Baker’s Lament

A glimpse of transcendence over a warm chocolate chip cookie.

Even the oven’s heat can’t melt the scowl you’ve given up on hiding five hours ago. Trapped within a man-made island of kitchen appliances for eight hours a day, you watch customers stream into the Meijer bakery department like schools of fish. Like a fisherman you try to reel them in with succulent bait; today, homemade cookies are your lure. You let out a weighty sigh that is reserved for one thing only. Work. You forgot your chef’s coat at home, so you’d had to borrow one. It’s too small. The buttons push into your side — it doesn’t hurt, but it’s irritating. The thought of having to make still more cookies exacerbates your sour mood. You hate cookies now. The batch you had put into the oven 20 minutes ago is ready, but you are waiting; waiting for something, anything. Longing. You put another batch in anyway. You feel like a Lethargarian.

Photo by Flickr user Zestbienbeautouza“Hi,” a high-pitched voice projects from behind. It rattles in your eardrum and sends a jolt to your heart. You don’t want to turn around, but you do.

“If you come to the front of the station I can give you a sample.” Your monotone voice nullifies your manufactured smile.

“Oh, no thank you; I’m not really hungry.”

She stares at you as if she were searching for something, and as she smiles with a peculiar intensity sunbursts of wrinkles manifest around her eyes. They are two black abysses sandwiching a slender nose. Long brown hair drapes over her head haphazardly; it is flat, as if she isn’t trying to impress anyone. She has a face that makes it hard to tell how old she is, but if you had to guess she is probably in her mid-30s.

“Well … Is there anything I can help you with?

“Do you believe in God?” Oh no. Not one of these people, you think.

The piercing sound of glass shattering shakes you; the florist has dropped a vase in the Hallmark card section. You think “florist” is a good title for her, since everything she moves seems to end up on the floor. You feel the bloody heat rise into your cheeks. Her question has kissed you — brought you back to your first lip-locking in your stale dorm room. The rising heat in your face has melted away the adamantine shield you’d forged at the start of your day.

All of your Catholic schooling has come down to this one question! The universe itself seems to pass you by and all you can think to say is: “I’m not sure.” The countless nights you had stayed up contemplating God and the universe culminated in … disappointment. You let yourself down. But her face shows no disenchantment.

“That’s fine,” she says as she peers into your kitchen. “What are you making?”

“Oh, I’m making cookies with these new Hershey’s chocolate chips …” The mechanical sales pitch you’d memorized before walking out on the floor begins to slide off your tongue automatically. You stop yourself — the redness in your face deepening. “Would you like one?” The “rules” have left your mind; you give her a cookie even though she isn’t standing in the right place. She isn’t like the others; she’s interested in you, not her agenda. You want to know her name.

“Sure!” She smiles at you as she rests her elbows on the marble countertop. You hand her a warm cookie and tell her to be careful, it may still be hot. Her eyes close as her puce lips envelope one half of the cookie. Mmmm. “This is wonderful; such a blessing, don’t you think?”

You laugh because you don’t know what else to do. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

She stares at you again; you track every subtle twitch of her eyes with your own. You want to know more about her; the anticipation is welling inside you. She says, “Your eyes are full of sincerity.”

Her words caress your heart, cause it to palpitate. An adrenaline shot through the body. Is this love? No, not that kind of love, something else. Agape. You want to know her name.

You find yourself smiling so wide it hurts, but you can’t relax your muscles. No one has ever said something like that to you before. You wish to reply with something just as eloquent; “Thank you” is all that comes out.

“What’s your name?” She asks.

“Phil.” Time has stopped for you. If someone asked you where you were at that moment, you’d probably say heaven.

“Well, Phil, it was wonderful talking to you; you’ve brightened my day.” You think she has it backwards; she is the one who has brightened yours. “Have a blessed day.” She smiles at you again before turning and starting toward checkout. You must know her name.

“Hey,” you call out, hoping your voice travels to her amongst the noise of Meijer. Her face springs to life and she walks back to your station. Your mind has checked out and you struggle to think of what you want to say. Her name. You want her name. “Uh, have a great day!”

She smiles at you, revealing the elusive wrinkles around her eyes once more before walking away. You watch her as she scans her items through the machine; with each item that passes through you realize your time with this woman is slipping away; soon she will be back out in the snow. Soon she will forget you. You watch as she shuffles with her groceries in her cart before she exits the store. She is gone. You swear she disappears into thin air as she walks through the exit. She is an Angel, you think. You didn’t want to know His name. No, you’d already heard it enough in school. You wanted to know hers. But she was gone.

Beep! Beep! Beep! Your ears catch the shrieking of the timer clipped on the stove. You open the oven door and are greeted by plumes of smoke.

The cookies are burnt.

Article © 2013 by Phillip Russell