At the bakery my day consists of very little. I roll dough, cut dough into various shapes, bake dough, put the baked dough in a box, and place the box on a shelf. Not the job I had in mind when I graduated, but when my girlfriend got a job at a law firm halfway across the state, she persuaded me to follow her. I’m still not sure if I followed her out of love or loneliness, but either way it led me here. My girlfriend, Bea, is pretty enough, talks just the right amount, is smart enough to have a decent conversation with, excels at little things she tries at, and I guess that’s reason enough to move across the state.
After baking the day’s cookies, I stood behind the counter in complete silence for the better part of an hour, and that’s when the phone rang.
“Loretta’s Bakery,” I said.
“You guys deliver right?” The voice was soft and sweet. She’d probably have a good singing voice too.
“Yes ma’am, up until seven.”
“Perfect, and I’m speaking with Kino, correct?”
“Um,” I looked around the empty store, trying to concentrate on the sound of her voice on the other end of the line. Her distinct way of speaking definitely didn’t sound familiar, and I wondered how a customer even knew me by name.
“Yes, I’m Kino.” I asked for her phone number to input into the system, to see the last time she ordered something, maybe it would jog my memory. “And your name is?”
“And your last name?”
“No last name.”
“And is this your first time ordering from our store?” I tried to ask the question in a way that didn’t seem like I was poking for answers.
“Alright then, your order?”
“A dozen cookies.”
“Alright. Well we have two specials today. The blueberry cream banana nut swirl and the pineapple upside down cake classic chocolate chip fusion.”
She ordered half a dozen of each and gave me her address.
I couldn’t help feel a little anxious after hanging up the phone. The thought of delivering cookies to a stranger who knew my name gnawed deep inside of my stomach, and recalling the melodic sound of her voice made me dizzy.
“Carlos!” I shouted for my manager, and he came walking out the back office with an untucked shirt and droopy eyelids. “Can you cover the register? I have a delivery.”
Lyn lived across the town, in a community of houses all built alongside a hill. Her subdivision didn’t have to trick anyone like ours did, these were the real hills. Our complex had to resort to Spanish techniques to seduce customers. Las Colinas sounds nice, but the hills are nowhere in sight, and I'd be willing to bet I live in the lowest part of the city.
I drove my car up the hill, past extravagant houses with steep driveways and compound scaffolding systems. What do you have to do for a living to get a house like this? And to think all of these people probably aren't even considered rich in the eyes of the rich. I pulled up to the address, a modern, rectangular, and wide house with six tall windows, three on each side of the front door. Concrete and angular, but nothing short of beautiful. The thing about living in a community on a hill is that there is almost a natural sense of hierarchy. The people living at the top have the more expensive houses, right? And even if they don’t, any person would jump to the conclusion that the people living at the base of the hill didn’t have what it took to be an upper hiller. Lyn was an upper hiller, along with about five or six other houses.
I admired the landscape of the front yard, white and purple flowers lined a little stone path I’m sure no one has ever walked on. If Lyn has a gardener, I’m sure he gets paid more than me. Right before I was able to ring the doorbell, the front door swung open.
“Hello.” Lyn was about my age if I had to guess, maybe a little bit older. Her hair was in a loose golden ponytail, her face was pale, and under each eye was a black streak of paint. I lifted up the box of cookies and attempted to hand it to her.
“Oh, Kino, I wasn’t expecting you. I think I left my money inside, on the counter. Come on in.” She nodded her head towards her living room, calm and somewhat distant.
“Uh,” I said while pointing back to my car. “I’ll wait here.” I don’t think she heard me, and if she did, she disregarded it. She left the door open and walked back, took a left and was out of sight. I could hear her black combat boots against the floor slowly fade away. I looked around, checked the time, and turned in a circle a couple of times trying to figure out what to do. I wondered how she opened the door right as I walked up to it, yet claimed to not know I’d be here, especially since it couldn’t have been more than fifteen minutes ago that I spoke to her on the phone at the bakery. But I put those thoughts out of my head. An open door, a sale on the line, even if my boss was a lazy stoner who was stuck in the past, he’d still give me hell if I drove out here just to turn around and come back with the box of cookies I left with. So I walked inside, followed the small hallway and found her seated at the end of a table, waiting patiently. I took a seat opposite her, and she pulled out a tape recorder from her pocket, clicked record, and slid it perfectly into the center of the table. A large chandelier loomed over our heads.
“Are you ready?”
“For what?” I asked.
“First question. What makes you happy?” I tried to act as if I was caught off guard, like I misunderstood the question, or was uncomfortable being recorded, but from the look on Lyn’s face, she knew I didn’t have an answer to that question. It’s simple enough but not something people get asked very often. I should know the answer, I thought to myself. I guess I've never given it much thought.
“How do you think you are coping with the new move?” She ignored my previous nonresponse.
“Well, to be perfectly honest. Not good.”
“And why do you think that is?”
“Cause all of my neighbors are weird. My job is boring. And, I guess I don’t have too many friends.”
“But you have your girlfriend.”
“Yeah but...” It hardly fazed me that Lyn knew everything going on in my life. It was like we were already friends, and I didn’t have to explain myself. Which was nice. “Are you reading my mind?”
Lyn shook her head, and asked me the next question. “Did you look inside Patrick’s van?”
“Do you already know the answer?”
“Yes, I do. I just want to hear it from you.”
“Yeah, I looked.”
“Did you get into Patrick’s van?” This question sounded a little more serious, a little more slowly paced. Maybe she didn’t know the answer.
I shook my head. “There was nothing in there but dust, and a couple of gardening tools. No, I didn’t go in. I just wanted to see what was inside is all. He drives the thing at the most unusual times, I was curious about what it is that he actually does.”
“And has Patrick said anything to you yet? Regarding the van, or about life in general?”
“The last thing he said to me was something about how he used to be a boxing coach.”
“Oh, he loves that story.”
“Yeah, he does.” The both of us let out a genuine smile accompanied by a fake laugh. The afternoon sun dipped down, and the deep orange rays made their way through the back windows.
“I take it you don’t really want the cookies?”
“No, I’ll buy them.” We made the exchange, and when I was putting the money in my pocket she asked, “And how is your girlfriend?”
“Good,” I lied and tried to nod my head to make even myself believe.
“A couple of more questions, sorry. Do you ever get the feeling that distant memories might actually sometimes be just dreams? That if we as people lived long enough, say to be a thousand years old, that maybe the past would actually transform itself into a dream? Does that make sense?”
“I think you might be onto something.”
“Do you ever wonder what it’s like to die?”
“No, not really.”
“Well, would you like to find out?” Lyn stood up and pushed her chair in, waving to me to follow her to the back balcony. The house was on the edge of the hill, and I hadn’t really noticed how far up we were until we went outside. Houses in the distances looked like peas, and the streets and roads were no more than a hair’s width wide where they met with the horizon. We climbed up a spiral staircase, and on the roof of her house was a large telescope.
“See look. Watching over all the people in the town, it’s like being a spirit from above.” She peered through the telescope, and twirled it around until it pointed at my face. “Or like a guardian. I can see what everyone is doing. Do you think that’s what it’s like to die? Do you think the dead look after people?” With her finger she twirled the telescope around so the eyepiece faced me. “Look.” I put my eye on the telescope and Lyn slowly guided me around in a circle. I saw the bakery where I worked, and my manager Carlos smoking in the back, didn’t I ask him to watch the register for me? Lyn directed me to my apartment complex, where Patrick was throwing a sackful of who knows what into the back of his van.
“It’s not spying. More like looking after.”
“Looking after who?”
“Everyone. Especially the people in Las Colinas, especially Patrick.”
“Is he your dad or something?” I looked up at her, and the sun set right on her face, violet and burnt orange. The black streaks under her eyes gleamed.
“It’s just the role that I play.”