The sign said, "No Experience Required-HELP WANTED." Just looking through the bakery window she could smell yellow, beige, and brown, rolls and doughnuts, flour and sugar turned crusty in the oven. She saw the dark rear doorway, herself switching on the lights, preparing the mixing bowls, then the ingredients, her hands sticky and warm. When her new boss came in that doorway and said, Good morning, what's new?, she could smile and say, Fine, just fine, and breathe deeply of another life.
She sighed. Never, under any circumstances, was she to tell people how they really met-she a XXX shop cashier, he a customer. Instead, the story went, they met in a coffee shop, she a waitress, he a regular-oh, how sweet-the story preserved the gap between their positions in life, and funny how their first conversation suddenly sounded so innocent without the context, the proposition of sex. She fell into the relationship, like she fell into most things, and it was here, leaving the bakery window to sit on a nearby bench, that she realized she couldn't remember being happy.
"Mind if I take a load off?"
The old woman tottered toward her, dragging an air tank on wheels, breathing heavily through a nose piece. She sat down hard without waiting for a reply. "Stopping over?"
"Yeah," the girl said, twisting the ticket in her hand. "Though this is a place I wouldn't mind staying."
Without prompting the old woman told her what her morning had been like, across the square, inside the brick courthouse with a spire on top. "Do I look like I need a guardian?" the woman said, pointing into her chest for emphasis. The girl saw chipped pink polish on her nails. "I may not get around like I used to, but I don't need anyone telling me what to do." She snorted, lips splayed, and looked sideways at the girl for her reaction.
He had laughed at her for taking the train to meet him. What's next, he said. Horse and buggy? She had shrugged, she wanted to see the country, she said, which he could understand, she being younger and not having had as much experience. So he stroked her hair, not unlovingly, and said he hoped she had fun. But maybe now she wanted to take as long as she could to get to him. He would want her to move in and she would want to be alone, but the thing about being alone is that he could still circle her mind, hover, interrogate her like a suspect at the police station. Where have you been? Baking cookies? He spit the words. She turned her head and caught the woman's glance.
Her future life with him and this present slid past each other, oil and water, not combining. The air was clear, and as she and the old woman talked into the afternoon, the ticket slid from her fingers to her feet.
Monica Kirsch lives in Chicago where she continues to eat many donuts.