The smell of Kimball’s Bakery was the best part about working there. Cozy blankets of warm dew draped its red brick walls, emitting the permanent aroma of yeast, butter, and sweet mystery spices. The worst part about working there: everything else.
Mr. Kimball saw to that. A scrawny snatch of a man with oily coal black hair and a slivery mustache, he cared little for the breads and other baked goods he learned how to create, years before in the kitchen of the old Kimball home that abutted the bakery’s modern industrial building. Saved from demolition, the family’s cottage stood as an empty and unused vestige to humble beginnings, a visual testament of from whence the hard working stoic Kimballs came.
Nostalgia and pride failed to inject any cheer towards the business Mr. Kimball had been destined for since teething on day-old sourdough. Humorless workdays began with a mid-morning stroll, a ritual where the emperor surveyed his kingdom with folded arms and delivered stern wordless lectures by way of steely glares. At sweaty workers who were supposed to be tending to the ovens instead of wasting time with chatter. At rotund ladies of leisure who, claiming to have been drawn in by the lure of freshly baked pastries, holding out eager hands for free samples. At reptilian creditors making surprise visits to surreptitiously investigate rumors of a lull in business. And especially at the shifty delivery boys —all colored– who came in too early for their own good filling the rear dock with their cigarette smoke, childish contests of strength, and lies about what they’d seen and what they were going to do in life. Solomon Gray was one of them, often referred to collectively as The Boys, or individually by their first name appended with their delivery route. Charlie Broad Street,Billy Lee Walton Way, Jimmy Highway 56— in his nasty squawk, Kimballwould cry out such concocted brands during a morning roll call, his eyes never rolling up from a ubiquitous clipboardcutting across his frail chest cavity.
A second generationer, Solomon took over The Hill, one month after his father keeled over while rushing to unload a crate of bread loaves during a delivery onBarrett Street. Kimball didn’t even alter Solomon’s route, forcing him to crisscross, twice every day, the very grocery stoop where his daddy died. The foggy-brained oldBarrett Street storekeeper often revisited the excitement and sorrow of the day.
“Bless his heart,” the old man would say with shaky brittle fingers fiddling between the loose openings of his button shirts, “your daddy grabbed his chest and done just plopped right atop sixteen loaves of sandwich bread right there.” He’d nod towards the steps and outline a hefty body shape with his forefinger. “Mashed’em plum flat with all that weight he toted around. Took four strapping men to lift him up, and when they did, you could see the impression he made on all that good bread. Buttertopped white I believe it was.” Upon recalling the flavor, the old man would lick his lips and sighed a sensuous grunt. “But he passed away doing what he loved the most.”
>> Full story to be published in “Strivers and Other Stories” fall 2016.