And Here’s Another One

The NYC Flash Fiction thing is running again. As usual, all contestants get 2 shots in round 1.

I was assigned Ghost Story/ A Boulangerie/ An Ice Tray …. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what a boulangerie was either. It turns out to be a French Bakery focused almost entirely on the making of bread

I had some good ideas. The original version featured weird tribal religious ceremonies, lurid sex scenes and lots of blood. Once I cut it down to the required size (1000 words) there was nothing left.

Except this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

****

The Baker’s Dozen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DESERTING a short, disastrous marriage after the summer of 1968, I boarded a ship bound for Tahiti and within weeks of arrival had sunk what little remained of my savings into the purchase of La Marquisienne. The decaying boulangerie stood in the marketplace of Papeete and looked out over an ocean that would forever separate me from my former life. It was a romantic gesture, I suppose, for I imagined that the humble act of breadmaking might atone for former sins.

It was necessary, of course, to learn the basics of baking, and I advertised for an experienced tutor in the art.  An eccentric Frenchman tapped upon the shop door two evenings later.

“I am here to teach,” he informed me, “and you will listen very carefully, for I have precious little time.”

He was formally dressed; he wore a beret and gloves, but his clothing was torn and stained with flour and salt. He reminded me of a dead seagull that had washed ashore and then miraculously sprung to life.

“First we need wine,” he ordered, “and we need ice.”

He saw my look of puzzlement and reassured me with a grin, “The ice is for the dough. The dough must be kept cool. The wine is for the baker. Same reason.”

 “Are you sure that is wise?” Alcohol had seen my undoing before.

“Making bread is an act of love,” he insisted, “and no act of love is complete without wine.”

And so began the breadmaking lesson. He touched nothing himself but instructed me on every step. The salt was to be separated from the yeast until both had blended with the flour. The dough itself was always to be covered. Every thirty minutes I emptied the ice tray into a slurry of water, into which the rolling pin was dipped fastidiously. And every thirty minutes, together, we emptied a bottle of wine.

Always thirteen to the dozen,” he told me, importantly, “for no matter how hard you try, no matter the love that you put into each caress of the dough, there is always one that doesn’t turn out.”

We drank and I baked.  He removed his tattered jacket and rolled up his sleeves. His arms were decorated with a mass of fading tattoos. Recognising my surprise at the sight he smiled.

“On these islands a male is tattooed upon entering manhood. A woman will not be with any male without tattooed skin, for he is not yet a man. This is where the tradition of tattooed sailors began. It is painful, but it is worth it.”

This formed the introduction to the story of his extensive love life. He told me of his practise of making love to thirteen different women each year, “One for every month.”

“But there are 12 months in a year.”

“For a woman, thirteen”, he laughed, “and besides, there’s always one that doesn’t turn out.”

The more wine we drank the more vivid became his descriptions.  He detailed them all intimately, the colour of their skin, the shapes their bodies, the sounds of their pleasure. Clearly, he adored them all. But at the end of each month, he would discard them.

“No trouble with jealous boyfriends?” I enquired.

“Here it is easy. If she wears a flower behind her left ear she is spoken for. Behind the right ear she is available. So, no trouble. Until the last one.”

“Wrong ear?”

“A flower behind each ear – the most dangerous of women. And she was a Chieftain’s wife.”

“You were caught? What happened?”

“Well,” he said quite matter-of-factly, “they burnt her at the stake, of course. For me, the punishment was less immediate, but no less severe.”

I had believed him up until then. But the story had become preposterous. Yet he continued.

“They scrubbed my hands with the skin of the tempest-fish, the poison of which imbeds itself permanently into the bones, and renders the surrounding flesh unimaginably sensitive to heat. One cannot touch anything hotter than the air itself without experiencing excruciating pain. One can no longer bare to touch even the warm skin of a woman. They forced my fingers into the smouldering ashes of her remains, as a reminder.”

It was then, no doubt due to the wine, that I slipped, and dropped a newly baked loaf. He lunged forward and caught it before it touched the earthen floor. No sooner had he lovingly placed it on the cooling tray than he began screaming in agony. He ran to the slurry of ice, removed his gloves, and emersed his hands into the freezing cold.

When, at last, he regained composure, he stood and replaced his gloves cautiously over hideously deformed hands. “I have spoken long enough.”

He turned away and was gone.

 

 

THE STORY was an elaborate fabrication, of course, and I could dismiss the whole encounter likewise, but for the fact that I had been, on that night, magically transformed into a master bread maker. My humble business flourished.

 

 

AN ELDERLY WOMAN came into the shop on an afternoon twenty-five years later, and picked up the final loaf of the day, the last of thirteen. She sniffed at the bread, and I caught her admiring my tattoos, which now adorned each arm. “It is as though you were inspired by Louis Stohrer, himself,” she murmured.

The name meant nothing to me.

“The original owner of this shop. Reputedly his bread was to die for.”

“I think I may have met him,” I whispered, “he wore a shabby suit.”

“Impossible. He arrived with the missionaries over two centuries ago, and his attire was always impeccable.”

“What became of him?”

“One night he emerged screaming from this very boulangerie. He had burned his hands in the oven, apparently, and he ran towards the water to cool them. He had been drinking and he fell into the ocean. The sharks devoured him.”

It was only as she turned to leave that I noticed a flower behind each of her ears.

****

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “And Here’s Another One

  1. well how did you go?

    Back to apologise profusely pops, seems you didn’t party hard on the beach at all … news reports are so false … do they ever check their facts before going to print? You went shopping taking the lovely Mrs RR with you, too kind! And I know I should know better than to believe anything they say …

    Like

    1. As to your kind, ‘how did you go?’ query ….. I just received the results for the micro-fiction contest. The first 8 in each heat progress to the final. I placed 9th in my heat. I think they are playing with me.

      Like

      1. oh pops they surely are, how damned disappointing!

        Do you know any of the first eight, as in can you get ‘rid’ of them in anyway … test them for drugs to disqualify them; send them a ticket to holiday overseas so they forget to enter … anything at all to promote you one more place?

        Like

      2. Probably not …. in terms of a podium finish. But that’s OK. If I write something really good one day I will be the first to recognise it – and that is all I strive for.
        You probably don’t remember that story – but it was about a woman leaving her abusive husband. On the positive side, the judges thought I captured her emotions really well but what they wanted to know is why she chose to leave him (after 20 years) on that particular day. They are American judges – they want things neatly packaged and explained. One suggested that maybe she left him that day because it was the first time he tried to strangle her ….which strikes me as ludicrous and far too blunt. I’d prefer to think she left him that day because it was Tuesday, or because she saw something in the sunrise. At the end of the day it is for the reader to decide why she left.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. No results as yet. It’s a bit like waiting for a COVID test – you know it will be a negative result but you sort of wonder.
    We do shop together, it’s true … but she won’t let me out of the car at the moment

    Like

  3. Your comment; At the end of the day it is for the reader to decide why she left. is SPOT-ON!

    This seems to be a bit of the problem with today’s literary renderings. Too much is spelled out and little to nothing is left to the reader’s imagination. And what a loss that is.

    Like

    1. Yes, there is a certain expectation of treating the reader like a child, of spoon feeding them. But the reader is a vital part of the process. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Creative writing is important, of course, but creative reading is just as vital.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.