I start working in the bakery because I think of it as romantic. I count each sugared donut while composing hypothetical letters to past lovers half-invented, half-remembered.
Last night was nice. Not remarkable, but pleasant in its stillness and companionship. I’m writing to you to tell you that it’s over. I’ve noticed our dates are getting shorter and conversations more serious. We only ever meet once a month. Those jeans you own are too tight and I’m not waiting while you lazily peel them off. I don’t like the shape of your left eyebrow, it’s menacing.
The donut is misshapen. There’s no hole in the centre, instead a fine congealed layer like a web of skin between fingers. I throw it in the reject pile to be counted later. Every member of staff here is on autopilot, disengaged. The dead, undone and making pastries. No one is permitted take home unsold stock. If you’re caught with confectionary after you’ve clocked off, even the remnants of an imperfect batch that never made it to the resplendent limelight of the shop floor, you’ll be fired. I’ve learned that acts of rebellion are few and far between in the supermarket, a place of prodigious apathy. Those are the rules. Everyone obeys them.
It’s very simple to push people away. It’s the logical decision. I’m sure you don’t understand what it means to be alone. I only sleep for a few hours during the day and dream in creative ways about the destruction of everything I love. I watch friends leave one by one. I’ve realised that the nature of all things is fleeting. Nothing is ours for keeps.
Baking is a loose term for what we do. I wake up at five in the morning. I go to the freezer, bring out the goods and put them in the oven on a pre-set programme. When this is done, I clean the displays. Mostly I work alone although sometimes I’m joined Gary who is small and gaunt with an aversion to desserts. I wonder if his means of employment is a cry for help, a way to express his self-loathing. I’m too polite to ask. After we exchange morning pleasantries, an awkward conversation about how irritating it is to wake up so early, he will hold a baguette against his crotch, gyrating his hips and mimic sexual ecstasy. This is a ritual I’ve grown to accept. It’s possible to predict how the rest of our shift will pan out by the theatrical contortions of his face. A soft, resigned orgasm means he’s in the throes of depression. On these days we bake in silence. But if he comes with a comedic force we talk about all manner of things, usually his failed marriage and repugnance to tiramisu.
A voice over the tannoy announces a spillage in fresh foods.
Every time someone expresses romantic interest in me I am reminded of the distance that exists between us physically. I’m not thinking about what it’s like when you’re about to go down on me, tongue teasing inner thigh. You’d ask me, what do you want? Then I couldn’t move. That moment of silence was harsh. Neither of us knew what we wanted. I did like fucking you, though. Do you know that in French there’s no verb that means ‘to have sex’? You can make love. Or you can fuck. There’s no in-between. I’m completely consumed. You’re eating me up.
I appreciate that the monotony I once found soothing is driving me mad. Bake. Clean. Repeat. Bake. Clean. Repeat. I have too much time to ruminate. This isn’t the trail of breadcrumbs that will lead me to a glorious career and it isn’t giving me space to realize my future. I’m in the rut, besieged by pan-au-chocolat and colleagues who have a fiercer grip on reality.
Gary is leaving. We hold a party over lunch and eat cake. It’s distressing to watch him ingest slice after slice. I spend the next thirty minutes attempting to establish if he’s gagging or laughing. It makes me wonder what’s so noble about enduring the things that we hate for the sake of other people’s perceived sensibilities. Chocolate is smeared between his teeth. When he smiles he looks like he has a mouthful of shit and that’s all I can focus on when he nods goodbye in my direction. I know I won’t see Gary again. I’m probably supposed to be a little sad.
Do you remember when we stayed up drinking in your room kissing with cheeks full of Bombay Sapphire because we’d ran out of the bad wine? Afterwards, it was all over your face, perfumed tears that I licked until I was too drunk to speak. I try not to reminisce. Your sweat was sweet. I can still taste your skin from that night.
I pick up an unsightly donut letting its deformed mass swelter in the grip of my hot hand. I look at the heap of spoilt produce. Sugar like diamonds. Puffy creases of dough like prized sculpture. Even in this miserable stack, their defective appeal is incandescent compared to their neatly packaged bedfellows.
That afternoon I walk away with a pocket full of leftovers.