“Minna’s been out in the alley smokin’!” Fischer shouted, storming through the door of Schneider’s Bakery on his quest for Saturday morning doughnuts and coffee. He jerked his thumb in that direction as he headed for the hat rack, not waiting for Lila to respond.
“Oh boy, here we go.” Iris ducked below the counter, pretending to arrange coconut cookies in the case, certain she was the target.
He examined the pegs, choosing where to park his precious charcoal-gray fedora. So some careless idiot don’t knock it off. Customers gawked at him from the tables, wary of what would happen next. He waved his hand over the hat’s brim, brushing an invisible piece of lint before he turned around, enough time for Lila’s icy stare to glaze over.
“We’ll talk about this in the kitchen.” She sounded breathy, somewhere between a bark and a squeal. She stepped from behind the counter and pointed him through the swinging doors.
“Anyone need more coffee?” Iris said lightly once the doors swung behind them. “Lovely day we’re having.” She tittered, relieved she hadn’t been in the line of fire. She waved the pot toward the stragglers idling in mismatched chairs, chairs Franz had recruited years ago from secondhand shops, or rescued from alleyways. Five years earlier, when the Schneiders insisted she rename the bakery, Lila had balked.
Faithful customers advised her to jump at the opportunity. “A wise choice.”
“Sounds more friendly,” they suggested.
“Like putting on a fresh coat of paint,” they told her. “Pump up the place.”
She just smiled. Every corner of the business whispered, “Schneider.”
People turned hot and cold like the seasons, Lila decided, but she wouldn’t let anyone influence her decisions. The store was a success, and she wasn’t going to tempt fate. The idea seemed as heartless as her brothers and sisters back in the Dakotas neglecting their mama’s gravestone.
“I’ll have some more.” A burly fellow snapped his head up from his newspaper and called across the tables, waving his cup.
“Here it comes, Clyde. How ’bout another doughnut? Looks like you could use one,” she joked.
“Ah, come on, Iris. How ’bout sweet-talkin’ me?”
“In your dreams,” she teased. “Anyone else?” Iris smiled at the cluster of faces. Fischer had disrupted their Saturday morning reverie. They shook their heads, returned her smile, and went back to reading their papers.
“I would like half a cup, please.” A studious woman spoke. A few of the customers, but not this serious one, would put off the day as long as possible, avoiding the blast huffing down Higgins Avenue off the Rattlesnake.
“You got it, Stella. Another slice of rye, too?”
“No, no,” the bookish woman said. “I still have half a slice, and one’s my limit.” She set firm her rosebud lips. She gave a circumspect glance toward the swinging doors.
“Did you get a good look at that guy?” A Montana State University girl giggled to her friend, both with striped scarves long enough to step on and choke themselves to death.
“He’s really cute when he gets mad,” the other said of Fischer. A fact he would relish if he heard it and wasn’t in such a peeve.
Birdbrains! Iris said to herself. His admirers are getting younger all the time. Fischer was in an enviable position with so many young men gone. The boys the girls would usually play coy with were off and had been fighting in Operation Torch in Morocco, or at Midway.
“You knew about this, didn’t you?” Fischer barked as he barged through the kitchen doors, shoving his face too close to Lila’s and banging his knuckles on her worktable. She took a startled step back. Yeasty smells, pungent from predawn baking, hung in the air. As she opened her mouth to address the issue of Minna’s smoking, he snapped, “S’bout those soldiers out at the fort! Who’s mindin’ this show, is what I’d like to know.”
Oh brother. So he knows about that, too, then. “What about them?” She wasn’t about to let him bully her. “She’s sixteen and feeling her oats.” She acted nonchalant, sucking in her breath and holding it.
“Pull up that long underwear, Clyde,” Iris chortled on the other side of the wall. “Don’t want no breeze where the sun don’t shine, now, do we?” Clyde must have been getting ready to leave. Lila was torn between whispering a silent thank-you to her sister for distracting the customers from her former husband’s behavior, and being perturbed at how she talked to them.
“Yeah, well, those boys are feeling something, too, Lila,” Fischer growled, “and it ain’t oats!”
She swallowed a smile. She couldn’t help it. She sucked in her breath again, but this time he saw it.
“Oh, I suppose you think that is funny, then?” He glowered.
“Maybe…maybe not.” The lines around her eyes were from going without a decent night’s sleep since Minna started this business. Minding the show. Ha! She could squash that bug in a second since she was the one who enforced curfew and interrogated Minna, who came in at one o’clock in the morning, trying to sneak past her mother sitting on the edge of her chair by the living room window. When it turned cold and Lila realized she was shivering, she pulled an afghan around her shoulders. Maybe the temperature had dropped, or maybe it was from anger or fear. She waited and watched, and as the minutes passed in painful lurches, she grew more anxious.
Copyright © 2016 Mae Schick – All rights reserved
My full-length novel Minna is available in ebook Kindle edition and in Print Edition for those who much prefer turning pages.