The next morning Yuri arrived at the Hemstrought’s central bakery promptly at 7:00. He spent the first half hour filling out paperwork with a shaky hand. His supervisor, Kyle Hansel, picked him up from Personnel.
“Yuri Rudenko…” he said. “Do you have a nickname?”
“What?” Yuri said.
“Do you have a name you want to be called?” He was the type who spoke louder to foreigners in the unconscious belief that volume would perhaps make his words intelligible.
Kyle gave him a white cap and smock and once Yuri had donned the outfit they entered the Prep Room. A dozen stainless steel tables, each manned by a similarly clad worker, were interspersed with numerous tall rolling racks. Kyle led him across the room to the one open table. Along the way Yuri passed his friend Vasil at his own station, who gave him a wink.
Kyle removed a tray full of dough balls from the rolling rack to the left and placed it on the table. “Watch me when I do this. Take a dough…” He tossed a ball out onto the floured surface. “Roll it out a little bit to make a fat snake. Then take both ends and stretch, turn, twist and pinch the ends into the body—sort of like making a fat pretzel. Have you made a pretzel before?”
“Then when you’re done you move it over to this tray…“ He removed an empty tray from the rolling rack to the right. “Fill up the tray and put it back in the rack. When you fill up the rack you push it over to the Bake Room. Do you think you got it? Do you want to try one?”
Yuri nodded. He took a ball of dough. He twisted, turned, stretched—
“No no no,” Kyle said. He rolled out the dough into a cylinder again. “Stretch, turn, twist, and pinch.”
Yuri ignored the words he spoke because he did not understand all of them, and just focused on Kyle’s hands. He tried to force the sequence of motions into his aching head using his own Eastern European mnemonic devices. He took another ball of dough and did his best to replicate Kyle’s motions.
“That one looks pretty good,” Kyle said. “Put it over on the tray. Try one more.”
Yuri assembled another that looked somewhat like the first.
“Don’t pull it out so much,” Kyle said. “But good enough. If you run out of dough, go to the Dough Room and ask for dough for Winter Twist Loaves. Okay?”
“Okay,” Yuri said.
“So what do you do when you run out of dough?”
“Go to Dough Room, get dough for Vinter Tvist Loafs.”
“That’s right. So that’s the first part. Next, the boys from the Bake Room are going to send you back a rack of baked loaves. You let them cool till they’re warm and then you finish them—Vladya!” Kyle walked two stations over to that of a handsome woman in her fifties. “Can I steal one of your Winter Twists?” From the rack next to Vladya he picked out the baked equivalent of the giant pretzel that Yuri had just made.
Vladya said, “You’re welcome, Kyle!” Yuri judged from her name that she was a fellow Ukrainian, but as he didn’t recognize her thought she must go to the Catholic church.
Kyle walked back to Yuri’s station cradling the loaf. He lay it on a clean patch of stainless steel further over to the right. “This part can get messy and you don’t want to foul up the table.” He reached for a metal square tub further back on the table. “This is the glaze. You take a brush with the glaze and brush it all over the top, like this. If you want you can do four or five of them at a time and glaze them all at once. Then some cinnamon sugar, some almonds, and some sprinkles—don’t be stingy on the sprinkles; sprinkles sell the loaf.” Kyle clapped his hands together, a little puff of flour shooting out of his palms. “Okay! You think you got it?”
“You can ask anybody around you questions too. As long as you know what you’re making—the Winter Twist Loaf, just tell them that—anybody can help you. Probably around ten o’clock we’ll switch you to a different loaf…You good? You ready?”
Yuri nodded again. Kyle left him. After making five more loaves Yuri was adept at the process and settled into a routine. Occasionally he would glance about the room. It was well-lit, and the workers looked bored but not unhappy. Sometimes someone would smile back at him.
After twenty loaves he was in the stupor mode of repetitive assembly line work. He knew from his prior factory jobs that this could be a comfortable stupor, given the right circumstances. It was mostly the people around you. If they did not make too many demands of you, or talk to you, that was for the good. And if the environment itself was not too jarring in its sights, sounds or smells, that was best of all. Then the stupor had the ability to defeat time, in that you might not notice the passing of an entire hour, an hour in which you have earned another five dollars for your family.
All these criteria applied to the Hemstrought’s bakery. After Kyle left, Yuri’s coworkers ignored him, as they themselves appeared to be in the same stupor, thinking their own thoughts. The smell of the bakery was wonderful, the scent of raw dough and sweet icing in the Prep Room, and baking dough and cakes wafting in from the other room—much preferable to the stench of oil and metal from his old job at the tool and die works. The sounds were fine, too: an occasional murmur of voices, the slap of wet dough on a hard surface, the rolling wheels of a cart. The lighting left a little to be desired. Copious fluorescents illuminated every angle of his work surface. But he could manage it.
His thoughts drifted to various pleasant topics: sledding with the children; drinking with Vasil and Constantine at Spilka’s; Anna and the last time they were in bed together. He checked the clock and saw that twenty minutes had passed. He could get used to this work. If only it paid better…
But he began to notice the glare of the lights hitting his stainless steel work surface. Due to his hangover the glare soon registered as a burning pain in the back of his eyeballs. He tried blocking the glare by tossing flour over it, but inevitably the flour would stick to the dough he rolled and the shiny spot would open up again. His pleasant stupor was broken and he came to think about every Winter Twist Loaf carefully.
In this state an unsettled feeling grew in him, a sense that he was forgetting something important. Something about the previous day…
He finished perhaps his fiftieth loaf. In the process of placing it on the tray he shifted his weight to his right foot and felt a pain. The lip of his shoe dug into his bandaged ankle, and he remembered what was bothering him: it was his dream of Pankrat Kravchuk.
Why did he have such a strange dream? And why did his daughter on the same day also have a dream of that vile man?
And how did his foot get cut? He assumed in his drunken sleep he had somehow lifted his foot and dropped it in the glass. But then the cut should have been on the bottom of his foot, and not on his ankle.
And the dream itself had been so vivid. The warm lighting of the living room mixed with the gray glow of the TV, the dull brown coffee table, the shiny blonde floor—all appeared just how they should have appeared at eleven o’clock at night. And the little running man really did look exactly (he presumed) like a tiny, naked Pankrat Kravchuk.
A thought crept into his head which he quickly banished. But it returned, and his burning stomach twisted upon the full contemplation of this thought: What if the proper explanation for the vividness of the dream was that it was a thing that had actually happened? That he really had seen a tiny Pankrat Kravchuk running across the floor with a piece of glass about to attack him? Larissa had seen him. Yes, she was a child, but she was not drunk. Now his own eyes had seen the thing.
He realized that his hands had stopped working and he was staring at a lump of dough on the table. He returned to his work and tried to focus on the task at hand. But each Winter Twist Loaf was now a struggle.
This idea that it was not a dream, that he really had witnessed Pankrat, troubled him because of its great explanatory power. No matter how he tried he could not cast the image as a dream, it was too perfect in every detail. And he knew himself well enough to know that his imagination was too feeble to have conjured up such a perfect image from nothing.
He slapped down a new lump of dough. His head throbbed. This was preposterous. Was he still drunk, that he could even think for a moment that he had seen a tiny Pankrat? No, he was certainly hungover, but not drunk.
But why was this tiny Pankrat angry at him, and trying to harm him? Obviously the real Pankrat had hated him, but what did this bug Pankrat have against him?…
Unless it was the actual Pankrat returned from the dead in tiny form!
Yuri stopped work on his Winter Twist Loaves completely. If that was the case, Pankrat was still in his house, even now. With Anna. The kids were in school but Anna was home.
He grasped the edges of the table in an effort to calm his agitation. Yes, she was home alone, but she towered over this bug, and even as a woman would have no difficulty protecting herself against him if need be. A well-placed foot was all that was needed to squash him.
At that moment a new twinge of pain in his ankle reminded him that despite his diminutive size Pankrat had still somehow managed to harm Yuri. What devious tricks might he play on Anna? Was he big enough to mess with the electrical or gas systems of the house?
That settled it. He walked away from his station and found Kyle on the other side of the room. “I must go,” he said.
“What?” Kyle said. “Where?”
“Home. I must go home.”
“Home? You just got here.” Yuri did not answer. “Why?”
Even if Yuri’s English was good enough he could not possibly explain why he had to leave. He simply repeated, “I must go.”
Kyle was dumbfounded. At last he said, “If you go, you can’t come back? You can’t leave the job an hour into the first day.”
Most of the bakers in the room had stopped their work to witness this strange scene. Yuri’s friend Vasil ran over. His English was passable. “Let me talk to him,” he said to Kyle.
Vladya called out to Vasil in Ukrainian, “What is wrong with him?”
Kyle said, “Keep up the work, Vladya.”
Vasil spoke to Yuri in their native tongue. “What’s wrong? Why do you have to go?” Yuri only shook his head. “Yuri, the boss is going to fire you if you leave now. You have to stay. You need this job. What is the problem?”
Yuri said in a whisper, “It’s Pankrat Kravchuk.”
“Pankrat Kravchuk? What are you talking about?”
“He’s in my house.”
Vasil looked closely in his friend’s face. “Are you drunk?”
“No I’m not,” he said adamantly. “He’s in my house and I have to go right now.”
“But Kravchuk is dead.”
“That’s what you think.”
Vasil shook his head. He turned to Kyle. “He says he has to go. He might be sick.”
Yuri took off his hat and his smock and handed them to Kyle. He walked out of the bakery, jobless again.