Bread. Even after all the preparations were complete, the pantry stocked, the doors braced with industrial hinges and locks, the windows battoned tight, it was the work of making bread to which his hands immediately went. Like birds, anxious and thrumming with attention, Jon’s hands needed to stay busy. They needed to knead.
Caroline hadn’t minded at first. Who minds bread? And it helped take the edge off for Jon to keep his hands busy. He’s always making, fixing, baking. So, if he can’t be in his shop right now or hauling goods to market, what’s the downside of making bread?
Except she had not anticipated quite so much bread, a shocking abundance, a torrent of gluten, rye and barley. Clouds of flour.
She usually enjoyed watching him work, the happy gusto, the enthusiastic pursuit of perfection. But after the first few hours, she had had all she could take. There was a manic edge in his punishment of the dough, the aggressive press of dough into dough.
And the loaves went into the oven in ones, twos, threes but after a few hours of unabated effort, they seemed to exit in multiplied multitudes. Droves. Flocks. Absolute mobs. There was bread cooling on every counter, every surface of the kitchen. And when every available spot was filled, the bread stacked two, three, five loaves high. Jon had gone mad. He wasn’t baking a meal. He was baking a wall, a shelter, an impromptu bunker of bread loaves.
Caroline entered the kitchen carefully, certain the abundance was pressing at the windows, pushing out the doors. She thought she had prepared herself for the sight but seeing it in actual fact was overwhelming. “Jesus, Jon.” Caroline whistled in appreciation or was that fear. “What will you do with all this bread?” she asked.
Jon looked up from his work, surprised to find her standing there. “Oh, hi. What?”
Only then did he seem to begin to realize the extent of his efforts, the mountain of bread he had pulled from the fire, cooling on every surface of their kitchen.
Momentarily astonished as he seemed to take it all in. “I guess I’ve overdone it,” he said.
“Maybe a little.”
“You could feed an army with this,” Caroline said.
“I wanted to be sure.”
“Sure of what?”
“That there was enough.”
Caroline crossed the kitchen to her husband, wrapped her arms around him, kissed his face. “There’s enough.”
Even now, his hands were working, his fingers flexing as if eager to get this interruption over and back into work.
“We won’t eat it all ourselves,” he told her.
“We couldn’t eat all of this ourselves in many months. There’s maybe a year’s worth of bread happening in here.”
“We’ll give some to the neighbors,” he said.
“And the neighbor’s neighbors,” she said.
“Yes. And the neighbors of our neighbors’ neighbors.”
She studied her husband for a long moment, looking for signs of whatever has happening on the inside.
“It is going to be okay. We are going to be okay,” she said at last.
Jon looked to his mixing bowls, over to the oven, down to the floor which was absolutely dusted in flour.
“You know that, don’t you, Jon? That we are going to be okay?”
There was a long pause. One of the things she loved about her husband was his inability to tell a lie. Which meant he thought about everything a bit deeper and more carefully than most before answering.
“Yes,” he said at last. “We’ll be okay. But what about everybody else?”
And that was the question that pressed upon them both. They would be okay. They were always okay. They had each other. But the others? What about everybody else? Not everyone has someone. So many have no one. It was, Caroline knew, for them her husband toiled and baked. A loaf of bread to keep someone from being hungry. The same loaf to help them know they were not alone. Impossible to feel alone when you were eating a loaf of bread someone had made for you by hand.