Charles Heermans is a college student and published fiction author. He resides in Sacramento, California, and specializes in writing LGBTQ+ fiction, short stories, and flash fiction pieces under 1,000 words.
The Baker of Motta-San-Giacobbe
The sun rose on the small mountain-straddling town of Motta-San-Giacobbe, and Domenico is awoken by thin rays creeping through cracks in the wood-shuttered window of his bed chamber. He sat up when he heard his father working. The clunking of firewood being thrown into a brick oven reverberated up the building and into Domenico’s clenched teeth.
Why do I have to be a baker? Domenico thought, wondering where he would be if his father were something more interesting, I could make horseshoes, or wine. Standing, he dressed and pushed open the shutters of the bedroom. He rested his elbows on the cold, plastered-brick, and stared up at the ancient church tower looming above. I could work with Sebastiano… I could see him every day… he continued to contemplate working in the church, a smile crossing his lips as he dreamt of spending his days with his cherished, and secret, love. Climbing down the narrow stairs to the lower level of their home, Domenico’s father smiled warmly upon seeing him. Domenico gave his usual shrug and yawn, stretching again.
“Signora Pelicanó brought a pot of honey, the first of the season,” Domenico’s father said.
“What are we going to do with it?”
“I thought you would be interested in baking honeybread.”
“That would be nice. Where is mamma?”
“At the market again, head in the clouds while bartering for some flowers.”
Domenico nodded. He rolled up his sleeves and went to the oven, with massive pots of flour and water adjacent. Reaching under the attached wooden counter, he pulled out bowls and got to work on the first loaves of the day. Thinking of his closest friend Sebastiano, the priest’s son came every morning to purchase bread for his family and for the day’s communion service. He quickly and easily prepared the dough. Forming the dough into rounds, he turned and placed them into the oven. Removing his arm, he accidentally touched his skin to the hot bricks, giving his wrist and forearm a painful burn. He jerked his arm back.
“Damn!” He grabbed his wrist in pain.
His father turned from what he was doing, “What? What’s the matter?”
“I—” He couldn’t force the words out.
“You must be careful when working with in oven, she’s a feisty one… like your mother.”
The jest took Domenico’s mind off the stinging. Seconds later the church’s bronze bell tolled. Its deep sound echoed through the town from its throne-like tower on the hill high above. It gave Domenico another reason to smile. He knew Sebastiano was awake and well. It was his job every day to ring the bell. Sebastiano’s father, the priest, was a kind and gentle man, but didn’t approve of Sebastiano’s friends. Especially not Domenico and his distracting of Sebastiano from his studies.
“You should pay more attention, Domenico,” his father’s voice interrupted his fantasizing, “All this will be yours one day.”
Domenico looked at his father, who had his back to him and had begun whistling an old ballad about some maiden in a castle by the sea. What if I don’t want to be a baker? What if I want to be with Sebastiano? He kept mulling over his thoughts, most of them about his friend.
Sebastiano’s sweet voice echoed in his head “The next time we can, we should climb the tower. It is so beautiful up there!” Domenico snapped out of his daydreaming and began preparing the honeybread, knowing exactly what he would do with it. While kneading the dough repeatedly he poured in the sweet and floral honey, almost getting lost in his own daydreaming while thinking of his friend. He formed the rolls into hearts and put them in the oven, close to the wood as possible.
A few minutes later, all of the bread in the oven was done. He pulled everything out and put it in a basket for Sebastiano. He made his way up the hill and stared up at the entrance, the door already open. Engraved above its arch was “Chiesa del San. Sebastiano”. I always wondered if Sebastiano was named for this place he thought. Before stepping in he broke a roll of the honeybread and held it to his nose, breathing in the sweet scent. He shoved it in his mouth and tried to chew quickly, picking apart every taste like an expert chef. “Signora Pelicanó’s bees really love their roses”, he mumbled to himself while chewing roughly and admiring the beauty of the church. The bread melted in his mouth, tasting primarily of the mouth-watering spring blossom honey.
Domenico quickly swallowed and entered, calling out to his friend “It’s great to see you.”
“Sì, Domenico, it’s always a pleasure!”
Domenico gestured to the basket “I brought the bread,”
“Ah, grazie mille, they look lovely!” Sebastiano peeked in the basket.
Domenico placed his hands over Sebastiano’s. He lifted up the larger sourdough rounds to show him the fresh honeybread rolls, still warm. “First of the season.”
“Oh! They look delicious” Sebastiano’s eyes grazed over the hearts, trying desperately to hide a soft blush creeping over his face, his friend’s proximity certainly not helping. “Oh… Domenico… what did you do?” the boy said, gripping his friend’s hand once he noticed the burn.
“It’s nothing… I was going to quickly,” he said.
“Why aren’t you worried about it?”
“It happens all the time,” he said, shrugging.
Sebastiano produced a soft cloth. “Here…” he wrapped the burn in the cloth, tying it firmly in place. “You should purchase some gloves from Signore Niccolò”
Domenico wasn’t paying attention, focused on his friend’s eyes which sparkled in the heavenly-tinted light of the stained-glass windows. They bathed the nave in a glow unlike anything he had seen before, his friend always said they rivaled the most beautiful windows in Florence and Rome. He was jerked from his thoughts as Sebastiano pulled him down the aisle between the thick wooden pews.
“Wait! Where are we going?” Domenico asked.
“To the tower silly… Signore Domenico Medici, testa per aria,”
“My head is perfectly on my shoulders and grounded, altar boy,”
His friend ducked into doorway and disappeared up an ancient stone staircase. “Hurry! We only have a few minutes before I have to ring the bell again,” he called down the stairs.
Domenico placed the bread down next to the stairs, and shoved a roll in his pocket. Huffing his way up the steps to meet his friend, sitting on the thin ledge between the stairs and windows. “I— knew you would share with your father… so I made one for you” he smiled weakly and produced the honeybread from his pocket. Sebastiano took it and split with him. Placing the sweet bread in his mouth he smiled wide, chewing on it for a few seconds.
“You really know what you’re doing Domenico, you sure you don’t want to be a baker?”
Domenico shrugged. Leaning in for a kiss, their lips just grazed before he pulled back and blushed rose red, and awkwardly smiled at the bell.
“Oh… the bell is kind of loud, you should cover your ears. The tower is too narrow to ring it from the bottom,” Sebastiano said with a chuckle, breaking the awkwardness. He shifted so he could see the sun, waiting for the sun. When it was fully above the horizon, he swung the bronze clapper. Domenico didn’t mind the loud clanging, not while something much more important held his attention.
Being a baker isn’t so bad… He thought.