Everyone at the bakery was afraid of cancer. Even Hovan, who despite his bachelor’s degree, insisted cancer was a pharmaceutical company construct. Brendan had cancer already, and breathed in deep floury lungfuls knowing it couldn’t get worse. He even laughed at the letters; he looked happiest whenever a new one came. Ten years or so ago, he had gone into surgery, and come out half a lung lighter. None of the doctors could make heads or tails of the tumor they had ripped out, and so began the journey of Brendan’s lung. Sent from lab to lab, we would get letters, from all the different labs, always the same thing: results inconclusive, forwarding your bio sample to such and such research station or university. I think Brendan started a stamp collection. I think he was a little jealous too, of the lung fragment. It got to travel across the country; he had to work 108 hours a week, all the while still breathing death.
It was the flour, or the powdered sugar, or the asbestos that had once insulated and now scared the bakery workers. We tried not to think about it. We turned the radio on and let mindless songs wash over us. We talked about the past or the present, never the future. We told each other and ourselves that we were fine. The letters kept coming in.
Brendan’s father died, cancer. It was he who had opened the bakery sixty years ago, and after sixty years, it had killed him. I was working when we got the call. I was washing dishes, Brendan was putting chocolate frosting on an eight-inch marble, and the phone rang. It took a minute for me to realize something was wrong. The radio was on, the sink was sloshing. I turned to see the eight-inch marble cake fly across the room and crash into the oven. I was speechless, motionless. Brendan ripped the radio’s cable from its socket, it flat-lined. He left.
I was washing chocolate frosting off the oven when the mail came in. More medical mail, the tumor had reached California, I wondered how long he had left. In the silent bakery, I wondered how long I had too.
Stephen Duncanson is sixteen and enjoys mountain biking, metafiction, essays, drinking black coffee and listening to audiobooks. Stephen lives in Stratford CT, a post-industrial and brownfield-laden suburb in southern Connecticut.