thumbleweed news [short story #b]

Following the previous thumbleweed news, here is a second short story, called… #b for the time being, that sounds more on a realistic plane than #a:

The din was deafening, literally deafening. One hundred and ten kids, drunk on sun, sea and the urge to enjoy a last and final day of freedom together before returning to their respective families after this too short summer camp. As it happened, the dining hall was a large barn with high ceiling, white walls and thin roofs, storing heat and noise like no other place in those hot summer days. The shouts and conversations were rising like so many waves, only to break against the next shouts and conversations. But this did not prevent the kids from eating whatever fell in their plate. Or in their neighbours’! They had cleaned dry the bones of the mackerels I had spent the whole afternoon gutting and cleaning after a fisherman showed up with a basket of leftovers from the morning market. And there was not a single slice remaining from the potatoes I had peeled and cut over the morning. I had already refilled the bread baskets once  and now they wanted more, to get with the salad bowls I had just dropped on the tables…

Getting back to the camp kitchen was a relief from both the heat and the noise. Its heavy stone walls were protection enough and the oven were cold as we had cooked the mackerels on grills outside. More cleaning to do later, though. The poor lighting due to narrow and dusty windows helped in this feeling of relative coolness. I dropped my baskets on a table and looked around: fortunately there was enough bread left in the scullery and I took several loaves next to the manual bread slicer. I had grown expert over the past weeks at working the slicer with high efficiency, pushing the break with one hand while quickly pumping the handle and the blade with the other. This was my only recipe at the moment to prevent a riot in the dinner hall! Anyway, I did not want to see any one and especially no kid near this machine. 

I had already filled two baskets and I looked at the third one as the loaf was steadily disappearing under the blade. I was actually much closed to its end than I thought and pushed my thumb through the gap with the rest of the loaf. It all happened so quickly that in the heat of the moment I first fail to notice anything was wrong. Only when the bread slices came out crimson did I realise I had cut myself. I nonetheless had to look at my hand to see the bleeding stump and understand my thumb was gone. I could see it lying there in the crumb collector under the machine, not much distinguishable from a bread piece in the uncertain light. The cut had been sharp and instantaneous, thanks to the weight of the blade, so sharp that I was not in pain but just stunned and shocked, unable to move or speak or act in any coherent way, staring at this impossible transformation of my hand. However, my body defences quickly took over and I soon fainted on the kitchen cool floor. Before the pain really hit.

When I woke up, staring at the wooden ceiling and its cobwebs, I tried to resist the unavoidable reality, to block sound and feeling and mind away in a world where nothing had happened, in another plane where the floor and the thumb were far below me, in another structure with no pain but only the sounds of the waves breaking on the rocks outside the house and of the gulls calling one another in the evening light. I could not stay there long enough and came back to my floor to realise the main cook had wrapped the stump in a clean white cloth, then put ice cubes around. I could not see the thumb any longer. The kitchen was still quiet and cool, with the cook holding my head against her knees with her other hand. Someone had clearly gone to call emergency for an ambulance came to take me to the hospital a few minutes later. I left the camp unobserved by the kids: the din from the hall had not abated a bit.

To this day, a basket of bread slices never fail to wake in me the memory of this hot and intense noise that reverberated from the hall roofs. Never the memory of a bread slicer, surprisingly…

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