In the old wood burner at the back of the kitchen she did the baking. As across the tin roof the sky broke, she gutted the fridge of all the perishables — the milk and the eggs and the butter. By candlelight she rolled and cut the dough, and as the wind sandpapered away at the clapboard siding, fifteen perfect circles she pressed, with the heel and the palm of the hand, into each of the pie-tins, fifteen perfect circles, tin after tin down the length of the counter. The scent of the split pine stirred her. This was the moment she savored the most: the kindling. The slow burn of the oak, that was the secret to the baking, sure, the reason a stack of quarter-cut always climbed the brick beside the iron maw, but the kindling. That was the treat. The orangey whorl of the sap, the splinters of pitch that stick to the whorls at the tip of the fingers, and honey their way into the crack of the palm, as if the hands were the kindling, as if her own fingers were to suddenly ignite.
All through the night the cold wind scoured the porch, sledge-hammered the rafters, shook the floor to where the candles quivered and the wax in a zig-zag ran. She browned the shells — a blind bake — and as they cooled, she spatula-ed in the last of the peach and the apple preserves. She laid the ribbons of dough in a crosshatch to cover the fillings, sprinkled the quilted surface with a dusting of cinnamon and then, ever so gently (masterful is what it was, in the storm to so pilot the ark), she pressed, one two three four, into the damp crust at the center of every pie, the diamond that rode her fist. A fleur-de-lis. A signature.
And all the while, the skyline bristled. On the far side of the pasture, the crown of an oak wavered and snapped. Down the flank of the Econ a Frigidaire tumbled, clipped the fin of a derelict Harley, gurgled its way into the muddy. Off the coast of Jamaica a freighter capsized, a cloud of birds abandoned the peninsula, up yonder overhead the burst of a solar flare bumpered off the moon to – bullseye – smack the planet, the clouds, the squall, the sky, but all through the night she fed the oven, and the oven baked the pies, and the pies baked the kitchen, and the kitchen held the storm at bay. Majestic. Yes. Majestic. Come the dawn she filled the cavernous hold of her junkyard De Soto with a (years ago the backseat crow-barred away) stack of empty blueberry crates into which she slid the pies, two to a crate and swaddled in wax paper and muslin, and set out on the open road, all or nothing, a dollar a pie, highway robbery were the highway not already bulbous with broken oak and scuttles of canvas ripped from the shop awnings.
A teacher at Valencia College, Alan Sincic has been writing now for years poetry, prose, and experimental fiction that lives somewhere between the two. The short story The Deluge appeared in the New Ohio Review and The Hunting Of The Famous People won The Gateway Review 2019 Flash Fiction Contest. Last month A3 Press published a unique (fold-out map style) illustrated chapbook of My New Car. His novella The Babe won the 2014 Knickerbocker Prize from Big Fiction Magazine, the short story/performance piece Sugar aired on Seattle’s Hollow Earth Radio, the short story Random Sample is currently available online in the Prize Winner’s Issue of Hunger Mountain Journal (hungermtn.org), and the short story Sand appeared last year in The Greensboro Review. Alan Sincic earned an MFA at Western New England University and Columbia, served on the editorial board of the Columbia Review, and — back in the day — published a children’s chapter book, Edward Is Only A Fish (Henry Holt) that was reviewed in the New York Times, translated into German, and recently issued in a Kindle edition.