This story was from an assignment I received in a “flash fiction” event. I got these elements:
Sci- Fi, cinnamon buns, and a bus.
Here’s what I came up with:
RED DUST TOURS
TODAY THE LIGHT CHANGED direction just enough to hint at fall, though it’s still August. That was my idea from my West Virginia childhood, that trick of light. I gave ’em that. I knew I’d better be useful if I wanted a damn ticket.
Of course, Bruce got a ticket. Bruce made the most delicious cinnamon buns on Earth. Bruce, and his buns, was to help supply “home cooking,” to the ones with tickets. Wives had to wait for after they worked the bugs out. But I could do anything but wait. I wanted off that little blue ball.
I met Bruce in ’45. Stepped out of the dark burlesque club after my shift on stage, right into a group of GIs shouting, “War is over!” My eyes blinked in the sun. One of them grabbed me, shook me, yelled, “Don’t you understand? The war is done!” then pulled me to him, tears streaming in my hair.
I let the GI come with me, come to my apartment, let him come into me, and afterwards he squeezed into my kitchenette and made real magic. The batch was just three buns; all the butter a girl could get in war time, but, oh, heavenly. He had a dream of a bakery, and I said, “Darling, I believe in you.”
I had been a lonely child. My mother was one of those mothers with no time for me and no husband for her, but a lotta uncles for us both, and no one gave me much of a thought until I got my first bra, and then one of those uncles decided he wanted to have me call him “sweet daddy” instead of uncle. I realized then that I had two choices: either stay at home and become a sort-of second course to what Mama was selling or go out on my own. If some stranger was going to take what he wanted from me, I wanted to be the one to decide what was a fair trade. So I hopped a bus far enough away from where Mama could get her hands on me, and when I got to town, Bruce’s town, though I didn’t know him then, the other girls in the burlesque were more than willing to help me learn to pad my bra and shake my rump.
After that day with Bruce, when the war ended, well, Bruce was looking for something to build, instead of tearing everything down like he’d done in Europe. And when I let him move in with me he wanted me to go legit. Just his girl and all; I’d stop the shaken’ and he’d start the bakin’. He wanted to take care of me. It was sweet, like his cinnamon buns, but when you’ve had as many uncles as I’ve had, you know that any man’s offer to take care of you comes with an expiration date. I agreed to move apartments to overtop the old bakery he wanted to start back up, but I had my eyes open the whole time.
And so Bruce was bakin’ and I was takin’. I was the one in front, the one you had to ask to wait on you, the one you had to give your money to. Now a lot of the townsfolk had menfolk who’d met me before, in one way or another, and their womenfolk just found it a bit hard to swallow, reaching into their tight little coin purses and giving me, that dirty woman, fifty cents, fifty cents, for a dozen cinnamon buns when donuts only cost fifteen for the very same dozen. Though they sure swallowed a lot of Bruce’s cinnamon buns no matter how badly they made them choke on their pride. The little bakery was doing okay, but I still felt like I couldn’t really breathe, not behind that counter, not listening to the little “click!” of those purses when I turned to put the money in the till.
In ’46 the notices began to appear around town:
Uncle Sam Needs YOU for a New Society!
I made Bruce go right away, but when he came home he shook his head. The crazies were going make a colony on Mars! It was impossible. My heart stopped. A new society, a new society, with no one designated as an uncle, and no one designated as a dirty woman, and no little pursed mouths to cluck at me when they passed me in Sorenson’s grocery. A new planet, a real new world, a chance to escape all possible expiration dates.
Helping America was how they pitched it. Having a captive audience for his baking was how I pitched it. Judge Passwater married us the next day; the judge knew us club girls and didn’t ask questions. Bruce was so pleased I’d finally married him. He wanted a little Bruce to teach baking to. And as far as I was concerned, he could have it, if he gave me what I wanted. One last trade on the trip to freedom. Then came the hours making love, talking, in whispers in his ear, about how happy he would be, about taking little Bruce with us, safe in my oven, then raising him in a new sheltered world, where he’d never have to go to war like his daddy had.
America had no space program that I knew of, but they convinced one-hundred single men and two women with skills, a nurse, and a Wisconsin cheese maker, to attempt to live among the stars. Cheese, cinnamon buns: sounds silly, but the army knew good food keeps the grousing down. I had no skill, well, none they thought they needed, though a few of them in the committee tried it out to be sure. They thought, despite what Bruce said, that the cinnamon bun soldier could bake just fine without me for a few months, and when Bruce said no, they reenlisted him like that.
Finally, I got my ticket by worrying them. One by one when the committee members decided they would “take another meeting” with me, “purely out of consideration for you, Bruce,” as they would say even though the meetings happened upstairs in our apartment, while Bruce was below elbow-deep in flour, I started pointing out little cracks in the whole Mars plan, looking for a way onto the spaceship, a way to jimmy the lock.
The surface of Mars was probably too cold for human life at present, so the plan was to build underground cities. And that was the point I hammered on. “You know, people get upset living like moles. What will you do, if they can’t take it underground all that time? Probably all go crazy. But, what if you had a pretty girl to take them on an excursion outside? Provide a trip to the surface from time to time?” I lied, said I had driven a Hollywood tour, seen all the stars. Each time one of the officers came visiting they chewed the idea over with me. I had gotten to them. One brigadier had a brother who sold school busses. The staff mechanic, who liked the idea of a woman in uniform, said he could reassemble the bus on Mars; I was in.
Bruce and me were the only people allowed to share the same bunk when they put us under for the ride to Mars. They closed the glass lid over us. Bruce folded his arms around me. A white fog trickled up the center of the glass. We never felt ourselves leave ground.
We woke up covered in cinnamon; Bruce had stashed in his shirt pocket a packet of Vietnam cassia a buddy had smuggled back from a final tour of duty. The pressure exploded the wax paper wrapping. We woke up choking on it, eyes burning, noses bleeding a little from the heat of it. If I hadn’t been choking within an inch of my life I would’a smacked Bruce for being so damn dumb. But, I think it was that cinnamon saved us, protected us, because, one month after we landed, one month after the construction crew finished the underground build, we noticed the grey hair. Our fellow travelers began aging, fast. Our scientists had a rocket ride back scheduled for the end of year one, but instead they took blood samples from everyone, took extra from Bruce and me, took off. Us regular folks were left to try and societize ourselves, come into a routine, not panic.
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