She noticed his shoes. Low-tops with a wide band of rubber across the toe, they dangled fifty feet in the air. They were the type of shoes popular with skateboarders, and Moira wondered if this were a clue to his personality. Before, he'd always been barefoot.
There typically wasn't much to amuse Moira when she reached The Doughty Baker near sunrise. Her mornings had changed, though, when this longhaired protestor (with a beard that grew in on the third day) scaled a crane at the corner of Pearl and Turquoise and refused to leave. The crane was for a grocery store's expansion, and the protestor was for animal rights.
Moira didn't know all the details, but a local beach was recently returned to humans after being designated a harbor seal refuge. Growing up, her family would bring houseguests here to watch the seals, then move to the next beach over to swim and lie on the sand. The media identified the protestor as a poli sci grad student, and editorials suggested he had a penchant for animals and a dearth of dissertation research to occupy his summer months. It wasn't until a cameraman came into the café that Moira learned of the protest; the student had scaled the crane before anyone on the ground realized what was happening. And then he took a seat on the metal mesh platform. The waiting had begun.
"Good morning," Moira shouted softly to him.
The student whistled and made two Hawaiian shakas with his hands.
Meaningful conversation at such a distance was difficult, but in one exchange he explained that he rose early for some quiet before reporters and onlookers arrived. Moira could relate; his little stunt had transformed her quiet town into a political spectacle. The traffic congestion was cause for some ire, but she didn't mind her café's boost in business; after people cocked their heads to watch the student, they stopped in to eat and monitor the situation further. Morning business saw the greatest benefit; located east of the crane, The Doughty Baker provided a squint-free view.
Moira had made a routine of taking the student a late-morning snack from her café; that day it was egg salad on Armenian yogurt bread. She delivered the sandwiches to the protestor's friend stationed at the crane's base. He kept one for himself and put the other in a dumbwaiter fashioned out of a beach pail and jump ropes.
"Gonna be a hot one today, huh?" Moira watched the bucket rise.
"Yeah." Brendan was a hefty kid with Thomas Jefferson glasses. That day he wore an "I Love New York" T-shirt. The protestor had several friends who rotated through a watch schedule; Brendan's slot was midnight to noon.
Overhead, the student waved an acknowledgment and Moira wondered if he were as reticent as his friend. Perhaps this was why he'd chosen to protest at such a distance. He grabbed the pail and took out the sandwich. Moira watched him unpeel the tin foil, examine the sandwich and wave his approval. Two news vans had their antennae raised but their crews were nowhere in sight. Spectators on foot and those waiting at red lights, though, caught the exchange and clapped when he took a bite.
While it wasn't her motive, these deliveries of sustenance were great advertising for the café. And they didn't just reach spectators; one of her croissants had been featured in a local news broadcast, its Doughty Baker bag in view a full ten seconds. The café could use the exposure. Most customers mispronounced the name as "The Doughy Baker," their eyes skipping the "t" and the difference between gall and a bread ball. Moira had considered changing the name, entertaining such options as The Eccentric Doughboy, Bleary-eyed Bakery, and The Floured Breadboard Café—names that patrons could digest easily. Ultimately, she kept the original conceit; she'd scrapped a career as a chemist to open this cafe and wanted that leap of faith acknowledged.
When Moira returned to the café her staff was eager for an update on the student protestor. The first few days had been pregnant with shock, controversy, and counter-protests; on this the eighth day, little had changed. All she could report was, "Brendan's on watch."
The café was busy but running smoothly, so she went in the back to inventory her stock. Partway through the flours one of the waitresses, Kylie, a blond high-schooler with an ear-splitting voice found her and said, "There's a couple women out there, and wow!" Her eyes popped to punctuate the word. "I mean, wow, they are, like, talking about a crime."
"Are they jurors?"
Kylie's eyes popped again. "Yes!"
The city's courthouse was three blocks away. Moira split the kitchen's swinging doors to look at the customers.
Kylie pointed to the far corner. "They're over there, in the last booth. But it doesn't matter because the whole place can hear them."
One of the busboys, Rick, shuffled into the kitchen with a bin of dirty dishes. "She's right. All the customers are talking about them."
Moira had never served on a jury; her only time in a courtroom was to observe a relative's case. It was an ordeal she wanted to forget, and yet she was curious about these jurors who could be so forthright. Moira asked the waitress if other patrons appeared irritated.
"No. Everyone's, like, really interested. They're talking about some kid on trial for vandalizing a house. You should go walk by and get the scoop." She grinned.
Moira closed the flour tub and circled the dining room to ask how customers were liking their food. Answers were given with partial attention; clearly they were focused on the jurors. They were older ladies, one in a pink, short-sleeved sweater set and the other a button-down floral print.
Moira asked the women about their meals, and the one in flowers said it was just fine. Then, as if to prove her satisfaction, she picked up a glass and sipped soda through the straw. Perhaps she was following the cues of a witness under oath.
Moira went to the busing station and moved silverware around. With her back turned, she heard one of the women say, "The family got threatening letters in their mailbox weeks before. Remember the one with the swastika?"
Kylie had been mistaken about the offense being simple vandalism; it was a hate crime. Moira also learned that the house wasn't scorched, but completely destroyed. The women continued discussing and debunking evidence, trying to puzzle out if this young defendant had desecrated a Jewish family's home.
"The neighbor reported seeing the kid there," the floral print said.
"No," the sweater countered. "He said he saw someone, but couldn't make a positive identification."
Moira was working the cash register when the jurors came up to pay their bill. Preoccupied with fifteen percent and exact change, their discussion of the case ceased. Moira wanted to ask what it was like to decide if a person had erred, but like everyone in the café she maintained a silent fascination.
She fixed herself a quick ham-and-cheese croissant for dinner and headed out. The Johnson Correctional Facility permitted Moira to dine with her father but it was a privilege she declined. She had agreed to teach its inmates culinary skills, but would confine her interactions to those with the students as a group. Last quarter, she'd taught Introduction to Pastries; this class was on breads. There were twelve students and three guards.
A fourth guard escorted Moira into the kitchen where the students were waiting behind counters. Her father, Jerome, was in the front row, an arrangement he'd no doubt reached with Security. Jerome got through life with five percent knowledge and ninety-five percent charm, sincere though it might be. He smiled and raised his hand in a small wave; Moira didn't allow her eyes to stop on him any longer than the other students.
She wrote that evening's terms on the blackboard and talked about fresh cake yeast while the students took notes in identical tape-bound notebooks. After demonstrating the recipe's first steps she circulated the room as the inmates, working in pairs, replicated it.
One man, Frankie, crumbled his cake of yeast into a bowl with short, pinching movements. "This is harder than last time." He was thin and tall, with a face like a bloodhound.
Moira agreed. Last week's recipe had used fast-rising yeast. "But this is how restaurants make their bread. You have to master this if you're going to work as a baker."
Frankie grimaced, then motioned for his partner to add the warm water.
These students would move on to Breads II, and there would be more men taking the introductory courses. Moira wondered if she could bring in another instructor to accommodate the demand. They would be turning out graduates who'd get jobs at local hotels and banquet halls; they would be helping people change. Perhaps she could expand the program beyond the incarcerated.
The students' dough was left to rise while Moira demonstrated the correct technique for punching it down. Then she shaped hers into five round loaves, scored and floured and put them in the oven. The students did the same; they were required to make five loaves, one to be graded and the rest for the mess hall.
Moira walked the room again and as she passed her father, he looked at her and asked, "Is this correct?"
It was a request for approval. But she wasn't consulted when he took up with the barmaid, and never asked for forgiveness when she found out.
The dough in his bowl was larger than those of other groups. Moira pressed two fingers into it and their impression remained. She nodded. "Looks ready."
Jerome's partner, a short man with a smile wider than his cheekbones, dumped the ball on the cutting board. "Does Weber's make their loaves like this?"
Moira smiled. "This isn't that type of bread."
Jerome began shaping the first loaf. "Remember when your mother made you peanut butter and jelly on white bread, and you'd insist she cut off the crust?"
Moira peered down at the cutting board. "You need to add more flour," she said, then she moved on to the next group.
Jerome had received twenty months for an attempted jewelry store theft. It was the type of burglary committed with a knit cap and black mask, not brazen armed robbery. But it was illegal, and yet it wasn't his thievery that offended Moira. She took issue with who he'd tried to steal for.
It was a group of twelve who had, albeit indirectly, enrolled Jerome in this culinary class. They sentenced him for attempted burglary of a bracelet; Moira wondered what they said about him over lunch at some café. No doubt they'd branded him lazy and unwilling to work for things. But what would they've said if they'd known about his mistress?
The protestor was shoeless and eating ice cream from a pink-and-white cup when Moira arrived the next morning. She gave her usual wave then wondered how much longer it could go on. Vertigo hadn't bothered him, but would the confined platform make him nutty? Would fall classes force him off the crane and into a lecture hall? The police were summoned when he first mounted the crane, but couldn't do anything unless the shopping center pressed charges. The center's management chose not to, instead releasing a statement saying they hoped for a resolution that would satisfy all parties. Renovation work that required access to the supermarket's roof had been put on hold, and the crew was biding its time with projects within reach—drywall and baseboards. The protestor remained on their piece of heavy machinery, trying to effect change by staying in one place.
Moira grabbed fresh crumpets from the bakery case that she smeared with jam and wrapped in foil. When she went outside, though, she saw that the protestor was sleeping. He lay curled on his side, a blanket with a Native American print covering him and a duffle bag for a pillow. Despite the nap his crowd was no smaller. The scene looked like some distorted zoo, like viewers watching a hibernating bear. Quickly, Moira handed the crumpets to Brendan and hurried back inside.
The interest in the protestor had lengthened The Doughty Baker's meal rushes. Lunchtime, normally hectic from 11:30-1:30, had been protracted into three hours, 30 minutes added to each end. The staff had to work collaboratively to get everyone fed, and Moira was often busing tables, seating patrons, and running orders. She didn't mind; after starting this café three years ago, it was finally beginning to feel natural. From the outset she'd had a small, loyal patronage. Now her customer base was increasing. What did she care if it had taken some kid's blatant cry for attention?
The jurors came in at noon when the rush was waxing, the dining room bulging with hungry customers. Out of turn, Moira gave them a table up front and scratched their name off the list. Kylie took their drink order and Rick dropped off clean silverware.
One of the women opened her menu and mimicked an absent juror. "'But he's just a kid.' Please, she doesn't know what she's talking about. That ‘kid' committed arson. Arson, first degree." She was wearing a button-down with birds flying across the polyester.
"They're all like that. He needs to be punished." This day's sweater set was green.
"The question is whether the punishment will stop him from doing it again, or make him so angry he'll do something worse."
"I don't care," she said and buttoned her second sweater. "He's guilty."
They continued airing privileged information, defying their oath and violating another's rights, while patrons listened in astonishment and staff made unnecessary trips past their table. The café's consciousness had shifted from the idealistic student to these scuttlebutting jurors.
When the lunch rush abated, Moira removed bread loaves from brown paper bags and cut them into pieces. Then she gathered her staff. "These are the assignments from last night. Let me know what you think." They were given scrap paper and pens to grade the loaves.
"Heavier than shortbread," Sam, one of the waiters, said. He was a student at the culinary school Moira had graduated from, and the class standout in panettone and Italian breads. He tossed his uneaten portion in the trash and sampled the next.
"Is this supposed to be sourdough?" A line cook asked.
"They're still learning," Moira said. "You have to rank them against each other, not professionals."
The cook scribbled on his paper. "But when they're out of prison, they'll be compared against everyone else."
Moira's mother phoned that evening with a speciously casual tone, first asking about the café before getting to the reason for her call. Connie did this every week and Moira knew what her mother's real motive was; after the weather forecast and problems with gardening, Connie wanted to ask about Jerome. The strategy annoyed Moira, so instead of telling her about The Doughty Baker's brisk business, she went directly to the class.
"How did he look?" Connie asked, her voice grave.
"Jesus, Mom. He's not terminal."
"I know that," she snapped, more defensive than angry. "But that place isn't good for him, isn't good for anyone. Did he seem O.K.?"
"He's fine," she said, and decided this wasn't untrue. Jerome never told her about prison life, but his behavior must have been good enough to warrant him taking her class.
"You know, he didn't mean to hurt you," Connie said.
She gave a sigh that had become habit since her father had gone away. "Whether or not he meant to, he did. He hurt you, too."
"No," she said slowly. "Marriages aren't perfect. You work through what comes up."
Connie was a special education teacher; what would drive some people to early cynicism only increased her patience. Moira knew her mother assumed the bracelet was for her. Given the situation, it wasn't a strange conclusion. In no way approving of what Jerome had done, Connie figured his actions were rooted in a deeply ensconced feeling of inadequacy. Despite everything Moira said, Connie blamed herself.
"How was your father's bread loaf?"
"C minus." She gave a rundown of her employees' comments, then sighed again. "I really want this to work. I want these men to get jobs." She wondered if they could ever go back to their old lives.
"They will get jobs," Connie said. "There's a new hotel going up by the water, I bet they could use some good cooks."
Culinary chefs, thought Moira, but didn't correct her. "Maybe." Her tone didn't evoke confidence.
"They will," Connie insisted. "I was thinking your father could get a position at the Grande Colonial. The food is French—does he know how to cook that? He'd be close to home and we could have cheap dinners out!"
Her mother really should know about the barmaid. But Moira couldn't say anything now, so long after the fact. Doing so would be an insult.
Moira found out on the third night of Connie's five-day teacher retreat. She was bringing her father a ham and broccoli quiche, a culinary school assignment that had earned her an A-. Moira knew the grade would outrage him; Jerome never believed she was anything but perfect. Moira had always gotten along well with both parents, but had a better relationship with her father. Connie's hyperbolic fear of judging people made her hard to talk to; when Moira asked about the decision to have sex, Connie would only say it was a choice that deserved serious consideration. She didn't tell her not to do it, but she didn't offer help with a birth control prescription, either. Her father, on the other hand, was as open as an eight-lane highway. Easy to talk to, he was always asking about the minutiae of Moira's life—things most fathers were scared to know. He respected her and trusted her choices; he wasn't upset when she decided lab work wasn't for her. He thought her decision to enter culinary school was a good one.
There was an unfamiliar car in her parents' driveway when Moira pulled up, but she figured it was a repairman. Her father had been complaining about spotty TV reception.
Moira found the two of them in the recliner chair. Jerome tried to explain, but Moira dropped the quiche and was careening down the block before he could get his pants on.
Moira never asked him about it and he didn't broach the topic, choosing instead to invite her on a harbor cruise—a daylong escape while her mother was away for the week; that was how he'd explained it. Moira refused without comment and when Connie returned Moira didn't want to relive what she'd seen in her parents' living room. She never told her mother. Connie was blissfully unaware and Moira thought if she never spoke of it, she might absorb a bit of her naïveté.
Jerome explained the carpet stain as a dropped TV dinner. Dutifully, Connie rented a shampoo machine and removed the stain for three days before it seeped back up from the carpet pad. Moira saw it and knew some things remained even when they were gone. She would never forget the image of that woman on top of her father, the only way to fit two people in a chair designed for one.
The warden had told Moira that by teaching the class she'd provide training to a group of troubled men. She thought maybe this was why she did it; the prospect of healing, of preventing other crimes of family disruption.
Moira returned to the conversation with her mother and told her that the Grande Colonial was a good place to work. "A friend of mine manages their bar and likes it."
"That sounds like something Jerome could work up to."
The protestor had been on the crane three weeks when Moira arrived one morning and saw him upright and spooling a yo-yo over the platform's ledge. Brendan was awake but still in his sleeping bag, a blanket for a pillow and a pillow over his head. Moira had never seen the yo-yo before.
"Where'd you get that?" She shouted and pointed.
The student looked at himself, then down to the yo-yo. "What?"
Brendan sat up in his sleeping bag to see what they were talking about. Moira spooled an imaginary yo-yo off her middle finger, then retrieved it with a snap. "Where'd you get it?"
"Yo-yo!" he shouted, then proceeded to rock the baby.
Moira guessed the toy was from a spectator. Either that or it was part of a care package hoisted up to help him pass the time. She'd heard about a kid in northern California who'd been living in a tree for months; he went through a Mensa puzzle book every week.
Rather than continue their fledgling conversation, Moira went inside to begin forming and kneading bread dough until it took shape. Having reached the halfway point in the class, her students' enthusiasm was waning. Frankie, the one who looked like Scooby Doo, wondered if the culinary training weren't an elaborate scheme to save money in the cafeteria. Several students talked about signing up for auto repair.
At eleven o'clock, Moira noticed her busboys still hadn't taken their break. She implored them to, but Rick shook his head. "We don't want to miss them."
The jurors' allure had proven stronger than a nicotine habit. As the lunch rush gained momentum, customers Moira had only seen since the jurors began eating there were filling up her tables. Moira gave them soda refills and asked their names.
Two teenage boys sat at the counter, and as Moira cleared their plates one asked the other, "What's a mandatory minimum?"
People might look at the protestor for a couple of minutes, but they'd wait around Moira's café all afternoon for two old women who aired opinions they weren't yet supposed to have. The dining room piqued with earnest expectation. When the jurors hadn't shown by one o'clock, though, Moira knew they weren't coming.
"Maybe it's a federal holiday," Sam the waiter said.
Moira shook her head. "Just another summer day."
And one where a kid was living on a piece of construction equipment. Moira went to the window and looked up, up to this student who'd made himself a focal point to give attention to something bigger. She wondered if his view of what went on below were unobstructed.
The city returned the beach to the seals shortly before Thanksgiving and the student came down in time for a meal with his family. Because his standoff had been featured in the national news and highlighted by environmental groups, the city feared his action would discourage tourism. Then, although the beach was again closed to people, seals were turning up with suspicious injuries. Moira saw a follow-up interview where the student expressed disappointment that victory didn't ensure success. He stopped short of discussing another sit-in.
Their service ended, their case decided, the jurors returned to their husbands, their homes, their volunteer library positions. The defendant got five years for burning down the Jewish family's home. Moira learned this while reading the newspaper one slow morning (after the student came down, business returned to its previous levels). She wondered if the defendant's family felt as failed by him as she was by her father—a man whose legal infraction was minor, but whose offense against his loved ones was as repulsive as a hate crime.
Upon his release Jerome applied for electrician work, a job he'd been doing before his incarceration. If he went back to the barmaid, Moira never caught him. If Connie found out, she kept it from her daughter.
Moira ended the culinary class when her father left, telling the warden she didn't see the value in it. She knew he'd assume the reason was that Jerome would no longer benefit. But that wasn't true. He had never benefited, and anyhow, she had served her time.
Copyright © Michelle Panik 2007.