Fifty-six years. That’s how long my mother worked in the same bake shop day in and day out. She’d always come home late at night too tired to do anything really, but she’d always make sure to tuck me in bed and make sure I did my homework.
It was never a boring day for her at work. There was always some crazy customer you would hear about or some kind of catastrophe that happened in the back of the shop. After years of growing up and listening to her stories every night, I grew tired of the stories and then annoyed. I used to sit and listen to her talk about her day but I didn’t really care anymore. Looking back, I wish I could change all that.
She used to tell me why she was kept working at that bake shop no matter how much her hands ached, how hot the ovens made the kitchen, or how the flour would never fully come out of her clothes no matter how much she washed them. Even more so, her hands almost looked bleached because of the white traces that stuck in all the intricate wrinkles that webbed around her fingers and palms.
At first, it started as a passion. Growing up, she always loved to bake. She used to bake cupcakes and cookies and brownies. All the tasty baked goods. Her friends would constantly ask her for more of them every day at lunch. She used to tell me that she was basically the queen of the lunch tables. She could easily trade for just about anything else in the cafeteria with a simple brownie here or a single cookie there.
She told me that in high school, she finally decided to use her talents to try and make something more of herself. My grandparents never quite had the money to send her to college even though both my grandma and grandpa worked long shifts. So, my mom started to sell her baked goods. It started out the same way as trading the goods at her lunch tables. Only this time, instead of trading for a bag of chips or some other junk food, she traded for a dollar each.
Whenever she would go on about how her baking career started, she would always pause after one point and remember the day when her principal found out about the kid selling baked goods. She told me that when her principal called her into his office, he scolded her for selling her brownies to other students. She couldn’t fathom why he was so upset about these baked goods until a realization dawned on her. The man thought she was selling “special” brownies. Laced with a little extra something something. It was at this point that she would always burst into a fit of giggles. Even to the days when her face sagged and her hands pulsed with arthritis, she was still so innocent. You could see it most in her eyes. No matter how aged the rest of her body looked, her eyes always stayed bright and blue.
After explaining that her brownies were simply just brownies maybe with a little too much sugar in them than normal, her principal finally decided to back down but still told her to just not sell anything on school grounds.
This all happened when she was 18 years old. She would tell me about how she really wasn’t that great at math and liked reading as a hobby but really did not enjoy listening to her english teachers dig into a book and find analogies and hidden meanings that, to my mother, were completely made up by the teacher and didn’t exist at all. The only thing she knew she was truly good at was baking her sweets.
With her parents still working late shifts to cover the bills and just enough money from the baked goods she had already sold, she found an old beat up van for sale in her town and decided to buy it. With the help of a few close friends, they gave the van a good tune up and her one friend even painted the side of the van: Susan’s Bake Shop.
This was her new store front. Of course, she couldn’t bake inside the van. But, that was taken care of at home. And as her business grew, she needed to expand her oven space and eventually used our grandparents’ ovens because they lived right next door. At the point that she had to ask the other neighbors for their oven too, she decided it was time to grow to the next level.
And, that led to the day when she finally bought the bake shop. To me, it was never just a building, it wasn’t even a business either. It was a home away from home. I’ve heard the phrase “home is where the heart is” tossed around a bunch of times in my life and if that’s true, that shop was definitely a second home.
The business never really took off to the point where she could expand to the next level and franchise the name or make a chain out of her baked goods. But, there was always a loyal following. Enough of a following that she fulfilled one her most passionate dreams in her life. The second reason she kept baking after all those years.
Even though she never finished high school, she always dreamed of going to college. And at this point in her life, she figured college for herself was pointless. So, when she had me, the tip jar at the front counter was no longer for tips. It was for “Anna’s college fund.” By the time I was finally old enough to graduate high school and go away to college, there was definitely enough money for a full ride.
To this day, I envy her tenacity in pursuing her passion and I’ll always love my mom: the baker.
The engine in the Ford sputtered to a slow and painful death as it sounded like it was drowning in its own fluids.
“What is it?!” Ray yelled out from the back seat frantically.
“I think they must have hit the engine block on our way out of dodge.” Vinny said calmly from the driver’s seat.
Tony was sitting in the passenger seat with his head hanging out the window. He pulled his head back into the car and looked around.
“So, this is it?” Tony asked with a bit of remorse in his voice. He slouched his shoulders.
Vinny pulled the car over and pulled the parking brake tight. He looked around at the others.
“Looks like it, boys.” He answered while nodding ever so slightly.
“We’re just gonna surrender? Just like that?!” Ray asked angrily from the back seat.
Vinny raised a finger and glared at Ray.
“I didn’t say anything about surrendering. And, don’t you ever accuse me of being a quitter. That ain’t in my blood. If there’s anything that my family has ever taught me, it’s that we are not quitters. We will never surrender. And, we will never go down without a fight. Now, hand me my gun.” Vinny stated with an outstretched hand towards Ray.
Ray reached down at the floor and grabbed a fully-loaded tommy gun from the case that sat beside his feet. He cocked the gun hard making sure it was primed for a battle and handed it up to the front seat.
“Look. They already took out the rest of us. That’s 6 of our brothers in 2 separate cars. And, they got mowed down without even the slightest bit of hesitation from the coppers. I doubt their gonna go any easier on us.” Vinny said while clutching the gun and popping the door handle.
“Okay so, how many you figure are coming after us?” Ray said as he prepared his own machine gun.
Vinny stepped out of the vehicle and smiled while placing his trusty black fedora on top of his head.
“Considering that we just robbed a federal bank and made off with a pretty large chunk of change…” He squinted. “I figure we got a whole army barreling down our asses.” He looked back towards Tony and winked “What do you think?”
Tony climbed out of the passenger seat and looked down the road from where they came. A trail of smoke grew in the distance as a barrage of cars raced to their position. “I think this gon’ be one helluva final stand.”
Vinny chuckled and nodded while looking at his brothers. He paused for a moment and reflected on everything they’d been through. Growing up in the streets during the depression. Scrounging about just to survive. Making their way into the mob and up a few notches in the chain of command. And finally, they were here. Robbing banks and making the nightly news reports on radios all across the nation.
“Alright, boys. Get into positions. I want a wall of lead pouring down on them once they pull up. I highly doubt they’re gonna give us a chance to make amends.” Vinny told his men.
All three of them in their black suits, formed a line across the street. They slowly marched away from the getaway car with their guns at the ready. They watched as the dust cloud grew closer and the sounds of roaring engines started to echo off the street around them. Ray looked at the shops all around. People were inside each and every one of them. He raised his rifle and fired a few shots straight into the air. The civilians, all startled by the loud gunfire that interrupted their otherwise peaceful afternoon, screamed and ran away from the street.
Tony looked over at the others and questioned their stand “Should we…uh… get into defensive positions or something? Like… not stand out in the open like this?”
Vinny glanced over his shoulder and shrugged “You can if you want to. I think it’s just gonna delay the inevitable.”
“Well if you ain’t leaving” Tony replied “I sure as hell ain’t. I hadn’t for the last 15 years. What makes you think I’d leave now?” he smiled.
“You see that right there” Vinny started up again “That right there is loyalty. And that’s something these coppers ain’t have. Remember that when they show up here. Don’t hesitated for a second to pump ’em full of lead, you hear?”
The dust cloud was now within a mile of the town. Vinny checked his rifle one more. A round was in the chamber and he was ready to open fire on the feds that were rolling into town. He felt his heart racing and sweat start to trickle down his brow. Partially because of his nerves and partially because of the hot sun beating down on his thick wool suit. The heat was stifling. He looked side to side and smiled at his best friends for one last time. But to him, they weren’t just his friends. After everything they’d been through, they were brothers. And, he was ready to die beside them. He pulled the rifle up to his shoulder and got into a firing position as he continued to slowly stride forward down the street, walking towards the cop cars that were flooring it towards the trio.
Finally, the sirens were now blaring loudly. Some of the feds pulled their torsos through the car windows and were hanging outside with guns pointed at the trio. They readied their rifles but didn’t open fire until they knew they were close enough to get more accurate shots. Their orders were simple. These thugs were no longer wanted alive. The new policy was shoot-to-kill.
Vinny waited just a few more moments to make sure that he could make every bullet count. He smiled devilishly right before pulling the trigger.
Nobody really knows what happened to the world. One minute everything was normal, the next everything went to hell. Or, at least, we all wish it did. It’s cold. Not normal cold. The type of cold that seeps into your bones, that burns into the depths of your lungs, and never lets go of your soul. The scientists say that this whole situation is not a natural occurrence. But, who knows if you can really trust their word on that or not. There’s nobody left to debate them.
It happened in the summer of ’17. I remember watching the news reports back then. The cold drifted in from the north. Canada was hit pretty hard, pretty early. In the middle of July, Toronto was looking at temperatures of -72 degrees fahrenheit. The northeast quickly shut down because nobody was expecting subzero temperatures in the middle of the summer. Within weeks, the south got hit too. It was colder than anything we’ve ever seen before. And, the temperatures were just the start of it. The cold froze all the water. Rains stopped. Anything that survived the cold eventually became dehydrated. The entire globe was now a freezing desert.
Today, I woke up slowly. I didn’t wake up at all during the night but I still felt like I didn’t get any sleep. I rolled over to check my clock. The screen was pitch black. I flipped my covers off and immediately regretted my decision. Every inch of my body quickly puckered up into goosebumps. I rolled out of bed as fast as I could, but that was still too slow. My pale skin was now bright red and my joints ached as I managed to pull on some warm clothes. I walked over to my light switch and pressed it on. The light never even flickered.
I stared at the lightbulb and listened. The usual hum that I was accustomed to wasn’t there. The generator must have run out of gas. It shouldn’t have though. I just filled it up the other day. There was plenty of gas left in there. I threw on some more heavy clothes and waddled over to the door. I grabbed my rifle and stepped outside. Making my way around the house, I eventually made it to the fuel tank next to the generator. I wasn’t the only one that was here recently. I looked at the footsteps that came to and from the tank. I looked at the tank and the cap was still open with a hose hanging out. Damn thieves. This is the third time this year they’ve stolen my gas.
I followed the tracks through my backyard and down to the old canal. After they hit the solid ice of the canal, their tracks disappeared. I swung my rifle off my shoulder and looked down my scope in both directions. Nobody was to be seen.
Muttering to myself, I put my rifle back onto my shoulder and trudged back to the house. I stepped inside and grabbed my walkie talkie before leaving. I walked back out to my car and started the tedious process of scraping the ice off everything. Even the side mirrors were covered in crystals today.
Hopping inside the car, I keyed the ignition and the engine slowly roared to life. I gave it a few moments to heat up before I got it moving anywhere.
I pulled out onto the empty road and made my was south. Most of the gas stations around me had dried up over the years. It had to drive further and further each time I needed to refuel everything. Luckily, I my car’s radio still worked and I had some old CDs to listen to. I reached into the glove compartment and pulled out one of my favorite albums, Hell Freezes Over. How fitting for my current situation.
The drive didn’t take too long today. It never really does given that there is no traffic on the road. Maybe an occasional car here or there. On my way here I drove past the Welcome to the City of Fort Lauderdale sign. It was covered in ice but I could see that the population sign was changed recently. 3,793 people. It sounds bad but that’s actually better than it was this time last year. I smiled with the thought that maybe this all wasn’t the end of the world after all. Maybe it was just a change that ended up clearing out all the underbrush.
I pulled into the closest station and waited in the car. One of the strangest things to me amongst all these changes in lifestyle was the fact that gas stations weren’t self serve anymore. Mainly because you couldn’t pay in anything but cash. But, I wasn’t complaining. It was damn cold outside and I sure didn’t want to go out there. But after a few minutes, I decided to climb outside because I didn’t see any movement. I checked inside the store and nobody was around. I walked back out and started pump my own gas. I’d leave change behind but I needed to get moving.
I grabbed the gas cans out of the trunk and set the on the ground. I pulled the nozzle from the pump and pulled the trigger to no avail. The pumps must have been shot. I looked around and finally found a manual pump for the gas. They were pretty common nowadays too. I started pumping and pumping waiting for the first drops out gas to flow out of the nozzle. When the gas finally decided to come out, it didn’t make it’s usual sound though. It didn’t flow out. Hell, it didn’t even sound like water. I pulled the nozzle clear of the gas can and jiggled it around to listen. It sounded like rocks inside. Curious, I poured the contents onto the ground.
Even, the gas was frozen now. I let out a long sigh.
The businessman shut down his computer as soon as the clock on his computer hit 5. He was finally done for the day and decided to call it quits. He quickly packed his bag up for his trek home and lugged it onto his shoulder. Walking out of the office, he waved at some fellow co-workers and then popped earbuds in while he walked to the subway.
Once he cleared the lobby and stepped outside, the hot summer air choked the air out of him. He quickly rushed toward the closest subway station and stayed in the shade as much as possible. On a walk that was all too familiar, he walked past the hotdog stand that was closing down after a long day, the huge swarms of suits that were all trying to head home, and the violinist. The same violinist that sat on the same stool in the same spot every day. The businessman popped out an earbud.
“You mind if I ask you something?” he asked the violinist.
“Go for it” the old man replied.
“I don’t get it. Why do you come here every day and play the same song just slightly different?” the businessman inquired.
“Hmm?” the violinist responded while furrowing his bushy grey eyebrows as he stood up to pack up his instrument.
The businessman continued. “You don’t make much money…” He gestured to the small pile of singles and various coins that littered the violin case.
The violinist chuckled as he bent down next to the case.
“You don’t get it do you?” the violinist asked, rhetorically. The businessman cocked an eyebrow.
“It’s not about the money” the violinist went on as he started to organize the small bills. “This just helps me survive. No. It’s not about the money. It’s about that thing that you’ve been told since you were about five years old. ‘Do what you love.’ I used to laugh and think it was crazy. Just like you.” He pointed an accusatorial finger in the direction of the businessman.
“I never wanted that.” The violinist said while he started to move his hand up and down, pointing at the businessman’s suit. “And, I used to have a job similar to yours.” He continued while his eyes looked to one of the monolithic skyscrapers in the distance.
The businessman smiled slightly.
“So why’d you quit?” the businessman asked while removing the other earbud from his ears.
The violinist’s wrinkled grin grew as he took a step back, towards the stool he was sitting on earlier.
“One day, I got off of work, around the same time as right now. I was walking home from work just like you. And then, I had an amazing realization right here.” He moved the stool and pointed to the aged bricks that the stool was resting on.
“Right here. I realized that I didn’t want that life. I never wanted to crunch numbers for a living. Five-year old me would have never wanted to sit in a cubicle. No way in hell!” he said passionately like he was beginning a sermon.
“But, why the violin?” The businessman cut in before the violinist could continue.
The violinist looked down at the bow he still clutched in his hand and thought for a moment.
“I could never sing. I could never dance. I couldn’t write. But I’d be lying to you if said that I couldn’t make these strings sing since I was this big.” He held his open hand parallel with the ground at waist level.
“So when I had that epiphany. When I realized what I wanted to do with my life. That Friday when I got my paycheck, I went to all the music stores in this town. Each and every one of them. And for the first time, I fell in love.” The violinist said while his eyes watered up ever so slightly. He set down his violin in the empty case and gave the body a soft pat.
“She could sing like nothing I’ve ever heard before. She was beautiful. And, I decided in that store that I would spend the rest of my days with her.” He smiled as his eyes glassed over from reminiscing about days long past.
“So, you gave up your job, your life, everything for this? To play a violin everyday?” The businessman asked in complete disbelief.
“Son, I’ve always been a man of my word. And when I made the promise to play this violin everyday, I assure you, I was not going to fall through on that promise. So to answer your question, yes. I did give up the life I hated for this.” The violinist now said, defending his life choices from a boy who couldn’t possibly understand his situation.
“To be happy?” The businessman asked further.
“Exactly.” The violinist replied with a quick nod.
“I don’t think I could ever do that.” the businessman said while zoning out in thought. The old man chuckled.
“You could. The real question is whether you would let yourself actually follow your dreams.” He bent down to his case once more and placed his bow beside his precious instrument. Sealing up the case, he flicked both buckles shut and fought against his old, worn-out knees to stand back up. He turned to the businessman and smiled while nodding his head.
“Well, son. I would love to chat all day but, I gotta get going. Dinner isn’t going to make itself.” The violinist said with a slight chuckle. He nodded to the businessman once more as he clutched his case tight, “I’ll be seeing you tomorrow…”
The violinist began to walk away. The businessman stood in place like a statue. He stared where the violinist had just told him about the secret of happiness and was lost in thought. After a few moments, his mouth curled into a smile. The old man turned around and saw the businessman’s smile.
Three weeks. That’s how long I’ve been stranded on this god forsaken rock. Three long and treacherous weeks.
To be honest, I really have no idea how I’ve made it this long. Not that I don’t know how to survive, I just don’t know how I ended up on this island in the first place. I guess I’ll start this log where I first remember.
It was a simple flight. I’ve been on thousands of them over the years because of my job. Traveling across the pacific was just a normal commute for me at this point. Captain Velez was in cockpit once again and I was in the back sipping a whiskey from a miniaturized bottle. I dozed off after an hour into the flight. That was the last normal thing in my life that I remember happening.
Next thing I know, I was being spun around the cabin of the airplane like I was on a demented carnival ride with no harness. I got a glance out of one of the windows and saw that one of the wings was no longer where it used to be. I’m pretty sure it was the left wing but the world was spinning far too fast for me to see. After unpleasantly throwing up everywhere due to the dizziness, I flew away from my seat and must have hit the front of the plane.
Then, I woke up on this beach.
Some debris had washed up onto the shore with me. It took me awhile to gain my bearings the first day because of my throbbing headache. But, I managed to pull together some important stuff. I found a life raft that I soon realized would be useless in this vast ocean. Right now, as I write this journal, I sleep every night under its shelter and hide myself from the scorching sun during the day under it. There’s plenty of trees on the island but, this shades me far better than them. Inside the life raft was a pretty handy tool kit. I have a nice system for collecting rainwater and desalinating saltwater. So, water isn’t much of an issue for me.
Right now, I’m living off the MRE packs that were inside the life raft kit. I have a few more weeks before those food rations run out and in the mean time I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to catch fish. Still haven’t quite worked that out.
So now, I have the big three taken care of. Food, water, and shelter. Next was trying to find my way home.
And, that is the part that is driving me absolutely insane.
My watch miraculously survived the crash. I must have never gone below 10m of water because that is all it is rated to. But, every day around 11:35 a.m. I see a little piece of civilization.
Actually, I can’t even see the piece of civilization. It’s far too high to see it. But, I can see the contrails streaming from behind that little chunk of hope. Every day.
The sad part after watching these trails streak by everyday is that I know that the people on board those planes cannot see me.
At first, I tried the reflecting mirror in the kit to try and catch the pilots’ eyes. Well, not true. I screamed and flailed my arms the first time I saw the plane streaking across the sky. And, within seconds I realized just how stupid that was. Don’t judge me. Next, I tried using that mirror that I told you about. I figure that, to the pilots, I probably just look like a minor bit of glare coming off the massive expanse of the pacific ocean in mid day.
One day, I piled a bunch of trees and started a fire to hopefully signal the plane with a giant plume of smoke. The plume never really grew to a substantial height.
So, I have officially given up.
Every day at about 11:25 in the morning, I slide out from my life raft shelter and walk over to a nice patch on the beach. The sand there is exceptionally smooth and there is a lovely tree that casts a bit of shade onto the sand there. It keeps my back nice and cool while I lay down on the beach and stare up into the sky.
I think about all of the people that are on each of those planes. There are the guys like me who have travelled so often on the planes that not a single part of the trip even amazes them anymore. And then, there are the little boys that run as fast as they can through the airport terminals to board this wonderfully amazing flying contraption. During the whole flight, they’re staring at the ground that is below them in awe at the fact that they are actually flying. I also wonder if any of those kids ever saw my little patch of isolation and tried telling their parents only to be acknowledged with a shush and turning back to their magazine filled with useless knick knacks.
Today as I plopped down on my patch of sand to view my mid-day entertainment, I checked my watch to see that it was 11:35. And yet, I didn’t see a streak across the sky. That’s odd. Maybe the weather at the departure airport was crappy. I sat up on my elbows and glanced around the horizon. Nothing. No streaks.
I started to grow concerned. I glanced down at my watch and now it was quarter till 12. This was definitely odd. I stood up and cupped a hand over my eyes to see further into the distance.
After several minutes, my shoulders relaxed. I saw the familiar streaks across the sky. Everything was back to normal in the world. I smiled while staring at that white line of distant civilization. I didn’t care that I was stranded.