The baker’s mother teaches her how to score bread. She is not a baker yet. Her nose barely brushes the flour-dusted table, even when she stretches on her tip-tip-toes.
Let me, her mother says and lifts the baker up onto her body, pillowed by the plushness of her lap.
You need to hold the knife just so, cut fleur-de-lis and leaves into the loaves.
Yes, the baker says, her little fingers curled over the larger hand, over the knife. Just so.
Bread is life. Treat it as such.
The neighbors call the baker’s mother doughy. Like a boule with too much yeast, soon she’s going to spill out of the oven. Pillsbury girl, her classmates jeer. She’s not sure if they mean her, or her mother.
The baker picks up the knife, scores sourdough and white crust, pretends to carve the cruelty out of her classmates’ soft tongues.
Soon the baker learns how to make focaccia. How to arrange olives and peppers into blossoms, stems. A garden. She can’t think of anything more full of life than a garden.
The baker likes gluing herself to the oven door, as close to the heat as she can stand, and watch the bread rise. Sometimes she pushes the vegetable slices too deep; they are swallowed by the pale dough, ruining the design.
Not ruined, the baker’s mother says. Absorbed. Every little morsel embraced.
Yes, the baker replies. Embraced.
The baker goes away to culinary school, studies under chefs with Parisian accents and curling mustaches, watches her hands grow rougher than bread crust.
Her mother calls and says, Everything is fine here other than I miss you every day.
The neighbors leave voicemail full of complaints. You need to do something about your mother, they say. She won’t stop making bread. Your house is like a giant oven, the sidewalk overrun with doughy paste. Pigeons knock themselves dazed and drooling against her windowpanes. Children run to the sill after school and snatch fresh batches. The town talks about the witch that lives in the bread house, salting her baked goods with her sadness.
Yes, the baker thinks. Bread has always brought people together.
The baker goes to bed early, the night only half-there. Although she’s been handling meat and vegetables all day, her hands still smell of yeast; her lips will always taste of flour. She is five years old again, and her mother is kneading her back and shoulders with strong knuckles, rolling her on the bed as the baker giggles and flails. My little bread roll, the baker’s mother says. Fratzolaki mou.
She pictures herself going home for the holidays, finding her house bursting with heat, her mother everywhere at once, a force of nature. Of life. The baker will walk into her mother’s softness. She will let their house absorb, embrace her like a little morsel. The missing and the being missed, small loaf returned to mother dough.
AVRA MARGARITI — Avra is a queer author and poet from Greece. Avra’s work haunts publications such as Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, Best Microfiction, and Best Small Fictions. You can find Avra on Twitter (@avramargariti).
Art by LINDA HAWKINS — Linda is a self-taught watercolor artist and photographer. She enjoys the beauty of nature and captures it through the camera lens and paint brush. Her visual art has appeared in various literary magazines, including Flash Frog, The Jupiter Review, Pithead Chapel, Acropolis Journal, Wrongdoing Magazine, Moss Puppy Mag, Harpy Hybrid Review, and Fish Barrel. She can be found on Twitter: @lindamayhawkins; website: lindamayhawkins.com; and her Etsy shop: etsy.com/shop/lmhoriginals.