Stones for Bread, Chapter One...Continued
The next section of Stones for Bread, Chapter One:
I watch their hands, thinking I may be the one to discover the next Lionel Poilâne, as if the knowledge of bread were some sort of gift- ing imbued before birth. Instead, I see only kindergarteners clumsily stretching the pizza dough, ripping great holes I try to fix for them, saying, “Don’t worry, the cheese will cover it.” Seven of them from the Montessori school in town, along with their young teacher, stand at the long farm table at the back of Wild Rise, white paper chef hats perched atop their heads. That’s one of their favorite things about the cooking class, their names written around the band in black Magic Marker. They spread cornmeal over their pizza peels as if feeding chickens, flicking their wrists, granules bouncing everywhere.
The sauce is next. “You only need a little,” I tell them as they splash spoonfuls onto the raw crusts, their shredded mozzarella cheese floating in a puddle of red. Most of the children add pepperoni in a smiley-face pattern, and then my apprentice Gretchen gathers the peels for baking.
“How long before it’s done?” they want to know.
“About ten minutes,” I say. “Until then, who can tell me some- thing about bread? It can be something you learned today, or even something you already had tucked in your brain.” I tap my index finger against my temple as I say those last four words, one word for each beat. The children laugh and waggle their hands in the air, above their heads. I begin by motioning to a petite, flame-haired girl.
“Bread can be made from beans and nuts,” she says.
“I’m allergic to nuts,” the girl next to her whines, her flat face pink and indignant.
“Ooh, ooh, ooh, pick me,” the dark-eyed boy at the end of the table calls out. He’s bigger than the other children, and his thick brows meet in the middle.
“Yes . . . Kalel,” I say, reading his hat.
He clears his throat and stands. “Yeasts go into bread at the start. The more they eat, the more they—”
“Thank you, Kalel,” the teacher says, but the other children have already filled in the missing word. They giggle and whisper to one another.
I give the teacher a sideways look. “He’s six?”
“Seven. He started school a year later,” she says, voice puckering with familiar exasperation.
I gather the remaining answers, calling each child by name. The last girl to respond—Cecelia—says, “Jesus fed lots of people with only five loaves of bread.”
More nudging and tittering. Cecelia melts into her chair, reaches behind her shoulder to find the end of her long, blond braid and sticks it in her mouth.
“Who wants to eat?” Gretchen asks, returning from the kitchen with seven plates. She remembers who belongs to which pizza and warns them to wait for their food to cool. “There’s nothing worse than burning your tongue on hot cheese.”
The children drink fresh-squeezed lemonade, slurping the last drops from the bottom of the cups and scooping out the ice to eat, some with their fingers, some with their straws. Kalel uses a fork. Gretchen and I slice their pizza into wedges and they eat. The two boys sit at one end of the table. Four of the girls huddle together in the center, so close their elbows keep tangling. And Cecelia at the other end, alone.
“I liked your answer,” I tell her, taking the chair between her and the gaggle of girls, my body a fortification between her and the others.
Her hazel eyes shine. “Really?”
“I learned that in Sunday school last time I went.”
A customer comes into the bakehouse. Elise Braden, devoted librarian and Thursday regular, because she loves the Anadama sandwich loaves sold only one day each week. I make twelve and she buys three. “I don’t know why you can’t have them all the time, Liesl,” she says as she hands me eleven dollars.
“Because I’m only one person,” I say, giving her two quarters change.
Elise Braden grins. “You could hire better help.”
“Hey, I heard that,” Gretchen calls from the back of the shop. She’s soaking up spilled lemonade from beneath Kalel’s pendulous sneakers. “I’m wounded. I thought I was your favorite library patron.”
“Convince Liesl to have this bread every day and you will be. And,” the slightly stooped woman says, “I’ll cancel your overdue fines.”
“You don’t need it every day,” I say. “You buy plenty of it to last all week.”
“Ah, yes. But it tastes much better fresh.”
A few more patrons come for lunch. I wait on them, though it’s usually Gretchen’s job. She relates better with the students, no matter the ages, stepping into their worlds, drawing them out, connecting. Perhaps it’s her college coursework in anthropology. Perhaps it’s who she is, relaxed and round and fizzy. I have too many angles for people to get close.
It’s one thirty when the kindergarten class finishes eating. I thank them for coming on the field trip and give them each a loaf of chocolate sourdough to take home with them. I pack the bread in paper bags. Six of them are printed with the shop’s name in the center. The seventh has the words I am the Bread of Life stamped in front of a simple line drawing of two umber ears of wheat. I give that bag to Cecelia.