by Shawn P. Bailey
Hard rolls were first. His shift started at 6:30, hours after the first bakers. Before the cheesecakes and brownies and mousse and crème brulee, he had to bake hard rolls. Just flour, water, yeast, and salt. Inside the vast oven steel racks on a miniature ferris wheel circled past the flame again and again. Only in the minutes after he lifted the hard rolls from those racks, he preferred them to anything else he baked. Soon he would cut one open. It would exhale steam and the scent of the transformation of those four simple ingredients. Fresh bread. He would plunge a knife into the bucket of raspberry preserves and spread on his roll that syrupy seeded crimson suspension.
A day after baking they were barely edible. Two days and they were bread-colored stones. Right now he was pulling them out of the proving racks. They were fully raised; with a sharp knife he quickly cut an “x” in the top of each roll. There were over four thousand, a large number for a weekday. He would finish and deliver them and turn to tasks no less mechanical, even though more sophisticated food was involved. There was a large wedding luncheon today. Before noon he would pull the fifteen cheesecakes baked yesterday out of the freezer, glaze them, coat their sides with almond slivers, cut each one into sixteen identical pieces, plate them up, and prepare the sauce to be poured over them just before serving. Work like this gave Adam time to think.
He was not a baker. At least he would not be one roughly one month from now, when winter semester began. Two weeks ago he returned home from Argentina. He still worked for the church, but now he got ten dollars an hour plus overtime and fresh hard rolls. Adam was hired for the holiday rush. He worked twelve-hour shifts.
The Joseph Smith Memorial Building, elegant and staid, contained a chapel, genealogical research facilities, a theatre showing earnest public relations epics, a busy reception center, and two restaurants. Before its restoration, it was simply the Hotel Utah. Although situated directly in between the church office building and the temple, the Hotel Utah was somehow beyond the church’s jurisdiction. At least that’s the impression Adam got. The basement, the location of the bakery, still displayed evidence of the building’s first incarnation. Not only in the tile and mirrors that remained from the corner of a ballroom that now served as a staff cafeteria. But also in Marlin, the butcher who worked in the same commissary where he had hacked sides of beef into steaks for forty years before the Hotel Utah shut down. In passing comments, Marlin revealed to Adam the building’s secrets: call girls conducted regular business here and even during prohibition it was a reliable place to get a drink.
Marlin was disappointed that his prostitution and speak-easy references did not scandalize Adam. Two years in Buenos Aires had changed him. He knew from urbane families he taught that some connoisseurs preferred Argentinean wine to French. And he learned early on that missionaries are magnets to the drunks that populated the parks and buses. Adam also remembered the baptismal interview with the woman who was concerned about her job interfering with church activities. After dispensing with euphemisms completely unfamiliar to him, she understood that her baptism would have to be rescheduled. “Si,” Adam softly said, “esto es un problema.”
Now chopping frozen cheesecakes in half and half again with a large blade, handles on both ends, Adam was thinking about his homecoming.
Sitting on the stand, he watched intently as faces filled the chapel and half the overflow, the basketball court of his youth. But not all of them were familiar. A girl caught his eye and he considered the possibilities: new girl in the ward, college roommate to one of the neighbor girls, strange beauty drawn to appear—by forces unknown even to her—to honor his service to the kingdom. Adam glanced down at the handwritten talk clutched in his left hand and back at her. She was sitting next to uncle Dave. “Lindsey,” Adam told himself, revolted, amused. “Little cousin Lindsey.” He quickly forgave himself; her transformation over the past two years had been remarkable.
Jill was there too. He didn’t see her in the congregation, but she came to his parent’s house afterward. She approached him, attempted a hug, and called his talk inspiring. He was not entirely comfortable with her, he decided her presence was better than her absence, he was polite, they did not talk much. She sat with other girls from high school, some (like Jill) he had dated, some (like Jill) he had kissed. They looked at his mission pictures and talked (inaudible to him) while he shook neighbors’ and cousins’ hands and thanked them for coming. As he watched these girls from across the room, the social matrix of dorms and college wards and institute dances—the world they had occupied for the past two years—filled his mind. Acting distant today would not hurt him. It might even seem charming. But eventually, in that world, he would engage them or others like them.