Still, the warm air was soothing to her chilled face and hands. She was tempted to stay there until her shift ended, but knew it was no good. A car would probably come just when she wasn’t looking, and then she ran the risk of getting in trouble with Thom if he found out she hadn’t been there when needed.

Molly looked at the rows of snacks and chocolate bars on her right. She selected a box of cookies to take home to her father, who had a sweet tooth, and a small bag of potato-chips she could munch on back at the gas station.

She took her snacks to the cashier that sat at the back of the store. As she put the things down on the counter, the cashier looked up, and Molly couldn’t help but blink. My, my, she thought, here’s a real sweet!

The cashier was in his mid-twenties, with a shock of black curls that managed to fall to his shoulders without looking messy. His eyes, a deep chocolate brown, reminded her of a cat’s for some reason. He was clean-shaven, with slightly rounded cheeks and lips that were just a bit on the full side.

Molly had one wild moment in which she envisioned herself the heroine of one of her romance novels. The scene was set: her working at the gas station every night and stopping in at the Quick-Stop every hour to flirt with this young man who would, of course, ardently return her passions and pine for her until one night he’d reveal that he was actually an heir to a fortune and would whisk her away to Paris on a private jet, where they’d spend the rest of their days living in modesty and donation their fortune to the poor.

“That’ll be six bucks,” a nasal voice, slightly too high to be appealing, emerged from the man’s lips. Molly’s dream burst as she handed over the cash and headed out the door of the Quick-Stop.

She smiled with amusement as she crossed the road back to the station. A car was just pulling up to the full-service lane when she got there. As she filled the tank, she couldn’t help but giggle a little, earning an odd stare from the driver. Molly, Gas-Station Attendant, Learns to Love indeed, she thought to herself. As if.