When I was very young I had the attention span of a goldfish. School reports frequently said something to the effect of, ‘shows promise but little focus’ or ‘could do better with the application of effort’. And then, miraculously, I went through a period of some productivity in my early middle age. I think that things started to go downhill again at about the age of 35.
And now, as I stumble into senility, I can’t really concentrate on anything for more than about 5 minutes anymore- hence my spasmodic postings on this site. I was determined to do just something …. anything …. this morning, and looked toward one of my trusted muses, Cyranny, and found this here, concerning the word ‘scarlet’.
I devoted about 2 minutes to the project before losing interest and direction.
I offer it, nonetheless, in unedited, uncensored and unfinished form, as an indication of both how my mind works and how it doesn’t.
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.
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.”
“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.
As you may recall (but probably not) I shared a very short story (100 words precisely, in fact) that was entered in a NYC Midnight competition about a couple of teenagers kissing on a train.
If you missed it (and who could blame you?) here it is again
Love On The Way Home From School
I remember the world thundering by. Our destination almost upon us.
The rattle and rumble of the tracks like gunfire above which we hear only each other’s thoughts. She takes my hand in hers.
School bags at our feet. For these were simple times. Or seemed so.
A shock of air through the carriage as we hurtle into the black cocoon of the tunnel. She leans forward to kiss me.
Then suddenly into the blinding light of the station. She is on her feet. Smiling. Suppressing a giggle. And then gone. Until tomorrow.
For as long as tomorrows might last.
Surprisingly, the judges had an off day and awarded it a 3rd placing and thus ushered me into the 2nd round where they required a drama about injuring a knee and including the word ‘line’. Likewise a maximum of 100 words
This is what I wrote,
She glanced back only briefly towards the cottage where she had left the note for him to later read in habitual drunken rage.
A line of trees, planted with her naïve optimism of twenty years previous, marked a boundary obstructing her view to the road and beyond. Stepping through it, in the fading light, she stumbled over a fallen branch and felt the wood piercing her skin, but it was only in the taxi that she noticed the little stream of blood trickling from her knee.
“Does it hurt?” the driver asked.
“No,” she whispered, “I can’t feel anything, anymore.”
Confirmation has been received that the cute little furry animal that had the temerity to wrestle with the cat and disturb Meg’s sleep has left this world for a better one. One hopes that somewhere in the afterlife there is a place where he may better fit in.
And having slid beneath the wheels of a passing vehicle he fits into all sorts of places that he didn’t fit before.
The family thanks you, KBG, for your flowers and kind thoughts, but asks for privacy during this difficult time.