Prize-winning fiction from Anneliese Schultz; her story is titled Bread

This holiday season we are featuring the 2017 winners of the Cedric Literary Awards, given to previously unpublished Canadian writers of prose and poetry aged 50 or more. Founded in 2014, the Cedric program is an annual juried competition that also celebrates First Nations writers, Francophone writers and those who represent a pan-Asian heritage. More than 500 writers from across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Yukon have taken part in the competition.

Today we feature Anneliese Schultz, winner in the fiction category of the Cedric Literary Awards. Over the next three days will we publish stories by the other three winners: Guudiniia La Boucan in the First Nations category, KB Nelson in the poetry category and Susan Pieters in the creative non-fiction category.

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Anneliese Schultz is the winner in the fiction category of the Cedric Literary Awards.

A Pushcart Prize nominee and former Bread Loaf Scholar, Anneliese completed her master of fine arts in creative writing at the University of British Columbia.

Winner of the 2013 Enizagam Literary Award in Fiction, she also received the 2013 ALSCW Meringoff Fiction Award and the 2016 Stone Canoe Prize for Fiction. A short play based on her story 27 Years was produced in Richmond, and she has read her climate fiction at WordVancouver, and presented the Culture Days event Poems in the Pavement, a reading of her poems on homelessness and addiction.

After teaching Italian at UBC for more than 20 years, Anneliese is working on a young adult climate fiction series and a middle-grade novel in which a diverse step-family meets rude ghosts.

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Anneliese Schultz

Do they all have to mention the damn bakery today? First the new neighbour who’s never said a single word before and now won’t stop talking while Jo is trying to leave for work; then Amanda, herding her last daughter into that poor excuse for a car; then even the annoying mailman. The point is Jo seems to be the only one who’s never heard of it. Well, fine. Lunchtime, finding it, angrily double-parking, she goes in. She is never going to leave.

As if he actually has time for this, his wife has sent him for bread. Okay, fine. Which bakery, though? Patrick picks the obvious one, waits for a spot, gives up, double-parks. Rough Old World exterior, door open even in the rain, the smell of yeast and oven and warm air. Japanese tourists exit. He enters. He never wants to leave.

The baker (why does he wear epaulets, a sailor’s cap?) holds two seemingly identical loaves side by side. Choose? Jo is wordless. It’s hard enough even to think what it is he’s proffering, why it is she came in here, where she is.

This is nothing to do with her. She is a talker, a doer, a woman who gets what she wants. No, it is something about the place, the smell, that is bewildering her. Oven flame warmth bread. Nothing added. It is like a spell.

Luckily there are other customers at the long wooden counter, since Patrick has eyes only for the enormous clay oven. A cutting board offers small irregular chunks of bread. Fixed on the flames, he chews dreamily, not even sure what it is he’s eating. His eyes unfocus. Wow, that smell. The warmth. What honking car? Which job? A wife?

You know, there seems to be something about the customers these days. A hesitation. So many of them lost for words, so many staying much too long. As if they were somehow stuck. Gregor doesn’t mind. There is no hurry. We are all going to die.

He reaches two loaves down from the tall shelf, places them on the counter, gently turns them over so she can study the bottom crust, but no one ever does. “Which one you like?” He keeps forgetting how greatly this will confuse them.

“I –” Jo widens her eyes in distress. “I can’t actually tell the difference.” Sorry, he turns to the gentleman with the briefcase. He will give her a little time.

“Do you have –” Patrick notices suddenly that there are no ryes and sourdough, no buns or braids or biscotti. “I’ll take one,” he corrects himself. Extricating his wallet from the wrong pocket, “How much?”

He is somewhat shocked that it is $10. He does not remember bread being so expensive but then this is obviously Bread. (He will pay anything.) Oh, and cash only. Nor does he, on principle, incur other-bank charges, and yet here he is now jaywalking across the street, now pulling money out of some credit union, saying yes, sure, fine to the $2 fee, now sprinting back to the bakery as if to a long-lost love.

The loaf occupies the kitchen counter, far more than Jo and Michael could ever finish. Can you freeze bread? Suddenly she can’t even remember. Maybe they could give half of it to Amanda and outfit next door. Really she just wants it gone so she can go back to the bakery again. Now.

“I didn’t mean this kind of bread.” Rosalina rolls her eyes. “How much was it, anyway?”

Oh, here we go again. Patrick slowly slices another piece, spreads it with butter, hands it tenderly to his wife. “Just give it a try.”

At night. At night in here it is a different story. Warm darkness. The silence and the voices. A kind of slow and invisible musical chairs on the long wooden bench that faces the oven. The book on the neat embroidered cloth on the small square table lifted again, pages fanned, set carefully back, words down, the last bit of firelight glinting off the frayed red spine.

When Gregor finishes the early morning baking and sinks onto one of grandmother’s chairs, he finds it always open to a different page.

The bakery has become a constant longing, a place that lives in Jo and consequently wants the reverse. This huge and terrible need.

Tilly follows, eager, as Patrick slips down another alley, comes at it from the back. What if you wanted, say, to just kind of drop by at night, sort of sneak in?

Waking or sleeping, Gregor knows that there are whole countries on the underside of a loaf. Indentations and rises, vast arid stretches, rivulets and tributaries, a floury plain, ridges and dips in the camouflage colors of a fading season, gouges as if from glaciers. People fail to see.

Then simply smell it, he wants to say. It smells like 1400, like the day you were born, like Sicily or India or your Grandma’s cottage, like before Christ. The bottom crust will be the one that smells like the past, your childhood, like something you have lost or maybe never quite understood. The slice you have just cut — burying your nose in it — is potentiality, reassurance. Yes, of course: Home. Where this perfume is possible, all is well.

Notice also that after you have cut the loaf against your chest (and this is not just logistics — it is meaningful), the flour remains on your shirt, on your best Sunday dress. A blessing.

Patrick clears his throat. “Don’t we need some more of that uh bread?” As if he were having an affair with the butcher’s daughter and attempting to work meat into the vegan menu again.

Rosalina strikes her forehead. “Are you crazy? The freezer is like completely packed. And the kids are sick of it – they want something different.”

Obstacles. But of course… It never did run smooth. Well, he’ll just drive by. Maybe have a stroll down by the docks. Hey, take the dog for another walk. Tilly, who if you personified her would look up at him astonished, is simply enthusiastic once more.

Jo, going elsewhere, happens to park near the bakery, happens to cut through the adjacent alley on the way back to her car, just happens to carefully study the back of the building. Which little door is it? How exactly would you get in?

Oh yes, at night. At night in here there are discussions, arguments, prese di posizione (The English word tells you nothing: ‘stance’. No, the Italians have it right: ‘taking of positions’, as if a fierce but enjoyable battle might thus ensue). But the colloquies! Indeed… Just who the Pharaoh thinks he is; why the womenfolk are all turning their faces away, crying; when the monsoons will finally end; whether he is a prophet, and if so, false or true. Why this plague? When the emancipation? What the hell the coach is thinking to be trading Iwinski... Whether that clown, that bimbo are ever going to get married, how long to the divorce... Who is going to save the good Earth?

Sometimes this is overlapping, sometimes chronological, different figures succeeding one another as on the town square clock when it strikes now one now two. It is real — a woman’s laugh, the heavy sigh of a dog curling closer to the hearth, mugs clinking, an instrument thrumming as it is suddenly set down.

When Gregor finishes the early morning baking and leans, eyes closed, against the warm curve of the oven, there is no one here.

Patrick has absolutely no excuses left. It is not a place where you can slip in for a newspaper or a pack of gum. How do you hide a five-pound $10 loaf of bread? At his desk, in the car, drifting to sleep, he tries to make out the title of the book on the little table, is drawn again toward the flames, reaches for one of the small chairs. Just a moment’s respite, only a peek?

Amanda extricates one of her middle kids from Jo’s holly bush. “Sorry. Oh wow, you’re looking really tired.”

Thanks a lot. Then Jo brightens. Idea. “Hey, you guys want some more of that bakery bread? If you do, I could always go…”

The embers dying, Gregor makes great circles with his arms, breathes deep. The street is still dark, still silent, a small ribbon of mist curling up from the river. Snapping the lights off, he sits, lets the town become the spectacle and he the audience. Footlights slowly up. Now a cat traversing. The faint sound of birds. Crow hopping into a twist of fog, listening, taking it with him as he gathers himself and flies.

Gregor has fallen asleep, perhaps, because suddenly there are quick adult footsteps, now cars, then children taking their time. Sun. Wait —

Who, he wonders, standing quickly, spinning around, was here? There was talk of crops and then of war, of a despot, a princess, of the coming snows…

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What judge Tricia Wishart Dower had to say:

This piece is remarkable for its creative vision, for the atmosphere of “mystery and obsession” you create using Gregor and his grandmother's book as channel, Jo and Patrick as people caught in a spell. Bread is the perfect metaphor for their longing for nurture, for something they may “have lost” or “never knew,” linking them to centuries of longing. Your writing is a compelling blend of the ordinary and the spiritual and your structural technique sophisticated. I was swept away by the story and reminded of my own very few hallucinatory moments of connectedness with the mystery of life. Bravo!

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