Baking up Trouble

Submitted into Contest #168 in response to: Start your story with someone looking out a train window.... view prompt

25 comments

American Contemporary Fiction

TW: Hints at sexual assault, swearing.


Yellow light reflects off the window as I watch my station disappear in the subway tunnel. Blackness turns into the bright light of a train heading the other direction. I think of my little girl, Tina, with her mother, Billie.

            Be a better man. No more powers. No risking your freedom.

            I try not to make eye contact with anyone. Some of them have gang tattoos. I saw a kid with different colours getting on in a different car further down. Hopefully they get on and off without seeing each other. I don’t want to be caught up in their territorial pissing.

Damn, I'm late.

            Rain outside the subway blesses me for keeping my head down. I weave through people with appropriate jackets and some genius who brought an umbrella. My socks are wet. My feet will be a mess by the time I finish work.

            My key card lets me into the supermarket with a beep. I wipe my feet on the company logo of the doormat inside. Up two flights of stairs to the locker room where I store my bag and soaked jacket. I take out my chef’s whites and button them up as I rush down the stairs.

            Half of the lights are out as I cross the shop floor. I have a hairnet to wear and a hat to cover it. The other guy is already there, already in a bad mood.

            “Where have you been?” he asks, looking down at me from all six foot six inches of his height. “I’m not here to do it own my own, you know.”

            “Sorry,” I say. I wash my hands. Grabbing metal trays before my hands have properly dried, I start unloading the bread from the boxes Owen got out.

            “You need to be here on time, every time, Xander. They’ll just fire you. We’re nothing to them.” He waves a hand the size of a trash can lid towards the managers. They’re all chatting casually in the middle of the shop.

            “I know, I’ll start leaving the house earlier.”

            “You’d better. I don’t want to hear them bitching. I don’t want to talk to them at all.” Grey hairs on his brow twitch as he talks. All the while he’s laying out frozen bread in a practiced rhythm and stacking the trays, ready for the ovens when they’re hot enough.

            The first oven beeps. I check the setting and load the first tray. Inside, the orange glow of the filaments promises a burn as bad as the last time I forgot my oven glove.

            “How’s it going guys?” says Kenny. He’s wearing the same suit as usual but it’s almost bursting at the seams because he has two bacon burgers for lunch every day in the cafeteria upstairs.

            “Good, yeah,” says Owen, not looking up. I still can't place his accent, vaguely rust belt America.

            “Great stuff.” Kenny nods, he’s California through and through. His fake teeth gleam whiter than my whites that had probably been through a hundred industrial washes before I was ever given them.

            The morning is slamming bread in the oven, getting it out when the oven beeps, then cooling it. Then it’s the pastries. When the full morning bake is done, I start putting paper in the display boxes out front.

            “Xander, faster. I haven’t got all day, man.”

            “Alright,” I say. I go as fast as I can, trying not to give myself a papercut because then I have to stop to put a plaster on and throw away anything covered in blood. I’m not doing that again. Bagging bread is mind-numbing. Fold, fold, sticker. Next.

            Everything goes up on the counter and I start putting it out. I’ve been at work for two hours now and that’s the hardest part of the day done. Register staff shuffle out of the lift talking, snacks in hand to entertain themselves when there are no customers.

            “Here come the vultures,” Owen says. The store doors open, and the customers pour in. “You wearing your badge?” He asks.

            “Eh, no.”

            “Where is it?”

Instead of answering I find it in a drawer by the sink.

            “Hello,” says a blonde woman I see every Monday. “Can I ask something about this bread?”

            Please don’t, I think. “Of course. How can I help you?”

            “Does it have gluten?” I see a bunch of gold teeth when she talks. I try not to look. She reminds me of the dolls or toys from horror movies that kill people with blank smiles on their faces.

            “Yes. We only have one loaf and one baguette that are gluten-free.”

            “That’s a shame,” she says. “I’m trying to go gluten-free.”

            You and every teenage girl who saw it on YouTube or TikTok. “The store does have a gluten-free section,” I say. Don’t ask me to show you where.

            “Could you show me where?” She gives me the dead inside smile that turns my stomach.

            “Of course.” I hang up my apron because I’m not allowed to wear it beyond the bakery. I walk her three aisles to the bread I wouldn’t eat unless I was paid. Sucks to be gluten intolerant, the bread is so dry.

            She touches my arm as she thanks me. I see memories of a boyfriend when she was my age, twenty years ago. I see it blurred with fantasies about me. I’m as flattered as disgusted.

            “You’re welcome.”

            “See you next week,” she says. Her badly applied lipstick cracks into a smile.

            Sadly. “Until next week.” I smile back.


            “She likes you,” says Owen. His face is as happy as I’ve seen it all morning.

            “Don’t, please.” I shake my head. “Oh, shit. Can you smell him too?”

            “Can’t smell much, but yeah.”

            A man who must smoke a thousand unfiltered cigarettes per day comes to get his usual baguette, without looking at us. Thank goodness he’s not a talker.

            Hours pass like that. Owen has his morning break. Then me. We always save them until late because all of the work needs to be done early, and the rest of the day is just maintenance.

            Kenny swaggers back at one o’clock. “Looking good, guys. Having a good day?” He wanders around the counter and comes into the food prep area, which is a health code violation because he’s not wearing a hair net. Not that Owen or I are going to bring it up with a manager who’s younger than either of us.

            “Doing good work here, boys,” he says. All I can see is his orange hair which should have a black hairnet like mine over it. He claps Owen on the arm. The big man gives the kid a look that says he’d crush him if it was legal for even a moment. “Great work, Xander.” Kenny grabs my hand and I get a flash of a recent memory.

            He’s cornered a girl from another department in one of the offices upstairs. He says he wants a kiss. She’s a rabbit in the headlights. She asks to go but he’s not backing off. He pushes her against the wall and forces his tongue into her mouth. He grabs her backside then tells her to keep it to herself if she wants to keep the job.

            “You alright, Xander?” He gives me a smile as if I’ve just declared my love for pink unicorns and pillow fights. “Easy, buddy.”

            I must be glowering at him. He backs up with his hands raised and a half-joking smile on his face. He walks away, glancing back at me. I unclench my fist when I realise every muscle in my right hand is aching.

            “What was that all about?” Owen asks, concern under his gruff barking voice. “You can’t act like that around him. He can fire us.” Now it’s an accusation.

            “Sorry. Just had a weird moment,” I tell him.

            “Better be the last one, he’s a mean piece of shit that boy.”

            “Yeah, I can see that.” You don’t know the half of it.


I look for the girl from Kenny’s memory when I’m done for the day. She should still have two hours of her shift but the other women in her department are gossiping about her. Carol left, saying she felt sick. After having a creep’s tongue in her mouth I can’t blame her.

            The train ride home is more depressing than ever. I need my job, but I can’t let Kenny get away with what he did. It clearly wasn’t the first time.

            I open the front door as slowly and quietly as I can. As expected, Billie and Tina are asleep. My little girl is drooling into Billie’s cleavage. She’s an interesting combination of us. Her hair is the dark brown that mine is now, maybe she’ll have black hair when she’s older. Though my eyes are blue Tina has a light brown closer to her mother’s.

            Our baby giggles in her sleep and turns towards me, still out for the count. Her foot is barely longer than my finger. She smiles when I kiss her. My depression drops from a nine out of ten to a five. Her hair, what little she has, is as soft as kitten fluff.

            “When did you get back?” Billie whispers.

            “Just now,” I say as softly as I can. Tina turns again.

            “Good day at work?” asks my wife.

            “Standard. Early morning. Hard work. Grumpy workmate. Found out my manager sexually assaulted a colleague using my powers and can’t do anything about it. The usual.”

            Billie’s eyes sprung open. “We’ll need to do something. Who did he attack? Who is he?”

            “His name’s Kenny. Her name is Carol. She left work early after.”

            “Be careful. We need that job. Maybe Nunez can help.” She rubs a hand down the downy hair of Tina’s head.

            “Former Detective Nunez? I’m the reason he was fired. What can he do now?”

            “Ask. Just ask. We need a way for you to help without getting yourself fired. We need to look after Tina. I love you, Xander.”

            “I love you too, Billie.” Maybe I’ll ask the man whose career I destroyed for help. First I need a shower. I have to wash off a hard day’s work and guilt.

October 21, 2022 13:35

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

25 comments

Charlie Murphy
01:14 Oct 29, 2022

Great story! I like the narrator's power.

Reply

Graham Kinross
03:36 Oct 29, 2022

Thank you.

Reply

Charlie Murphy
17:21 Oct 29, 2022

You're welcome. Can you read A Squirrely Halloween?

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Graham Kinross
11:52 Oct 26, 2022

Thanks for reading. If you want to read what happens next you can use the link below. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/sjclhs/

Reply

Show 0 replies
Mary Lehnert
21:03 Oct 25, 2022

Karma will also take care of that rat too. Wonderful description of characters familiar echo of recognition and resignation how little power we have to alter status quo Nice piece, Graham

Reply

Graham Kinross
23:35 Oct 25, 2022

Some rats run faster to the grave than Karma can follow. There were a lot of celebrities who died in the last couple of years in the U.K. then all the stories came out about how they abused their power. I like to think things come unraveled for them a bit faster now, hopefully.

Reply

Mary Lehnert
01:46 Oct 26, 2022

Not only in the U K , also in the U.S Not to sound vindictive but what a sad bunch they are too when caught.

Reply

Graham Kinross
06:19 Oct 26, 2022

I don’t think anyone will mind you being vindictive about that kind of person.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
20:51 Oct 24, 2022

Xander's in a hell of a pickle. He has the power to help people, but he also can't use it without hurting himself (losing the job) and now he's got a family depending on him. Seems like there's a reason most superheroes don't settle down. You can be reckless when you're out there saving anonymous people in need every night, at great personal risk, but all that changes when a very non-anonymous person depends on you. More generally, that's a good metaphor for any kind of person settling down. You lose a lot of freedom - or so it seems - a...

Reply

Graham Kinross
21:12 Oct 24, 2022

It’s based on my old job so the details come easy. I’m trying to write the sequel to this just now and I haven’t worked out how to solve the Kenny dilemma yet.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Annalisa D.
19:52 Oct 24, 2022

I liked the powers in this and that were kind of subtly done with a character just trying to get through the day. I also liked the details of the day at work. It was easy to visualize and you made it all come to life well. It captured my interest and held it the whole time. It is definitely a tough situation to be in and I appreciate that view of it since sometimes stories make these things seem like easy fixes or like there is an obvious way to handle it. I like when stories have a complexity to them and this worked well with that.

Reply

Graham Kinross
21:14 Oct 24, 2022

Thank you. Having a family would make vigilantism much harder I think, so Xander has been trying to turn his back on it. What do you think of this week’s prompts? Most of them seem to specific for me so I’m working on the cat one.

Reply

Annalisa D.
22:00 Oct 24, 2022

I'm excited for them being Halloween like. I'm not sure what I'll write yet but I'm going to try for the monster under the bed. I have an idea and/or the pumpkin carving murder weapon. The cat one is a good option to. I hope I can get the ideas going and write them in time. I look forward to yours

Reply

Graham Kinross
23:47 Oct 24, 2022

I was annoyed that the pumpkin knife one was so specific. Hopefully people bend that idea beyond recognition of each other. I look forward to reading yours.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Mike Panasitti
15:03 Oct 24, 2022

Graham, this is a great character and developing plot. Keep working on them. I hope Tokyo is treating you well. It seems that you're a busy man, but I suggest you read Number9dream by David Mitchell, set in Tokyo. Take care.

Reply

Graham Kinross
21:36 Oct 24, 2022

I just ordered a copy of Number9dream. Thanks for the recommendation. What are you reading just now? Tokyo is fine, I’m looking forward to the Halloween party at my school tomorrow. My students get to meet my daughter for the first time.

Reply

Mike Panasitti
12:02 Oct 25, 2022

I think you'll enjoy the book. I read parts of it while attending a Sundance ceremony in Montana. I'm currently reading Mitchell's Bone Clocks. I hope you, your students, and your daughter have a great time at the Halloween party. Do you teach English in Japan?

Reply

Graham Kinross
12:22 Oct 25, 2022

Thank you. Yeah preschool English teacher. Didn’t quite prepare me for a baby but I don’t think anything ever could.

Reply

Graham Kinross
11:40 Oct 30, 2022

I’m well into Number9Dream now, very weird book but my kind of thing once I got into it. Lots of books within a book. Thanks for recommending it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply

Hello Graham. [I think of my little girl, Tina, with her mother, Billie.] As soon as I read this line, I know I want to read this story. More of Xander. He interests me. [Rain outside the subway blesses me for keeping my head down.] I like this line. Nice visual. [Up two flights of stairs to the locker room where I story my bag and soaked jacket.] [story] should be {store} [“Where have you been?” He asks,] The h in [He] should be lowercase, since this isn’t the beginning of the sentence. Up until this point, I didn’t know Xander was l...

Reply

Graham Kinross
00:44 Oct 24, 2022

Thank you for all of your notes here. About the gluten thing, it was my ignorant opinion years ago when I worked in a bakery at the same time as dropping gluten was a fad diet, probably meant people who actually needed it couldn’t buy the gluten free food they wanted. Now I have my own intolerance issues, possibly karma came to bite me.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Aoi Yamato
03:10 Aug 30, 2023

he cannot escape what he knows.

Reply

Graham Kinross
03:41 Aug 30, 2023

It is a difficult power to have. A terrible responsibility.

Reply

Aoi Yamato
01:02 Aug 31, 2023

he must do his best.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Belinda Hicks
10:01 Oct 26, 2022

Real Spell Caster 2022/2023 Get Your EX Lover Back No Matter Why They Left You, Contact DR PETER Whatsapp +1 (646) 494-4360 drpeterspellcaster21@gmail.com Hello friends, This is my testimony on how my husband came back to me.. I want to say a very big thanks and appreciation to DR PETER spell caster for bringing back my husband who left me for almost 2 year, I feel like my life is completely over, so one day as i was surfing on the internet for recommend spell caster who will help me to bring my husband back, Finally i met a writing how ...

Reply

Show 0 replies