Chapter 3: After the Dancing
All the party guests were tired and hot by the time daylight had faded through the kitchen window. Mrs Bundle's birthday party was still going strong, with treats and crumbs on the dinner table and bits of shiny wrapping paper strewn out over the floor amid the confetti. And the old woman had been amazed by all the clever birthday gifts these guests had brought along:
The Lapins had given Mrs Bundle seventy-nine sugar cookies, each one with a candle painted on it, stacked-up like a cake. Ms Briggs had decorated a pair of long hedge clippers with bright, flowery patterns. Mrs Wallis and Mrs Mild had written a poem for Mrs Bundle, which they had recited while standing on creaky chairs in the middle of the kitchen-
“Get on with the music, Thomas!” Mrs Relish had shouted.
And Mr Quips had brought-out a beautiful violin, the colour of maple syrup—he had played peppery ditties that had moved Mrs Bundle into snapitty-tapping a pair of spoons against her knee—and that's what had started everyone dancing around and around, flitting their feet about, like jumping fish—until, now late into the evening, they all collapsed into their seats, covered with streamers and confetti and crumbs, gasping for breath.
Mr Bundle flicked-on a lamp in the kitchen corner, spreading warm yellow light through the room, like a campfire.
“And who made that lovely birthday cake?” panted Mrs Wallis, wiping her fingers on the hem of her dress and smacking her thin lips together.
“Well, Sally helped with it!” Mrs Relish puffed, fanning her face with a decorative napkin; bits of confetti blew out of her frizzy hair. “My daughter's a Baker's Assistant, which means she helps everyone at the bakery do everything! HA! ...Oh, Sally dear, be sure to tell the other bakers that the cake for Mrs Bundle was a big hit!”
Sally nodded lightly and creaked backwards in her chair.
“So you made the cake then, Sally?” asked Mrs Mild, raising her pencil-sketched eyebrows. Sally shook her head and smiled at the woman.
“HA!” laughed Mrs Relish, swatting the long, dangly ends of Sally's green hair-ribbon. “Now don't be a ninny, my dear! You helped with that cake—go on and tell Mrs Mild how very talented you are!”
Sally picked at a crumb stuck to her jumper and cleared her throat several times.
“I made the icing,” she said quickly. Her mother nodded proudly.
“Raspberry Italian buttercream!” Mrs Relish beamed, standing to collect messy dishes from around the table; a fluttering of confetti flew out of her hair and onto the floor. “...No other bakery in the city makes it—and Sally made the icing on that cake all by herself! HA!”
“Oh, good for you, Sally-” grinned Mrs Mild.
“I'd like to spread it on toast...” continued Mrs Relish thoughtfully, heaving a pile of plates into a clattery stack beside the sink (she was so short, her chin was level with the countertop). “...Italian buttercream on toast! Oh, I love the raspberries—and the raspberry white chocolate scones! Well—terribly, terribly good!”
“Hear that, Frederick?” Mrs Lapin whooped. “Raspberry white chocolate scones? ...Sally must work at theWild Earth Bakery!”
“Tooting right she does!” chirped Mrs Relish, slopping cutlery into the sink.
“...WHAT? ” shouted Mr Lapin, fiddling with his hearing aid.
“The bakery, Fred!” Mrs Lapin shouted back, “...RASPBERRY SCONES!”
“Oh, yes, I'll have one!” nodded Mr Lapin.
“...We go every Saturday,” Mrs Lapin simpered to the group, “raspberry white chocolate scones and chai lattés-”
“I go every day!” hooted Mrs Relish, her nose wiggling madly. “I have four cups of coffee there every day!”
“Good grief,” scoffed Mr Quips, “every day?”
“Yes!” clucked the little woman. She fluffed-up her hair and a scattering of confetti flittered out of it. “Four cups of coffee every day—and a macaroon on Mondays, and a tart on Tuesdays, and then on Wednesdays—banana bread with walnuts!” She smiled around at the guests, as if expecting applause. “...Tiramisu-in-a-jar on Thursdays, flan on Fridays, then raspberry scones on Saturdays and Sundays! HA!”
“Tiramisu served in a jar?” giggled Mrs Mild, looking from Mrs Relish to Sally.
“Oh yes, yes!” Mrs Relish squawked eagerly. “And other things—like crême brûlée—they scoop sugar on top of that one, right when it's ordered, and then they blast it with a great big torch!”
“Ohh, it's like a show!” clapped Mrs Mild.
“It IS a show!” cackled Mrs Relish. She grabbed a tea towel off the counter and wiped her hands on it, tossed it back where it came from. “I haven't missed a day since last spring! HA! Sally had just finished pastry school, and we were poking about, sniffing-out different shops she might want to work in—well, when we found this one—that's when we knew Sally had to sign up for plenty of dance classes-”
“The Wild Earth Bakery...” piped-up Ms Briggs, slowly brightening, “...that's the place with all the dancingbakers!”
“Dancing bakers?” asked Mrs Mild.
“I love dancing!” said Mrs Wallis. She smiled dimly and fluffed-up her pink dress.
“Yes!” clapped Mrs Relish. “You've got to be a thumping good dancer to work there—all the bakers are!”
“...The bakers dance?” puzzled Mr Bundle, giving his wife a look; Mrs Bundle shrugged at him and stared curiously back at Mrs Relish.
“They've got to!” sang the little woman. “...How else could they move about in a busy kitchen, doing fifty things at once? HA! ...They've got to be very, very quick—and they can't be bumping into each other, like sloppy monkeys—the bakers are mixing ingredients, sliding full-trays in the oven, pulling hot-trays out of the oven, bagging fresh bread, rolling pie crusts, stirring pots and everything else!” She leaned her elbow up against the counter, catching her breath and chuckling. “...And they're not just baking for one shop, either! HA! Oh no, no—the bakery is the main shop...” she grinned, “...but the bakers also bake for twoother shops—two Wild Earth coffee shops, set in different parts of of the city—the main shop sends them trucks full of homemade baking every day!”
“Utter madness!” Mr Quips puffed.
“Oh, but it's not!” said Mrs Relish, her nose flittering. “Even while the bakers are whipping-up treats for hundreds and hundreds of people—and while the kitchen could be a great scuffling mess of dropped batches and rattled bakers—it never is, and that's because they're all thumping good at dancing! HA!”
“...We've seen the bakers dancing, haven't we, Frederick?” smiled Mrs Lapin primly. After a moment, she nudged her husband and he looked over at her blankly. “...Aren't they fun, Fred?” she nodded.
“...WHAT?” shouted Mr Lapin, tapping a finger against his ear.
“The bakery, Frederick!” Mrs Lapin hollered. “...DANCING BAKERS!”
“Oh, yeesss!” Mr Lapin brightened, looking around at everyone; the grin on his face stretched all the way up to his eyes. “...Have you seen them? Aren't they fun!”
“I've just heard about them,” shrugged Ms Briggs. “I've heard they're tremendous!”
“They are! HA! Exactly—tremendous!” hooted Mrs Relish. “They're stupendous! They're brainy—dancing at a bakery—why, it just hasn't been done! It gets everything moving about brilliantly! As quick as a wit!”
“...And you dance along with the rest of them, Sally?” marvelled Mrs Mild.
“Of course she does, you lump!” Mrs Relish chirped. “She's stinking good at it!”
Sally gave a jumpy smile, her face flushed.
“Oh, I'd like to see that!” clapped Mrs Mild. “...Would you-” she stopped, grinning hopefully, “...would you show us how you do it, Sally? Just a little flit about the kitchen?”
“Oh, yes! Please! We've never seen a dancing baker!” nodded Ms Briggs.
“Neither have I!” said Mrs Wallis.
Sally swallowed a great lump in her throat.
“What a good idea—you can do that, Sally!” hooted Mrs Relish. “What a great bit of practice! ...She dances about at home, you know-” she said to the others, “she's baked since she was a wee thing of course, but now—now she can move like the wind! Not like before—oh, no, no—she used to work as slowly as a slug! HA! Yes, yes—and I think a bit of practice in front of a crowd would do you some good, Sally!”
Sally got an awful look on her face—like she'd just sat in a puddle.
Mrs Relish gazed around the kitchen and spotted a pair of high-up cupboards that looked like they would probably have some useful ingredients in them.
“I'll just take a peak at what we've got around here—bet you could whip-up a batch of Grandma's Cookies, Sally!” sang Mrs Relish, her nose wiggling feverishly. “A family recipe! Oh, yes! Definitely, definitely—those cookies can be made out of almost anything!”
She hurried over to the table and grabbed her empty chair, beginning to drag it across the floor. Mr Bundle cleared his throat irritably. Mrs Bundle made a gurgling sound.
“Now, Rosie, don't go poking about in the cupboards,” said Mr Bundle in his most authoritative voice, clearing his throat and getting to his feet.
Mrs Relish shot him a knowing grin and said, “I won't use your things all up! Don't worry, you goose, it'll just be a little batch. A tiny taste—enough for you to see how cleverly Sally whips it all together! HA!” Then she turned around and pushed that chair across the kitchen, catching wrapping paper and confetti under its legs, shoving it up beside the counter. She wiggled herself up to standing on it, popped-open a tall cupboard and began digging through it, like a squirrel searching for nuts in a tree. “Got any cinnamon, Mazy?” she called, pulling all sorts of things out of the cupboard and examining them one by one, her nose wiggling. She tossed some things on the kitchen counter, others she threw back onto the nearest shelf.
Chapter 4: BOOM
Mr and Mrs Bundle were both on their feet now, watching the little woman dig through their kitchen cupboards.
“Stop that, Rosie,” Mr Bundle growled. “You're going to make a big mess! We don't want any trouble—you've done enough, come down from there!” He squeezed Mrs Bundle's hand tightly.
“When you see Sally at work in a few minutes, mixing all these things together,” grunted Mrs Relish, (she was stretching her little round body up as high as it would go, one hand grabbing around in a top cupboard) “...ugh... when you... see her, you'll forget how twitchy you're getting! Oh—perfect, perfect!” She pulled down a sticky bag of dried fruit and tossed it down on the countertop, then reached back up. “It's obvious that you don't dig around in here very much-” puffed the little woman, “it's as dusty as a library!”
Sally's eyes darted nervously from her mother to the old couple—the Bundles looked about ready to burst.
“Mum! Stop it!” Sally grimaced.
“In a minute! I'll be done in a minute!” sang Mrs Relish, waving her hand over her shoulder. A pile of ingredients the size of a large anthill had collected on the counter now. Nuts and raisins and brown sugar and several types of flour—she slammed one top cupboard shut and opened another. “Rolled oats! We need rolled oats and chocolate chips!” she barked with little flecks of spit shooting out of her mouth.
The guests sat quietly, gawking at the scene unraveling before them. Mr Lapin had dozed off in his chair and was snoring softly, whistling through his nose.
Mrs Relish hopped down from the chair and ran over to the refrigerator, wrenching it open and grabbing armfuls of ingredients. Everything was slopped onto the counter.
“Alright, almost ready!” she sang. “Just need a mixing bowl!” She whipped lower cupboards open and shut.
“Oh stop it you- you rude woman!” sputtered Mr Bundle. “You're messing everything up—you can't do this, you've no right!” His voice seemed to dry up finally, and he could only stand there, red-faced, shooting fitful glances at his wife.
“She won't listen, Harold,” hissed the old woman “never does and never will!”
Mrs Relish was flapping around the kitchen so quickly, she had already switched-on the oven and pulled Sally over to the counter. Now Sally was reluctantly sorting through that gigantic mound of ingredients.
“Sorry,” she had whispered to the old couple. “She'll give me heck if I don't!”
Sally cleared a space on the counter and set a mixing bowl there, ready to begin. And that's when the room began to feel different. It was as if the air had become thicker and quieter. No one moved—Mr Lapin had even stopped snoring as he slept; Mr Bundle felt the hair on his arms stand on end.
“Watch- watch her! Are you watching?” clapped Mrs Relish.
Sally turned and glanced nervously at all the guests, who were staring at her curiously from the kitchen table. Then she twisted back to her mixing bowl, and her feet began to move...
There was a stumble at first—her feet slipped and a few of the guests squawked with worry; Mrs Relish swept some of the mess on the floor away, and Sally's feet were suddenly tapping about in the quickest, slickest rhythm you've ever heard. It sounded like rain falling on a street: light and airy and bright as a spoon tapping a glass for attention. And Sally's face was suddenly relaxed and happy. She looked confident and proud—far different from that bug-eyed girl the guests had all seen at the start of the evening—she mixed the ingredients with measured ease, scooping them all together and whisking them into a dusty cloud; she cracked eggs, scrunched them open, poured milk, syrup, vanilla into the mixing bowl—and every step happened so incredibly quickly, Sally looked like a jumping, spinning top.
“HA! Isn't she a talent?” Mrs Relish clapped proudly.
“Well- would you look at that!” breathed Mrs Mild.
“Tremendous!” laughed Ms Briggs.
Mr and Mrs Bundle were as amazed as the rest of them.
“Oh dear...” whispered Mrs Bundle. “She's quite good at this, isn't she!”
“Alright, we've seen enough now!” called Mr Bundle, his voice breaking. But the sound in the kitchen had become thick with hoots and cheers from the guests and no one heard the old man's shouting. Sally scooped and stirred and flitted her feet gracefully over the floor. “Oh my!” said the guests. “Look at how quick she is!” “Did you see that? She nearly stood on her head!” And in no time at all, Sally had prepared a lovely round of cookie dough in that mixing bowl.
Mrs Relish greased a cookie sheet with butter; the oven hummed with heat; Sally rolled the dough into tiny balls; her feet spun around beautifully as she set the dough on the pan with incredible speed—if you blinked you would've missed it
“Wonderful! Extraordinary!” cheered Mrs Mild.
The other guests were nearly falling off their seats, laughing and clapping with glee.
“Hey- what's she doing?” someone shouted.
Sally had stopped suddenly and was staring at the cookie sheet. ...How very strange, she thought.
“Don't stop, Sally—you're doing so well!” clapped Ms Briggs.
“...Is something wrong?” snorted Mrs Relish, her nose wiggling about. She lifted her chin up and peered at the cookie sheet. “...Oh my—oh MY-” she exclaimed. “...Well isn't that strange! It looks like—it looks like the dough is melting! HA! ...It's all melting together into a great blob! How disgusting!”
There were no longer pretty little balls of dough on the cookie sheet, but a syrupy puddle of caramel-coloured muck.
“Ohhh no...” muttered Mrs Bundle.
“Why is it- what's going on?” Sally muttered, shaking her head.
“Well no one's perfect!” cackled Mrs Relish. “You must've put too much liquid in there, my girl,” shrugged the little woman. “It's alright, no harm done—shove it in the oven and let it bake into one big, fat cookie!”
“NO!” Mr Bundle shouted. “Throw that away! Enough of this—those ingredients are all old and awful. You'll make everyone sick!” He was twisting his eyebrow fitfully, his eyes dodging around at the guests. “Don't bake it, you hear me? It- it will taste like- like- oh it's bound to be disgusting!” he choked.
“HA! Nonsense, Harold!” snorted Mrs Relish. She dipped her finger into the stuff on that tray, tasted it and smacked her lips together loudly. Several of the guests cringed. “Delicious!” exclaimed Mrs Relish. “See? Nothing to worry about!” Her nose wiggled excitedly. “It's great! Wonderful, wonderful! HA!” She grabbed the pan and waddled eagerly over to the oven.
“HEY! Look!” someone shouted.
Mrs Relish stopped and looked back at the tableful of guests; Ms Briggs was pointing at the cookie sheet; Mr and Mrs Bundle gasped, their eyes bulged out of their heads; Mrs Relish looked down and nearly dropped the pan in her hands.
“See it? Look! The dough is moving!” shouted Ms Briggs. The other guests gawped loudly—a few of them laughed. “It's moving about!” Ms Briggs carried on, her eyes wide and unblinking. “It's alive!”
Mrs Relish fumbled with the pan and tossed it onto the stove as if it was a snake. She stared at it stiffly, puffing out her cheeks. Sally couldn't believe her eyes. The other guests craned their necks, creaking forward in their chairs, trying to get a good look at the dough—it slid around on the cookie tray like a greasy jellyfish.
“Extraordinary...” said Mrs Relish. “What a funny thing...Ha! How weird!”
“I told you it was a bad idea-” Mr Bundle grumbled. He wiped his forehead with a sleeve. “All those old ingredients mixed together—who knows what you've made!”
“DON'T USE THAT!” Mrs Bundle shouted suddenly—Mr Bundle jumped with everyone else. “...Ohhhhh dear,” said the old woman, puffing out her cheeks and nodding seriously. “I just remembered—I once ordered a sack of specialty flour years ago—a novelty item from... from... very far away! I- I thought I'd thrown it out!” she sputtered. “...I've only baked a cake with it once. It's awful stuff, really! We should get rid of it as soon as possible!”
“How strange!” said Mrs Lapin, sitting up straightly. Mr Lapin snored beside her.
“Ohhh it is strange,” nodded Mrs Bundle, “strange and terrible!”
“What would anyone use it for?” said Ms Briggs, crinkling up her nose.
“It's supposed to make everything taste exciting!” shrugged Mrs Bundle. “My baking was always a bit boring, so I ordered the stuff to pluck up the taste—ohhhh I would never use it again! ...Even if you've only pinched the teeniest titch of the stuff into your recipe, you're asking for trouble... The whole thing will explode in the oven when it's baked—it's horrible and dangerous!”
“Sounds like a lot of bunk to me!” cackled Mrs Relish, her nose flittering about. “Bugs in the batter and explosions in the oven? HA! What a lot of excuses! Maybe you're afraid Sally's baking will outdo your own!”
“...Is that true, Mazy?” asked Ms Briggs gently.
“Certainly not!” huffed Mrs Bundle.
“We wouldn't hold that against you!” said Mrs Mild, reaching across the table and patting the old woman on the arm. “You're good at lots of things—we know that!”
“And don't worry, Mazy,” Mrs Relish hooted, “Sally's baking could never be as boring as yours!”
“Oh, Rosie! What an awful thing to say!” scoffed Ms Briggs.
Sally looked at the odd mixture squirming around on the cookie tray. It had become thinner and darker, lolling up and down and back and forth, like a pond of water blown about by a storm.
“Don't be such a prune, Doris!” Mrs Relish was chuckling at Ms Briggs. “Mazy's a tough old girl—she can handle a joke! And so can I—which is why I'm going to bake this tray of cookie batter, no matter what stories she's making up!”
“How do you explain all that wiggling then?” said Ms Briggs seriously. “There must be bugs in there, making it move around like that! Surely you don't think that's normal?”
“HA! Of course it's not normal!” laughed Mrs Relish. “But mixing up a recipe is a sort of science, and sometimes a chemical reaction will make something behave in an unusual way—learned that from my husband—he's got his own hotdog stand you know—built it himself!” And with that, Mrs Relish picked up the cookie tray, popped opened the oven door and shoved the tray inside before anyone could say another word about it. “There! HA!” smiled the little woman, brushing her hands together. The guests all looked at each other nervously.
“Are you sure that's a good idea, Mum?” Sally mumbled quietly. “Maybe you should listen to them!”
“Don't let anything ever scare you away from getting what you want, Sally!” grinned Mrs Relish, giving her daughter a gentle dig in the side.
“Ohhh, we have to stop it, Harold! Really! Take it out of there!” cried Mrs Bundle.
“Rosie, you're a menace!” grumbled Mr Bundle, thumping his fist against the kitchen table and climbing to his feet. “Enough of this nonsense!” He lumbered across the kitchen, confetti blowing around his feet, reaching for the handle on the oven door.
“What are you doing?” laughed Mrs Relish, giving his hand a whack. “It's not finished baking yet, you lump!”
“Now see here, Rosie,” clipped the old man, spitting through his words, “we've had enough of your cheek! You can't come roaring in here, bossing everyone about, telling everyone what's what—this is our house, and you seem to forget that fact every time you're in it! Now take that tray out of the oven before I throw you out of this house myself!”
The room was quiet for a moment. The guests all pinched their mouths shut, their eyes darting from the short, frizzy-haired woman to the tall, old man. Mr Lapin snorted in his sleep and smacked his lips together.
“W-well...” sputtered Mrs Relish finally. She cleared her throat, her eyes flicking around at the guests—but before she could say anything more, a noise like a bomb exploded inside the oven, shaking the walls and the floor! The force of it nearly knocked the guests off their seats.
“We're too late! Get away from there!” shouted Mrs Bundle.
Mr Bundle and Mrs Relish crashed into each other and jumped away from the oven, just as sparks started to snap and glow inside it. The sound turned into a loud whistling and cracking noise, like fireworks. It became louder and louder, until it was a crackling, grinding roar; rattling the stove, wobbling and slopping a pot of water sitting atop it.
“What have you done, Rosie!” someone shouted.
“The whole house is shaking!” shrieked someone else.
“We're going to be squashed by the ceiling!”
Mr and Mrs Bundle clung together in their seats, everyone else had climbed under the table, their hands clamped over their ears—even Mr Lapin was dragged under there, still very much asleep.
The oven rocked furiously now, as if a wild animal was trapped inside it, roaring horribly. The pot of water sitting on the stovetop bounced off and clattered onto the floor, spraying everyone. The kitchen windows rattled and the floors rumbled; the confetti on the floor shook like tiny bugs skittering about; jars fell off the shelves and crashed into pieces, balloons floated off the walls and the lights went out.
“Save us!” the guests shouted. “Somebody save us!”
But before anyone could move an inch—everything stopped at once, like the flick of a switch. 'DING' the oven sang sweetly, and it shut off. The only bit of noise left in the kitchen was the snorting and gargling of Mr Lapin, sleeping on the floor with his mouth hanging open, half-covered in confetti.
“Has it- has it really stopped?” someone shouted.
“I think it has! I think it's alright!”
“...Is it safe to come out?”
All the guests were clumped together under the table, like tinned sardines.
“Yes, come out now,” grumbled Mrs Bundle, getting up from her seat. Mr Bundle was kicking shards of glass into a pile beside the refrigerator.
The guests peeled themselves out from under the table, one by one, groaning and grimacing. ...The kitchen was a wreck, littered with broken glass and shattered picture frames and fallen streamers. Mr Bundle lit candles around the room.
“That was the nuttiest thing I've ever seen!” groaned Ms Briggs, stumbling away from the table. “My ears are still ringing!”
“I told you to leave it alone, Rosie!” Mrs Bundle said sternly. “What a big mess you've made!”
“Yes, you should have left it well alone, Rosie!” Mrs Lapin said sharply.
“You've got to stop doing whatever you like, woman!” grumbled Mr Quips.
Mrs Relish blew out her cheeks and surveyed the damage in the kitchen.
“Well,” she smiled weakly, “well- that was a bit of a mistake I suppose! I do apologize Mazy, Harold. HA!” The Bundles glared at her. “...Is your oven broken then?” the little woman added sympathetically.
“Just leave it alone!” said Mrs Bundle sharply. “Leave everything alone!” The old woman looked around at the guests and nodded, “I think we've had enough of a party for one night, thanks.”
“Don't you want help cleaning up the mess?” asked Mrs Mild. She was holding a big bunch of balloons that she'd scooped up off the floor.
“No thank you,” Mrs Bundle shook her head. “We'll do it ourselves.”
The Bundles watched quietly as the guests dug through the mess of broken glass and party decorations, searching for their hats and coats, shaking the confetti out of them. Mrs Lapin dragged Mr Lapin out from under the table and tapped him on the head.
“TIME TO GO, FRED!” she shouted, and he woke up with a start.
“WHAT HAPPENED TO THE KITCHEN?” he asked, stumbling to his feet, a streak of confetti stuck to half his face.
The Bundles stood on the front porch and waved at their departing company.
Mrs Mild moseyed away with Mrs Wallis, their pink dresses flapping in the evening breeze. Mr Quips left with that black violin case tucked snugly under his arm. Mr Lapin was tottering away after his wife, bits of confetti floating off his clothing like snowflakes on the wind.
“I really am very sorry of course,” said Mrs Relish, standing on the front steps, her enormous whale-shaped purse taking up space beside her. “I'm a bit of a stinker sometimes, aren't I?” she laughed, whacking Mr Bundle on the back.
“I'd say you're more of a headache, really,” said the old man. Mrs Relish smiled weakly, she nodded and dragged her giant purse down the steps.
“Thank you, Mr and Mrs Bundle!” Sally said politely, following her mother.
“You're welcome, dear,” nodded Mrs Bundle. “And Rosie!” shouted the old woman. Mrs Relish turned around. “Thank you for the birthday party. We did have a good time! Mostly.”
Mrs Relish beamed back at Mrs Bundle, her enormous teeth glinting in the porch light. “You're so very very welcome!” she hooted, then turned and began to waddle slowly down the Bundle's walkway and across the road, dragging her purse along with her.
The Relish family lived in a tall house across the street. The house had enormous windows spotting the sides of it, and orange light was glowing through them now.
“Your dad's home!” the old couple heard Mrs Relish say.
Suddenly the phone in the Bundles' hallway rang. Mrs Bundle rushed inside to answer it. Mr Bundle sat down wearily on the front step, leaning back on his hands and looking up at the moon, which looked like a clipped thumbnail in the clear night sky.
“Hello? … Hello!” came Mrs Bundle's voice from down the hallway. “...Oh... I figured it must have been… Well, yes, our kitchen is an awful mess now...”
Mr Bundle slumped back. He pulled his glasses off his nose and rubbed them on his shirt tails.
“....yes, very messy- as you can imagine...” came the voice from down the hallway. “...Really? for Sally? ...Hm... I see... Okay, I will! Talk to you soon then. Bye bye.” The slam of the phone back on the hook made Mr Bundle jump.
“OHHH! Oh my! Alright, alright!” shouted Mrs Bundle, her feet slapping down the hallway.
“What is it?” sighed Mr Bundle, groaning to his feet.
Mrs Bundle came scurrying out the front door and squinted her eyes across the road—she could just make out the figures of Sally and Mrs Relish beginning to stroll up the walkway of their own house.
“SALLY! Sally Relish! Yoohoooo!” shouted Mrs Bundle, clapping her hands loudly and waving her arms like a maniac. “Sally, come back her for a moment, please!”
The porch light from a house three doors down flicked on and someone shouted, “QUIET OUT THERE—WE'RE TRYING TO SLEEP!”
Sally ran across the dark street and back up the Bundles' walkway like a frizzy-haired mouse. “Did you need something, Mrs Bundle?” she puffed, smiling lightly.
They stood beside the oven in the kitchen, sliding bits of broken glass and confetti and streamers out of the way, candlelight flickering.
“I've brought you back here to give you a gift, Sally!” said the old woman, looking curiously at the oven.
“Give me- why?” Sally laughed. “It's your birthday!”
“Well, it's something that practically has your name on it!” chuckled the old woman, flapping her hand dismissively. “This'll only take a minute!” She cranked open the oven door and a puff of steam bellowed out of it. Sally stepped back. The old woman turned around and added, “You're about to have quite an adventure I think!”
“Oh? An adventure?” said Sally, beginning to cough on the strong scent of burnt chocolate that had suddenly filled the kitchen.
“Yes! An adventure like no other!” nodded the old woman. “This is a very, very special gift—ohhhh I can hardly wait to see how you do with them!”
“How I do—with what?” Sally asked uncertainly.
“Hold your horses!” the old woman laughed, holding up a finger. “They're still very hot!” She did a little skippy dance with her feet. “...But I can't wait to see how you like them- and how you'll wear them- and of course, how they'll wear you!”
Just then, Mr Bundle slipped out of a door at the other side of the kitchen—he was carrying something silver and square. His feet crunched over the floor as he approached—it was an empty shoebox under his arm. He set it on the stovetop, beside a pair of boots. ...Hey—boots! Sally was taken aback by the sight of them! A pair of silvery-blue boots were sitting on the stovetop and Mrs Bundle was nodding and smiling and pointing to them.
“These are for you!” grinned Mrs Bundle. “Do you like them? They're dancing shoes—the soles are nice and thin!”
These boots were so sparkly and bright, they looked like they belonged with a costume.
“For me?” Sally said, biting the skin of her lip. “...Well that's nice of you, Mrs Bundle, but I don't really need-”
“Oh it's no trouble- just keep them,” chortled Mrs Bundle. She picked up the boots and placed them carefully inside that silver shoebox, closed the lid and held it out for Sally to take. “These boots could change your life you know,” the old woman grinned.
“H-how could they change my life?” asked Sally, brushing hair out of her face and lifting an eyebrow at the old woman.
“Well,” smiled Mrs Bundle, shrugging her shoulders, “some things come from luck, and other things come from hard work and imagination and creativity... but you need to believe in yourself to make the most of anything!” The old woman licked her lips and went on, speaking very slowly and seriously. “You've been given these boots because someone believes in you—now I suppose the real question is—do you believe in yourself?”
Mr and Mrs Bundle stood on the porch lined with daisies and watched the girl disappear into the house across the street. A light wind was pushing heavy clouds across the sky, covering the moon and chilling the air. The old man put an arm around his wife.
“Think she'll be alright?” mumbled Mr Bundle.
“Oh, I'm sure she will,” sighed the old woman. “...Ohhhh, seventy-nine-years old,” she clucked, shaking her head and wandering back into the house. “I'm getting too old for this...”
“Hellooooo?” sang Mrs Relish when she heard the front door close. A set of footsteps tapped about inside the house. “Sally, is that you?”
“Heeeyyyy! Sallyyyy!” cheered Mr Relish, his voice was thick and rusty.
“Yeah, hi!” came Sally's voice, then the sound of footsteps went trotting up the stairs.
“What did the Bundles want?” hooted Mrs Relish.
“Oh, nothing!” came Sally's voice again. The footsteps came tapping back down the stairs and Sally wandered into the sitting room, where Mrs Relish was sprawled out on the sofa and Mr Relish was tipped back in an armchair, his great belly sticking up like a hillside; he was a short, portly fellow, with curly, black hair, and a little moustache that he combed very carefully before work every morning—when he was thinking very hard about something, he had a tendency to lick at the edges of it, slicking the little black hairs into place beside his mouth.
'...Lance, darling!' said a woman's voice on the flickery old television set. 'We musn't let anything keep us apart...'
“...They called you over there for no reason?” scoffed Mrs Relish, looking up from the tv.
...She was the sort of mother who made her daughter wear the ugly sweaters gifted by crazy aunts at Christmastime—sweaters with real bells and real whistles sewn to the front—there was no doubt that if she knew about those sparkly boots, Sally would never hear the end of it. 'Why aren't you wearing your new boots?' Mrs Relish would say. 'Put them on! Put them on!'...
“Oh- no-” Sally chuckled, “it was nothing important. ...It was just a lot of silliness, really.”
5: The Shop
Late the next morning, city bus number seven screeched to a stop on Ninety-ninth Street; the side door folded open and Sally came hopping out onto the sidewalk, wearing a backpack that looked very full—so full, in fact, that the zipper could not zip all the way closed, but left the top of the bag hanging open, showing off the silver shoebox crammed inside.
This day was sloppy and wet; the sky was grey, blowing waterfalls of rain all over the place, and the wind was annoying. Flurries of people splashed through puddles along the sidewalk, clamping their hats and hairpieces in place with their hands. A row of birds had perched along the telephone wires, wobbling and fluttering their wings back and forth.
Sally's hair flapped about as she waited at the traffic lights for the walk signal to change. The Wild Earth Bakery and Café was on the corner across the street (that red building). Despite this awful weather, what a nice looking place it was! There were big flower pots full of green plants set along the front, and massive rectangular windows overhung with sharp, black awnings. Through the wet window glass, you could see people moving about in the shop, like fish swimming inside an aquarium.
When the walk signal lit up, Sally bolted across and held the shop door as a chitchatting man and woman swung out of it, both carrying large, paper coffee cups; they screwed up their faces in the blowing rain and hurried off with their heads bent low. Sally dashed inside, where everything was calm and warm. It smelled wonderful—like fresh bread and cinnamon and chocolate...
The shop was a long, wide space, with tall ceilings and lovely, large tiled floors. There was a stone fireplace at the far end, and all sorts of soft chairs and wooden tables tucked into comfortable nooks at every turn. Most of the seats were taken up by people eating and drinking and chatting happily to each other.
At this end of the shop, there was a massive showcase, holding all sorts of desserts; and there were big, glass jars lined up along the top of it, filled with every kind of cookie you could want. A lot of people had gathered in front of this showcase, ogling the goods inside, bobbing their heads back and forth like a bunch of peckish chickens.
“I want that one, Mum!” one little girl was clapping, tugging her mother's hand impatiently and pointing at an enormous chocolate cake, iced with strawberry Italian buttercream, topped with chocolate ganache and chocolate-dipped strawberries. Several other scrumptious looking cakes also lined the shelves inside this showcase—vanilla cakes, lemon cakes, carrot cakes, cheesecakes—topped with the most delectable ingredients, and made to look almost too beautiful to eat.
“Barney, look!”a plump woman gushed. She was eyeing another part of that showcase, tapping her pudgy fingers against the glass—perhaps attempting to wake up the rows of squares and tarts in there. “A strawberry rhubarb square!” she gushed to the man standing beside her. “Let's get it heated up! And with whipped cream!”
There were several workers wearing black aprons, dashing back and forth behind that showcase and the long counters that jutted out on either side of it. The countertops seemed to go on and on—curving around one whole, long side of the shop. There were desserts and breakfast pastries in big wicker baskets on the counters; and sandwiches and salads, and even a gigantic espresso machine preparing traditional Italian coffees in the middle of the shop. Well, all the workers moved around back there with such speed, they looked just like acrobats flying about inside a circus ring.
One section of the counter was a place reserved for customers to come and collect their orders—every order was placed and paid for at the cash registers nearby—this reserved section of counter was also where many customers loved to gab with the shop staff.
“...And I've never had a garden, but these herbs grew beautifully in the flower box on my window ledge...” an old woman with purply-grey hair was drawling to one of the workers. This woman had already picked up her order—she held a plate with a cheddar cheese scone on it and a mug of loose leaf green tea. One worker behind the counter, named Mary, was ladling hot beef stew into a bowl and chuckling as she listened to the old woman go on.
“Here's a bowl of rosemary-beef stew with multigrain bread—for Jack!” Mary called as she set the bowl on the counter. She spotted Sally squelching past in wet shoes and smiled. “Hello, Sally!”
“...never knew all of my friends thought cilantro was awful!” the old woman continued. “Myself, I love it! Haha, oh dear! I'd put it in everything except dessert—so I had my dinner and they had cake!”
“Hey- Sally! You're a mess!” a worker named Marvin shouted from behind the espresso machine. He was steaming a tin of milk. He had brown, fluffy hair and large, rabbity teeth that stuck out cheerfully when he smiled—he was eyeing the water that was dripping off Sally, making a little puddle around her feet. Sally blushed and looked at the floor. “Yup, nasty weather out there!” Marvin cackled, watching the heavy rain knock against the shop windows.
“Marvin! Did you say Sally's here?” trumpeted a woman's voice from the back of the shop. A lady in a frilly, blue dress appeared from around a corner, holding a mug of coffee, her wide eyes scanning all the faces in the shop. She marched up alongside Marvin and stuck her nose sharply overtop of the espresso machine—this was Charlotte, the shop manager. She spotted Sally and smiled brightly, her lipstick thick and pink. “Ohh, good! She is here! Excellent, terrific!” she clapped. “Helloooo, Sally!” she waved like a proud parent. “Hurry downstairs and... dry off, for heaven's sake! Get in uniform! We need you in the bakery right now—big news! Big news!” Then Charlotte flashed a wide, white grin, took a great, long swig of coffee and marched off without another word.
Marvin cackled, sticking out his teeth. “Guess there's big news in the bakery today!” he said, tamping a shot of espresso on the counter—when he looked up again, however, Sally was gone. He saw the top of her hair, like a curly, red boat, bobbing through the crowd of customers, then she disappeared somewhere among the taller people.
Sally hurried through the busy shop, weaving through clusters of chatting customers, speeding past the cash registers and the enormous stone fireplace, through Bateman's Corner (a cozy corner filled with amazing, historic photos), down a staircase and finally through a white door titled “For Employees Only”.
In the staff locker room, Sally pulled off her backpack and dropped it on the floor. That silver shoebox nearly fell out the top of it. She tugged it out of the bag and wiped it off with her sleeve.
“Sorry Mrs Bundle,” Sally muttered, peeking under the lid of the box and closing it up again, puffing out her cheeks. “I'm not a performer- I'm a baker! That's all I want to do.” She rolled the box around in her hands. “...And I could never wear these! Everyone would look at me! ...But if I leave these here- I'll bet someone else would wear them!” She set the silver shoebox down on a little wooden rack that looked something like a bench on the floor—the rack was piled with all sizes of worn shoes—ones belonging to all the staff in the shop. Sally plucked a pen out of a pocket on her bag and scribbled a few letters on the top of the shoebox: 'FREE'.
Sally squirmed out of her wet running shoes and leaned against her locker. Rainwater dripped off her jumper and her hair; her shoes were making little running-shoe-shaped mud puddles on the floor. She moved as quick as a whip, changing into a set of clean, stripey pants and a black top—this was her baker's uniform. A washing machine was making loud whomping noises in a room down the hall, and a clothes dryer was grumbling hotly. She hung her wet clothes on a wall hook; wrung the water out of her hair and twisted it up into a curly red bundle, fastening it with a green hair ribbon that hung down her back.
Sally had always kept a pair of plain white shoes in her locker, which she only ever wore inside the shop—this way, even on the sloppiest days, she was never without a clean pair of shoes.
She pushed sweaters and socks aside, feeling around blindly at the pile of stuff in her locker; there were half-empty packets of chewing gum, a lot of magazines called Today's Baker, a pen, a notebook full of her own recipe ideas—but even under all that, her white shoes were nowhere to be found.
She searched through the locker room, picked through the shoe rack, fumbled through the 'Lost and Found' bin (an old box filled with forgotten junk) – her work shoes were lost, certainly, and as she slipped back into the staff locker room with nothing on her feet, her eyes settled with dread on that silver shoebox.