Drawing by Judith Wolfe

ED HAMILTON

Bakery



    I was a high school student and I wasn't qualified for much, but I managed to get a job in a bakery down at the mall. They didn't let me bake anything. Instead they had me washing the dishes and mopping the floors. I had to close up the store at the end of the night, after the girls that worked the counter at night went home.
    It was a good job. They let me eat all the pastries I wanted for free and the boss let me alone since he was never around. So I pretty much had the run of the place. The boss was a good guy. He was an old time hippie named Joe. I worked at my own pace and once I was done all I had to do was hang around and close up the place. After a month I had my duties figured out to the point that I could do four hours work in a half an hour. I brought along a book and sat in the office reading and smoking, and stuffing myself with pastries and milk.
    That got boring. I started bringing in a pint of liquor to help pass the time. And I would go out the back door, through the corridors that ran behind the stores, and find a place to fire up a bowl and take a couple hits of reefer. After I got to know the girls who worked up front, I smoked reefer right in the office, and sometimes one of the girls would join me. It was risky, but the owner never showed up after hours. He didn't give a shit what we did, as long as he wasn't bothered. We sprayed some air freshener around anyway.
    I did a hit of acid one night and finished even earlier than usual. I left the store and walked around the mall for awhile, then I went outside and walked around in the nearby neighborhoods until it was time to close up. Nobody cared. Nobody even noticed. And then I realized, hey, what am I doing hanging out in the back of a store when I could be out doing whatever I pleased? A few blocks away was a Seven-Eleven where some of my friends hung out drinking beer. I started going there once I was done with my duties, meeting up with people and either sitting around in the lot or else going off driving to bars and other spots around the city. I was able to buy beer and get into bars even though I was underage. A few times I didn't get back in time. But I had it covered since most of the girls knew what I was doing. They would punch me out on the time clock, and turn off the lights, and then pull the metal door down on the shop front and I'd lock it once I got there. One time I was at a bar and didn't feel like leaving. Nobody wanted to give me a ride back to the bakery anyway, so I figured I wasn't going to worry about it. I figured I would close the bakery up once I had finished drinking. But when I got back to the mall the whole place was closed. It was about four in the morning. There wasn't even a security guard around to let me in. I guess I could have tried to beat the boss there in the morning, maybe slept in my car or in the woods, but I didn't feel up to that. I was drunk and tired, and anyway the boss got there pretty early to bake all the pastries, so chances were he would have caught me in there. So I just said the hell with it and drove on home.
    Joe knew that I hadn't just forgot to lock the door, because I hadn't punched out and I hadn't mopped the front floor where the customers stood. He'd already talked to the girls by the time I came in for work. They had told him that I had just stepped out for a moment and they figured I was coming right back. Though I'd had plenty of time to cook up a lie, I still hadn't come up with much. I figured he'd probably fire me no matter what I said. Joe had stayed late to confront me. He didn't look pleased. "Hey man, I'm sorry about that," I said when I saw him. "My friend had a flat tire and I had to go help him out," I said. "And then my own car broke down. By the time I got back I couldn't get in the mall." I don't think Joe believed me, but he played along. "Don't you think you could have at least told someone where you were going?" he said.
    "I didn't think it was any big deal. I figured I'd be right back. But then, like I said, my car broke down."
    "Haven't you ever heard of a phone?" "Uh, I didn't think about it until too late. I was way out on the interstate."
    Joe shook his head in disbelief. "You have to be a little bit more responsible," the old hippie said.
    "You can't just go running off like that."
    "Sorry," I said. I was still waiting to be fired. In fact I was thinking ahead about where I might go once I was fired. It was a Saturday evening.
    "I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt this time," Joe said, amazingly. "But if you do this to me again, I'm going to have to let you go."
    "Oh, OK," I said.
    "Go on," Joe said "Get to work. I was supposed to be out of here a half an hour ago."
    I headed toward the back of the store. "And next time your friend has a flat tire," Joe said, "tell him to call a tow truck."
    I made up my mind not to screw up again, and I even quit going out for a couple of weeks. But I was bound to get bored again. I started going over to the Seven-Eleven parking lot again.
    I'd had four or five beers already, drinking them out of a paper bag in case the cops pulled up, but what I was really looking for was a joint to get high. I went from car to car in the lot, going up to people's windows when they pulled in, even people I didn't know, but nobody even had a roach. Sometimes the supply just dried up.
    Ricky pulled into the parking lot in his beige Vega. Ricky was in my class at high school, but I never hung out with him. I don't think anybody did. He was an annoying character, clueless and uncool. I had been his friend for a few weeks, maybe three or four years before, because he let me come over to his house and drink all his old man's liquor. But then his old man had put a stop to that.
    It didn't seem like much of a chance, but I went up to his car anyway. Ricky rolled down his window.
    "Hey man, what's happening?" he said in his whiny voice.
    "Not much," I said. "Good to see you." I was just trying to be pleasant. He wasn't very good to see. His hair was long and scraggly. He was one of those people who, no matter if he washed his hair ten times a day, it was still going to look greasy and nasty. He had on a stupid looking jacket, a red nylon job with reflective racing stripes. I shook his hand through the window. "I never see you around anymore. You ought to hang out with us here more often," I said. "By the way, you got any reefer on you?"
    "Aw, no man, no. Sorry about that. I was supposed to get a bag today, but, you know, my connections didn't come through, man. They're all dried up.
    "Sorry,"
    "That's alright," I said.
    "Check back with me in a couple of days."
    "Sure."
    "But," Ricky said proudly, "I was able to score some speed."
    "Oh boy," I said. I never had been real interested in speed.
    "They cost two dollars apiece," Ricky went on. "But I'll let you have one for free man, since you're my friend. And I know you're cool. I know you'll turn me on when you have some shit."
    He was dreaming about that last part. As for the speed, if it was free, that was a different story. It started to sound like a good idea, a little pick me up to help me get back and finish my work at the bakery, and still have energy left to party. I went around the front of the car and opened the door and got in. Ricky put his car in reverse and began to back his car out of its space. "Wait a minute. Where are we going?" I asked.
    "It's not cool to whip out drugs in this parking lot," Ricky said.
    "Nobody's going to know what we're doing," I said.
    "Still, there might be cops watching."
    "I don't see any."
    We drove around through the neighborhoods, looking for someplace to park. "It's no big deal Ricky, just whip out the pills," I told him. But he wouldn't listen to me.
    Ricky finally chose an empty school parking lot, easily observable from the road and from several houses. I'm sure we looked suspicious as hell, like we were going to break into the place or something.
    "Listen, Ricky, this is not a good place," I said.
    "Yeah it is. There's nobody around."
    What the hell, I thought. "OK, let's see what you got."
    "It's in the glove box," he said.
    He had about nine or ten pills rolled up in a little baggie. "It's supposed to be some really good shit," he said.
    I took some pills out of the bag and looked them over. They were little brown pills. They didn't look familiar to me, but like I said, I never did much speed. I figured that Ricky was waiting for somebody else to take one so he would know they were OK.
    "Where did you get these?" I asked.
    "Greg Arnold sold them to me," Ricky said.
    I knew who that was. I never did any business with him since he ripped me off one time before I knew any better. "You sure Arnold said they were speed?" I asked.
    "Yeah. Don't you know what they are? I thought you would know," Ricky said.
    I figured at worst Arnold had sold him some of those caffeine pills that you order out of a magazine. That was his style, to sell you something worthless. I doubted that he would sell anything actually harmful. "Well, if Arnold said they were speed, then I guess they must be," I said.
    "How many should we take?" Ricky said.
    "Let's start off with one," I said. I put one in my mouth and washed it down with a swig of beer. Ricky had a coke or something.
    "So you want to drive around," Ricky said.
    "No. But let's get out of here."
    We drove out of the parking lot. "You sure you don't have any reefer?" I said.
    "There's a party over in Oakwood," Ricky said. "I know some people over there, and they said it's supposed to be really big. We can probably score some reefer there."
    "Naw, I'm supposed to be at work. I"ve got to get back there pretty soon," I said. Oakwood was on the other side of the city. His party was a pipe dream anyway.
    "You don't want to go to the party?" Ricky said.
    "No. Just drop me off back at the Seven-Eleven."
    I lit up a cigarette. Since Ricky didn't smoke, his ashtray was filled with change. I had to flick the ashes out the window. They blew back in and went in the back seat. We drove along and seemed to be headed back to the Seven-Eleven. Then we took a wrong turn. "Where are we going?" I asked.
    "I'm just going to run by my house real quick," Ricky said.
    "Your house is miles out of the way. What do you have to go there for?" I said.
    "I need to get my jacket. You don't mind if I run by my house and get my jacket, do you?"
    "What's wrong with the one you've got on?"
    "Oh, I don't know. I just don't like it. I want to get a better one for the party."
    I didn't feel like hanging out with him any longer, not for the time it would take him to piddle around at his house. "That jacket you've got on looks great. I'd love to have that jacket," I said. "I've been looking for one like it, in fact. You definitely should wear that one to the party."
    Ricky didn't believe me. "I don't know man," he said, shaking his head from side to side. "I'm just going to get my other one."
    "Come on, man. I don't have time."
    "It'll only take a second."
    "No," I said. "Go to the Seven-Eleven first."
    "I'm the one driving," Ricky said.
    When we stopped at a traffic light I got out and slammed the door. I was a couple miles from the Seven-Eleven. I made up my mind to kick Ricky's ass the next time I saw him.
    After I had walked a ways I felt the pill start to kick in. It was not the buzz I had expected. Not unpleasant, but mellow and relaxed, not a speed buzz at all. Some kind of downer. And mixed with all the beer, I felt myself quickly getting totally wasted. Not that I was worried. That's one of the best properties of downers, you don't worry much. I was walking through the suburb behind the mall when I thought I might as well stop by and see if my friend Mike Weber was home. It was only a couple blocks out of the way. Once I got to his house, I didn't feel like dealing with his parents in my condition, so I snuck around to the back of the house. Mike lived down in the basement. Sure enough, his light was on. I bent down and looked in the little window. Mike was down there, and so was Jack, another one of our buddies. They were both sitting on the couch, looking at magazines. There were lots of other magazines laying all over the place. On the bed, on the floor, everywhere. They looked like porno magazines. I rapped hard several times on the window, and watched Mike and Jack jump. "Police, motherfuckers! Vice squad! You're busted!" I yelled.
    "Oh, it's just Tom," Mike said. He came over to the window. "Hey man, just come in the front door. It's not locked. My parents aren't here."
    Coming down the stairs to the basement, I felt my legs wobble beneath me. I almost fell. When I got into Mike's room I saw that the magazines were sure enough porno magazines. "What is all this?" I said. "Let me show you something," Mike said. He went over to his closet and drug out a big cardboard box, a box about four feet square. It was filled with porno magazines.
    "Goddamn," I said.
    Mike picked up a stack of the magazines and handed them to me. "May as well have some," he said.
    They were the raunchier sort of porno magazines. No penetration, but no playboys or penthouses either. I flopped down on the couch next to Jack and started flipping through one. Mike sat in a chair. We all looked at the magazines. "So where'd you get all these," I asked.
    "You know Ronald Shermerhorn?" Mike said. Ronald Shermerhorn lived in the neighborhood and was about five or six years older than us.
    "Yeah, I know him." I said
    "You know he's gay?"
    "No, I didn't know that."
    "Well, he is," Mike said.
    "I guess I suspected it," I said. "But what has that got to do with these magazines?" They were straight porno magazines.
    "Ronald bought all these magazines to try to cure himself of his gayness," Mike said.
    "Did it work?" I asked.
    "Hell no! Of course not! And now he's given up trying, so he gave all these magazines to me."
    That was pretty nice of him not to just throw them away, I thought. But I couldn't get too interested in the magazines, much less aroused, due to the effects of the pill I had taken. And the beer. I was flopped out there on the couch. I could barely move. The pill must have been some sort of muscle relaxant. It didn't look like I was going to be going anywhere for a while.
    Mike and Jack had a twelve-pack. I figured I'd better hold off on that. I told Mike and Jack about the pill, but neither of them knew what it was either.
    They didn't seem too concerned.
    After awhile, Mike said, "Hey man, you want to smoke a joint?"
    "Sure, great. Fire it up," Jack said.
    I thought, now that I don't really need it anymore, somebody turns up with some reefer. It still sounded good.
    Mike got a bag out of his desk drawer. He gave it to Jack to look at. Jack picked one of the buds out of the bag and smelled it. "Looks pretty good, but kind of strange," he said. He dropped the bud back in the bag and handed the bag to me.
    There were four buds in the bag. There was a fine white dust coating the buds, just a sprinkling of dust. "What's this stuff all over the buds?" I asked.
    "That's the angel dust. This is some kick ass dope. I was lucky to get ahold of it," Mike said. It didn't sound smart to mix that with my other drug, whatever the hell it was. But I still wanted to smoke some reefer. "Don't you have any without any angel dust on it?" I said.
    Mike looked at me like I was an idiot. "No man, I only got one kind," he said.
    All right then, I thought, what the hell.
    "It'll perk you up," Mike said. "You're acting kind of out of it."
    He was wrong about the perking up part. But it got me wasted. Once we finished the joint, I closed my eyes and rested. But I didn't sleep. Mike and Jack were talking about sex.
    "I've had sex with six girls," Jack said. "How about you?"
    "I've had sex with, let's see, uh, nine, maybe ten," Mike said. "My babysitter sucked me off when I was like nine or ten or something. I don't know if I should count that or not."
    "Sure, you can count that. How was it anyway?" Jack said.
    "It was alright." Mike said.
    I figured he could count that one too. I pretended to be asleep. I didn't have anything to tell. I guess I could have made some shit up. But I wasn't thinking clearly at that point. So I just sat there with my eyes closed and hoped they would change the subject soon.
    They never did change the subject, and then at some point I actually did fall asleep. I woke up once, or became semi- conscious. I was on my back in the dark and I didn't know where I was. I thought I was at home in my own bed. Then I drifted back off again, only to be awakened by a blinding light and somebody yelling at me. It was Mike, saying, "Get up, Tom!" and then shaking me when I didn't respond. I was disoriented and I couldn't speak. Since I thought I was at home, I was confused that Mike was there. They had picked me up and moved me onto Mike's bed, and even tossed a blanket over me, though I was still fully clothed. Mike was pulling at my arm, trying to get me out of the bed. "Get up, man! Get up! You're supposed to be at work!" he said.
    Then it hit me what was going on. "Huh? What time is it?" I mumbled. I could hardly speak. "It's almost twelve. I was going to let you sleep, but then I remembered you were supposed to be working."
    Mike pulled me out of bed and I rolled onto my knees on the floor. I struggled to my feet, and staggered forward a bit. "Jesus Christ, I can't even fucking walk," I said. "I've got to go take a nap or something, man. I'm out of it."
    Mike was holding onto me and helping me to make it out the door. "No you're not. Come on. You've got to go close up the bakery," he said. He basically had to drag me up the stairs.
    Jack was upstairs watching TV. Mike's parents weren't home yet. "Is he breathing?" Jack said. We could have taken Mike's truck, but it wasn't that far. Mike and Jack said I needed the walk to straighten up. It did seem to work. I was able to walk without too much trouble. We cut through the woods that separated the subdivision from the mall. The woods were quiet and still, and all you could hear was the rustle of brush underfoot. The moon was full. It was early spring.
    The creek was high, and we walked alongside it. We crossed the creek where the road crossed it, climbing up the embankment and onto the road. We crossed the road and walked through the big parking lot at the rear of the mall. There were only a few cars parked in the lot and maybe one or two driving around. There were only a few lights on, but the whole lot was lit up by the moonlight. Mike and Jack were talking but I wasn't. I wasn't thinking anything.
    I was looking at a field of grass by the parking lot.
    "Hey, what's that over there?!" I said.
    "What?" Mike said.
    "There!" I pointed toward the field of grass. "What are those people doing over there?!"
    "What are you talking about?" Mike said.
    "I don't see anything," Jack said.
    "There! Right over there!" I turned to talk to Mike and Jack as I pointed, taking my eyes off the field. Then I turned back toward the field. "They're gone," I said, amazed. "They were right there."
    What I had seen was a group of people, maybe twenty, gathered in the field. They were watching two acrobats performing tricks. Nothing all that special. But there were a couple of weird things about it. For one thing the acrobats were unusually skilled, almost supernaturally so. Linked together, the one standing on the shoulders of the other, they turned cartwheels, and did flips and somersaults, launching themselves into the air. The other weird thing was that none of this really existed.
    Mike and Jack were laughing at me. I told them what I had seen. "Damn, you really are wasted," Mike said. "Remind me to get some of that shit next time I see Arnold," Jack added.
    I laughed it off too, but I was confused and disoriented by the event. Though I had felt pretty straight on the walk over, the hallucination brought back to me how wasted I was. Still, it wasn't unmanageable. It wasn't like I was going to fall down or puke. Mike and Jack waited outside as I went into the mall. The lights were too bright and it took my eyes a long time to adjust. The security guard saw me and gave me a dirty look. I had my act together pretty good, so I ignored him and walked on. As I came up to the bakery I saw that the lights were on and the gate was up. Joe was in there. When he saw me he came out of the back. He wasn't wearing his white baker's suit this time, the only time I'd seen him out of it. Instead he was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. He had his hair out of the ponytail and didn't look like a boss any more. I stopped in the front part of the store as he came up to me.
    "I was wondering when you planned on showing up," Joe said. Then he said, "Goddamn! You've been drinking, haven't you?!"
    "No man. I just had a couple of beers," I said. "Don't give me that! I can smell it on you!" Joe said. He was standing right up in front of me at this point.
    I didn't say anything. I was swaying from side to side. It was a real effort to act straight. Joe calmed down. "You know this isn't the first time," he said.
    "You've never caught me drunk before," I said stupidly.
    "I mean it's not the first time you've gone off and left the place when you were supposed to close up."
    "Oh."
    "I don't care what you do on your own time, but I've got a business to run here," Joe said. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to let you go."
    "Alright," I said. I walked past Joe and headed for the back room, staggering and banging into the corner of the counter.
    "Hey, where are you going?" Joe said.
    "To punch out," I said.
    "Don't bother," Joe said. "I'm not going to pay you for the the time when you weren't here."
    So I turned around and started to walk out of the store. "See you later," I said.
    "I'll need your key," Joe said.
    It was tough, but I got the key off the ring and handed it over. "I guess I'll stop by next week for my paycheck," I said. By that point I had stopped even attempting to act straight.
    "Are you able to make it home alright?" Joe asked.
    "Yeah, no problem," I said. I staggered off through the mall toward the exit.
    Mike and Jack were still hanging around outside waiting for me. "Did you get it all closed up?" Mike asked.
    "No, I got fired." I said.
    "That sucks," Jack said.
    "It's OK."
    "We're going back over to my house and drink some more beer. Want to come?" Mike said.
    "I think I'll just go home," I said.
    I got in my car and fumbled around trying to get the keys into the ignition. I dropped them on the floorboards a couple of times. I could drive better than I could walk. It was depressing to lose a job. It would be even more depressing the next day. I forgot to get some of those porno magazines too.


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