Bread

Sugar water nice and warm

Add the yeast and mix it in

Lots of flour to give it form

Bake it for a crispy skin

 

The song, as all songs were, was sung in time to the steady rhythm of the floor. I knew it well, as I knew the songs for cakes, flatbread, and even some kinds of muffin. It was a simplification of the process, but you learned it early and never really stopped singing it as you baked. The plumbers, electricians and midwives all had their own songs that they hummed to themselves as they worked. Even the biologists and the astrophysicists had songs, but they were long and complicated and not at all catchy.

I was at the stage now where I had to knead. It was the most engaging part of the process, but also the most physically demanding. Fold and push. Fold and push. There were ten thousand people, and all of them wanted bread. That meant a lot of dough.

Of course, I wasn’t the only baker. There were many of us in the room, kneading in time to the song and singing in time to the floor. When the dough was kneaded through, we covered it and let it sit as we prepared a new batch. Then the ovens, waves of heat rolling over our faces as we opened the doors, took out the fragrant last batch and put in the next. Then we did the whole thing all over again.

 

Sugar water nice and warm

Add the yeast and mix it in

Lots of flour to give it form

Bake it for a crispy skin

 

I knew when the workday was over before I glanced at the overhead stainless steel clock. The beat of your life takes you in and gives you form like the powdery flour gives body to the bread. I didn’t talk to any of the other bakers as I returned my bowl and dosing cups to their familiar shelves. I didn’t need to. We had done the same thing as each other all day. We had the same experiences, the same stories to tell.

I frowned as I put away my favourite rolling pin. The wooden handle, so smooth and adapted to my palms, had cracked clean off. I would have to get it replaced.

*

Lying on my back in the field of wheat, I could see the great wheel above me, and beyond it the stars. Threading between the stars, so subtle you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking, were the spider webs, stretching their familiar filaments across the sky. I liked looking at the stars. Every few years I would see how their patterns had changed over time, and I would come up with new constellations. I had a book with constellations going all the way back to when I was five.

‘Wow, we have a whole wheat field?’

‘Of course, you dingus,’ I replied, without moving my head. ‘How do you think we get flour for the bread?’

Drew was a few years older than me. He gingerly took a seat, trying not to bend too many stalks. ‘I don’t know anything about that. That’s your job to know about. I have to know the periodic table and how atoms interact.’

‘Atom brain,’ I said with a smile. I liked Drew, even if his job was useless and he was my fourth cousin, which ruled out marriage. Drew liked me too, which was why he came down to the wheat field almost as often as I did.

‘The spider webs have gotten bigger,’ he noted.

I looked up with passing interest. ‘Have they?’ I saw a small group of workers flying among them, coating them with some kind of paste. They were singing, but I couldn’t hear the words.

‘Yeah.’ Drew stuck out his legs and rocked his feet on their heels, left and right. ‘Why are we here?’

‘I know why I’m here,’ I laughed. ‘I don’t know why you’re here. Apparently, they think someone’s going to need to learn the periodic table one day.’

‘It’s interesting stuff,’ Drew said. ‘I know it’s going to be useful some day. But that’s not why I’m here. Do you think you exist in this world to make bread? Why are we all here in the first place?’

‘We need bread,’ I said staunchly. ‘We don’t need atoms. And where else would we be?’

‘That’s not…’ Drew began, and stopped. I looked at him and he was staring up at the sky.

The workers were milling around in a frantic buzz. One was clearly shouting at us.

As the glass shattered, it did not fall at our feet. It disappeared, swallowed upwards by the void. The floor screeched with the stress, no longer the heartbeat it had been. I grasped frantically at stalks of wheat but they were being pulled up as I was. Drew tumbled like a rag doll beside me, hurtling toward the sky. I closed my eyes.

The next thing I felt was the grip of strong arms around me. A man in a glass helmet and a reflective yellow suit had me. I screamed at him to get Drew, but I don’t think he heard me over the rush of escaping air. Still I kept screaming until I saw the other man in a hover bike and Drew, secured in a practiced grip. Then I blacked out.

Later, when it was clear I had suffered no lasting damage and the nurse reluctantly let me go, I went back to the wheat room and looked through the window inside. There were figures, in their shining protective suits, replacing panels of glass. As they drifted, I turned to the panel near me and switched the radio to their channel. They were singing to each other, of course, as they worked.

Patch the star ship, keep it tight,

Keep away the deadly night,

Keep our vessel free to roam,

Find a place to call our home.

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