The Cooling Rack (Excerpt)

Death is not something people take lightly. People die, others mourn them, and then we eventually forget about them.


“Hey, Ian! How’s it going? It’s such a nice day outside, right?” A woman’s voice screams through the phone. “Look, man. We’re understaffed today and could use your help in the kitchen. Sorry not sorry, this is mandatory!” The phone beeps, signaling the end of the call.

I look up at the overcast sky, then down at the phone. BOSS LADY reads the caller ID. This woman, Paige, is the owner of the only bakery in town, The Cooling Rack. I happen to be her favorite employee, as I don’t complain when tasked with cleaning or any kitchen-related tasks, even when the orders are given everyday. Paige was never close to her employees, but even though I’ve been one of the longest lasting employees, she’s still so cold. Yet, I have the vague sense that she’s developing some sort of motherly affection for me. Paige is only four years older than me, yet she treats me like a young child, and “children shouldn’t be late to work!” as she is known to say. I sigh, letting my feet mechanically drag me towards the bakery, tripping over the uneven sidewalk and tree roots. The walk is not long, but by the time I arrive at The Cooling Rack, rain has started to fall. The little bells on the glass door announce my entrance into the bakery, and that’s where Paige, a short woman with dyed bright blue hair, bounces up to me and shoves a dark blue apron into my hands.

The Cooling Rack is not big and roomy, but it has a feeling of home. The walls are wooden, and the light is tinted a soft orange, which blends with the fiery hues of fake fireplaces. Black and white photos, ranging in content from leaves blowing in the wind to a woman walking her dog, add a small but noticeable contrast that evens out the excessive warm tones. People of all shapes and sizes pass by, picking up coffee, a snack, or a loaf of bread to bring home to their family. Children sip mugs of hot chocolate while their guardians type on silver laptops, buried in work. It’s a refuge for all, and it would be a shame if it were to close.

“Hey, man! Haven’t seen you since yesterday! Anything fun happen?” A tall man pulls me into a constricting hug against my will. The strong arms belong to my friend, Eli.

I shrug my way out of his grasp. “No, just the usual. Nothing exciting.” I speak quietly, hoping not to get in the way of any of my coworkers. “What’s my job for today?”

“If I remember correctly,” he bends down to my height, “cleaning. Good luck, man!”

With a slap on my shoulder, I make my way to the closet, tying my apron on the way. I pick up a broom and dustpan, find an empty and quiet corner of the kitchen, and start the monotonous task of sweeping burnt bread crumbs off the floor. I hum a tune, in sync with my sweeping, but not in sync with the music already playing softly throughout The Cooling Rack. The sound of an oven beeping joins me in song, but I barely acknowledge it. The quiet jazz playing throughout the store masks the continuous noise from the machine by my waist. The people crammed into the kitchen workspace are all immersed in their work, whether the task was spreading jelly on toast or shaping dough into little bunnies. The quiet beeping remains unnoticed, even when small streams of smoke sneak their way into the air.

“Is something burning?” The woman stirring soup looks over her shoulder and locks eyes with me. “Could you check it out?”

I nod and take a look around the kitchen. Something in the oven I was just standing near is indeed burning, even though there is not enough to set the smoke detectors off. Crouching down, I open the door, and my glasses do little to stop the sudden cloud of smoke that encases my face. The smoke detectors rip through the forgotten music and panicked voices of the employees and customers.

“Get everybody out of here!” Fire seems to be the death for today. Yesterday it was drowning. I wonder what tomorrow will bring. The burst of heat pulls me from my thoughts, and I’m thrown backwards and against the wall as my glasses shatter on the floor. My apron gets caught on a stovetop dial, which turns on the stove at max heat. Fire erupts from the grate beneath my right hand, burning the thin flesh. I yank my hand upwards and out of the fire, only to hit the cupboard above my head with a loud thud, and the metal pots and pans tumble down from the shelves. Each time a pan smacks my body, a painful blood-curdling scream follows. I fall to my knees and land on my the remains of my glasses with a broken cry. The shards tear through the exposed skin, which would only be possible when a person is wearing ripped jeans, as I am. I hold my hand to my mouth, as an instinctive attempt to block out the smoke, but I already knew it was pointless. Looking up into the smoke, the biggest metal pot, the one we never use, glints in the firelight, as if smiling at my inevitable death.

“Oh, dear lord,” I whisper before the impact and everything goes black.


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