There are two kinds of women here: the old ones, wrinkled and chipper, with hairpinned buns or permed wisps, knobbed knuckles and grandmother names like Ruby, Esther, or Bess, who work the morning shifts and slice and bag marbled ryes with the efficiency of nuns. And then there are the girls, in their mid-to-late teens, who come in after school, if they go to school, to relieve the old ones. The girls work till closing at nine, and all day Saturdays and Sundays. The smell of their fruity lip gloss and gum competes with the cherry-topped cheesecakes and yeast, and they cinch their bib aprons tight around their waists, tug them low over their tank tops, lean far over the counters toward the rare male customer. The old ones have been working here fifteen, twenty, thirty years, and greet regulars by name, know their preferences in rugalah; the girls are just passing through, they tell themselves, just picking up the minimum-wage paycheck on their way to something better, something else.
The new girl is watching the other girls. She is the youngest one here. Her mother, purchasing Sunday morning bagels (two raisin, two egg),
had offered her up to the boss, a fifty-something aging rocker called Elliott, son of the shop’s original owner, an octogenarian for whom the bakery was named. Elliott appraised the girl, took in the pearly pink nail polish, the good posture, the evidence of pricey orthodontia in the awkward smile. It wasn’t quite legal to hire her. But he likes the younger girls, they work hard. And the customers would like this one, too, her baby fat and still-clear skin. The older girls, well, they start to look a little tough after a few years. Her divorced mother liked the idea of her daughter working in a bakery, a Jewish bakery at that, such a wholesome, homey place, the greeting whiff of sugar and butter and dough. And she’d know where her daughter would be on weekends and in the afternoons, while she was at work herself, brokering foreclosed condos.
And all the sweet things you can eat, Elliott had told the girl, grinning, and she’d smiled back.
There are also two kinds of men here, besides Elliott. The Latino guys who load dough into kneading machines, and bake sheet after sheet of cakes, and the descendents of the original owner, a flock of male cousins in their late teens and early twenties who carry trays of cookies and loaves back and forth. They all look like younger variations of Elliott. All of them are musicians. During their breaks they sit on the hoods of their cars in the parking lot and play air guitar. The hottest of them, an older girl advises the
new girl on her first day, is Jamie, Elliott’s son. He actually plays in a band. His girlfriend’s pregnant, but everyone thinks he shouldn’t marry her and get tied down just now. None of the girls like the girlfriend. She’s a bitch, they chime in, overhearing. Jamie’s really hot. Check out his car: a repo’d Hummer H2 he got from a police auction, he jazzed up the rims, put this velvet all inside, painted it black. Maybe she can come with all of them to see him play sometime. We’ll sneak you in to the club.
The new girl nods, happy. These girls are much cooler than her friends at school. She’s never had access to girls like this, worldly and mature. She is just barely filling out her A cups, so she tries to keep her shoulders back, her chest muscles outthrust. She has had nine periods in her life. It still thrills her, the surprise warm curl of blood pushing through to her underpants, the buying of junior tampons, the womanly tug of a cramp. When she masturbates, reading at night from her mother’s nightstand books, there’s more wet and a sharper smell now. Her insides get to a harder clutch and peak. And now she has her first job. All the sweet things she can eat. Friends who go to clubs. Girls who know about sneaking you in, who use gloss, not balm, who laugh like women. Things will start to happen now. She’s not quite fourteen.
Here, Little One, Kate says to her, handing over a brown paper bag. Could you slice this for me? Kate is the oldest of the young girls, twenty-one, with black liner shaped like fish around her eyes and a cracked front tooth. Elliott has assigned Kate to train her, and has been keeping an eye on them. Watch and learn, he’d told her. Kate calls her
Little One, compliments her handling of eclairs and squeezes her arm warmly in praise. Kate is one of the nice ones.
Sure, she says, agreeable. She is still learning the machines, how to slice breads and seal up cakes in pink cardboard and string. She likes the job, most of it, likes being helpful to customers while Elliott nods in approval. She likes the coating of sugar on everything, the sweetness whenever she licks her lips, the stickyness of fruit fillings clotting her hair and the smears of buttercream she finds dried on her face and arms. She keeps her hair in two braids, seals the ends with twist-ties they use to bag challahs; when she gets home at night from the bus stop, smelling of onion and fudge, she unripples her hair and appraises herself in the mirror, deciding her fatigue and sweat and hurting feet and — is that a pimple? her first? — are signs of maturity, of growth.
She reaches into the paper bag, feels an odd thing, pulls out . . . what? A rubbery, peach-colored club, double knobbed at one end. It feels tacky, smells chemical, like petroleum. It is sinister, somehow. She is humiliated by the thing, fat in her hand, but isn’t sure why, doesn’t know why she feels a twisty flush between her legs. She smiles uncertainly, and hears the other counter girls crack up.
She’s never seen one before! Kate announces.
A little big for her, don’t you think? Maria says, to more laughter.
Another thing she has learned: not to trust these laughing girls. During her fifteen-minute break on her second day, Denise had asked if she wanted to see her modeling shots, then shown photos of herself splayed naked in a garage on top of a stack of tires, her mouth gaped wide and her fingers pulling her vagina open and raw, and everyone had laughed at her startled face. Shelley had asked if she had any blow, and snickered when she’d stammered an offer to ask around for some at school. Nicole wanted to know how many guys she’d fucked, or had she still only done oral? Monique offered to fill her in on all the cousins and back room guys, then described each of them by the size, shape and smell of their cocks, that word, said over and over, hurting her ears. Debbie advised her to start early on anal, your hole can take it easier when you’re young. They bring the reek of cigarettes and beer back into the bakery after their parking-lot breaks, despite Elliott’s rules. They tell bumper sticker jokes: Bakery girls knead it. Bakery girls cream their pans. She has comforted herself with mouthfuls of the broken Danish and cookies the girls stuff as they please, with big bites of marzipan to get the ache out of her throat, with sucking the stray buttercream frosting from her fingers when no one is looking. The chocolate constantly under her nails reminds her of the dark blood that lingers in her cuticles after inserting a tampon, reminds her that she is cool and worldly and mature.
| And now she holds the dirty rubber thing in her hand, ashamed of feeling ashamed. She knows what the thing is, but can’t quite form the word in her head. She suddenly hates her two baby braids. They are all laughing, and she wishes she could scratch at all of them. She wishes Elliott were around, watching out for her.
Leave her alone, come on. A guy comes out from the back with a tray of prune homentashen, and all the girls suddenly grin, stand up straighter or strike an exaggerated slouch. This must be Jamie, she thinks. He has shaggy blond hair, dark blue eyes that are kind, teeth that look brushed. He smiles at her, and she thinks of her father, how he used to take
her for Sunday breakfasts at IHOP, just the two of them, before he left, and let her drown pancakes in chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
Fuck you, Jamie, I’m supposed to train her, Kate says.
Yeah, I know how you want to train her, Kate, says Maria.
Yeah, and how you want to watch, Kate says. Catcalls all around. Kate grabs the dildo back, pokes it toward Maria, who slaps it away.
Jamie leans close to her as he slides the homentashen into the display case. They’re assholes, he whispers. Don’t let them get to you, right?
No, she says, uh uh.
He winks at her as he heads in back, his empty tray gleaming like a shield against his chest.
I like your car. She has been practicing these words in her head for weeks, waiting for the perfect moment when the others aren’t around, when Elliott isn’t eyeing her, when his girlfriend Fran isn’t nearby whining about what time he’s going to get off work, her hand protectively held over her still-flat stomach.
His schedule is a mystery, so she lip-glosses now before every shift. She lingers to admire the car on her way in to work, on her way home, whenever it’s there and the cousins aren’t around to hoot at her, always hoping he might suddenly exit the bakery, see her, offer to take her for a ride. It gleams like the shiny black part of a black-and-white cookie. He hasn’t spoken to her again, just smiled in a friendly way with those pretty bright teeth, those starry eyes, and once he tugged on her braid — just one, now, down her back, more grownup — when he passed.
And she has him now, by the bread bins, he is all hers, his smile and his tray of loaves hefted high.
Yeah, thanks, he says. It’s okay. I can haul my speakers and shit, you know?
Maybe, she says, maybe I could come hear you play sometime. Everyone, everyone says you’re really good.
Oh yeah? he says, pleased. Sure. Sometime. Not on a school night, though. He winks at her again. Through his T-shirt sleeve she can see the hair under his arm, dark blond curls, as he swivels to go.
Fuck school, she says, surprising herself.
Yeah? he says. He stops, lowers his tray. I thought you were, like, a bookworm.
No way, she says. School sucks. She leans casually against the slicing machine, tries to slouch. I can’t wait until I’m out of there, you know?
Oh yeah? he says. He taps his tray, grins at her.
So yeah, like, anytime. I mean I could do anything, anytime. She’s pleased to hear herself say all of
this, doesn’t know where these words have come from. I mean like, now, she continues, I’m on my dinner break. She unties her apron strings, pulls it over her head, hangs it on the rack. She straightens up, glad she wore a thin T-shirt, one that clearly reveals the seams of her bra. I’d love to see your car.
Okay, he says, nodding. Sure. C’mon. He heads in back, and she follows. Her heart is happy. She will sit next to him in his velvet-and-black car, and he’ll tell her about his music and how Fran is such a bitch and all his secret things, they’ll go have a cheeseburger somewhere and talk more, they’ll come back to finish their shifts and then later he’ll play guitar for her, drive her home, even, no more taking the bus. She feels Elliott’s eye on her as she follows toward the back exit. But Jamie stops at the chiller, unlatches its heavy door and disappears inside without looking back. She is unsure for a moment what to do, nervously picks at a Kaiser roll on a tray until she sees Elliott return to squirting out a pink basketweave design on a baby-themed cake.
| She enters the chiller, startled as always by the slap of syrupy cold. Jamie is standing just inside; he holds out his hand and she gives him hers, still sticky from the strawberry tart she ate earlier. His hand is warm. She hopes she smells like strawberries. He tugs her past a tall rack of wedding tiers awaiting their roses, toward the far corner, behind stacked tubs of hydrogenated oil, and turns her to face him. Kiss me, please, she wants to say, but tells herself to just wait, that’s what he’s brought her in here for, isn’t it? To kiss her first? She licks her
lips. He unbuckles his jeans, unbuttons with one hand and places the other one on her shoulder. He wants her to kneel, she realizes, so she does, her jeans too tight around her belly, her knees, she feels her house key dig into the tendon of her crotch. Too many cookies, she thinks, I’m getting so fat. She’s suddenly worried he’ll touch her, hug her, he’ll hate my body, he’ll think I’m ugly, too big, too small, too flat. She closes her eyes and turns her face up, waiting for the kiss, his mouth, his tongue in her mouth, that’s what she wants, his clean-toothpaste tongue and his detergent-sugar smell.
She feels a bump at her lips and she opens her eyes. Rubber, that’s all it is, peachy and soft, but no, it’s real, a real kind of flesh she’s never seen, and she swallows. She tries to think of the right word for this, there’s only penis in her head, the only word she can say inside, but penis isn’t right, it’s like Biology or Health, the kids at school, they’d say dick, but that’s a stupid schoolyard word, there’s member from her mother’s books, she had to read those paragraphs a few times before she realized what a member was, not dildo, either, this one’s real, warm, there’s a pulse, and hair, and an oniony human-mustard smell. There’s just the other word, a word she can’t even shape in her head, let alone her mouth, she can’t get her mouth around that, no, not this wordless hot soft hard thing, but she opens wide for the thing she can’t say, feels him enter her dry mouth, pressing her dry tongue, it grazes her teeth and she instinctively opens more, feels him fill her then bump at the back of her throat, and she somehow gasps and swallows again, with him all in there, full and hard, her throat opens and closes around him, and he says, Yeah.
Good girl, he says, his hands closing soft around her head, pushing her toward him with his slide, slide in, slide out, gently, he is so sweet, she feels him slide all out and suddenly he’s gone from her and it aches. But he raises her up and back and now she is seated on big sacks of meal. His hands are tugging on her T-shirt, twisting it up, she feels him dig inside her bra, her little girl-baby bra, she is so embarrassed, stiffens her spine, thrusts herself outward into his hands, they’re gripping her breasts, squeezing the flesh hard, Bakery Girls Knead It, yes, yes, her bra up around her throat as he grips her nipples, they’re raisin hard and chilled, he rubs at her, and she lifts her face up to him for his mouth. He pulls her back toward him, puts his cock, his cock, shiny slick from her mouth, tucks it between her breasts, pointing up at her, pushes her breasts closed around it, they’re too small, I know, she thinks, despairs, wants to apologize. But Sweet, he says, makes a sandwich of her with him the meat in the middle and her the tender soft rolls, he starts shoving, rubbing himself hard up, up, up, gripping himself tight with her breasts and she wants his hands other places, wants them squeezing the crotch of her jeans, wants them unbuttoning her and
reaching down and in to touch her skin, her baby belly, her hot wet hair, wants his fingers spreading her open and raw, going inside her, groping there the way she does it to herself, rubbing the tiny hard spot then sliding fingers inside then doing both at once, rubbing, sliding, all the wet coming like a swell and burst of steam. Another hard shove rub and he clenches tight inside himself, clenches her hard, and she feels his gasp, the hot ribbons of him on her throat, her neck, her chin, she opens her mouth and swallows swallows and licks at it, gulps it down, gulping, hungry, it’s all hers, and then she’s suddenly released. She steadies herself against the meal sack. She wipes at her face with her hand, rubs her hand against the burlap. She hears a buckle. She feels a tug on her braid.
Break’s almost over, babe, he says. You go out first.
She leaves the chiller, and the hot blast of the baking room turns all the wet and damp to stale sweat. She doesn’t want to go out front, not yet. She leaves through the back exit, into the parking lot, and there are no cousins or girls around. The bus stop is across the street; she can feel her house key in her jeans pocket. She feels a buttercream smear start to crust on her cheek. She can feel getting on the bus and going home by herself, letting herself in and taking a shower and going to bed, although it’s only seven-thirty, too early for bedtime. A shaft of sunset hits Jamie’s car, turning the shiny black a sudden hot white, and she floats her hand along the brilliant passenger door. Her reflection is a blur of a girl. She takes the key from her pocket and heads back inside to the bakery, running the key hard along the edge of the car as she goes. n°
©2007 Tara Ison and Nerve.com.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Tara Ison’s first novel, A Child Out of Alcatraz, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her new novel, The List, will be published by Scribner in March 2007. See more of her work at www.taraison.com.|