Tuesday, December 13, 2011

To Tale or Not: Mulaff Bakes

Mulaff was too thin to bale hay, and everyone in Dliev baled hay.  His peers called him Twiggers, because his arms were kindling in a city of logs.  His nose was too large for his face; his teeth more resembled projection screens than instruments of mastication.  So what does a large-nosed, big-toothed twig do in a city of burly hay balers?  It took Mulaff 20 years to figure it out, but when he did it changed his life and then changed his life again.

To find the answer, take Center Street to Bulong Road.  Turn left.  Drive past The Ancient Barber and on the left, across form the cozy park and crystal clear pond, is a small eatery with "Guten Brotes" hand-painted on the giant windows, windows that let you peer into a wonderland of flour, sugar, yeast, milk, and eggs.  Only a few tables hold "Guten Brotes" to the ground, two lining the inside of the bakery and three keeping the outdoor sidewalk company.  Although this tiny pastry palace seats no more than 20, the line of customers adorns the neighborhood like tinsel on a Christmas tree.  And there behind the counter, his face still powdered in flour from the early morning, stands Mulaff greeting every customer, taking every order, and wrapping each pastry as a newborn in swaddling clothes.

Mulaff contributed his baking success to his handcrafted rolling pin.  It took him three years to make it.  He poured himself into its creation.  Some nights he couldn't sleep, not because exhaustion hadn't set in, but because he couldn't turn it off: the planning, the sculpting and the completion of the rolling pin. When adored Mulaff never referenced the ingredients or his knack for the culinary arts but the rolling pin.  Everything he baked he rolled and if it could be baked without being rolled, that item would not be found in his bakery.  Mulaff became so enamored with his rolling pin that he forgot that The Guardian had taught him how to make it. As a young boy The Guardian would stand him on a little stool in his kitchen and teach him, not only how to roll the dough, but how to craft the roller!  Mulaff forgot, but he never forgot his rolling pin.  He would often stare at it and smile.  At night he had a reserved spot on the shelf where he tucked his rolling pin away for the night.  If it weren't too bizarre, he might have whispered, "Good night, friend!" But his attachment to this rolling pin was already off-center.

Outside of "Guten Brotes," there was one other dream camped in the back of Mulaff's mind: racing - not on foot, not in cars, nor on horseback, but boats.  He longed to race remote control boats in the big city of Kudrov only 25 km away.  Remote control boat racing drew crazed fans and big dollars.  In the moments when Mulaff wasn't in the kitchen he was at the crystal pond practicing for the broad ponds of Kudrov.  He would never get a chance.  Even if he possessed the talent it was too hard to get in and too hard to catch a break until that morning when the man in the long coat ordered a cheese danish.  As the man with the long coat fell in love with the danish he began to inquire of Mulaff's ability, "How do you do it?  This danish...this danish..." The rest of the conversation is a waste of your time.  Here's what you need to know.  The man in the long coat had power within the boating world and Mulaff told him, as with all his baked goods, "The secret is the rolling pin." By the end of a 30 minute conversation Mulaff sold his rolling pin to the man in the long coat for a chance to race in the big waters of Kudrov.

Race he did, but he could never shake that in his soul he was a baker.  And so an ache grew in his heart, at first dull, but then crippling...so crippling that he returned to "Guten Brotes!"  Nothing had been put on the shelf for months and nothing would still.  Because no matter his longing to bake, he had no rolling pin.  Worst still, he had forgotten how to craft one.  He was at a loss, heartbroken, afraid.  He was too weak to bale hay, disenchanted with remote boat racing, and he could no longer do what his heart was made to do.

The moment came when Mulaff prepared to ask hope to exit the doors of his life, and then Griegor the lumberjack walked in:

"I'm famished!"
Mulaff, "I'm sorry.  I have no baked goods.  I am without my rolling pin."
"Well, buy another!"
"I can't; it is handcrafted!"
"Craft another!"
"I have forgotten how!"
"I don't know either, but I'm gonna guess you need wood!"
Mulaff nodded.
"I can at least do that," the lumberjack offered. "In fact, I know where the greatest of trees stands in all of this land.  I will bring her wood to you."

Mulaff felt indebted, and he was.

Griegor's offer became the refrain in "Guten Brotes" over the next several weeks.  After Griegor, Camelia, the finest carpenter in Dliev, showed up.  She offered to help him shape the rolling pin.  Then Elena, the artist, helped craft the design, Victor the finish, Tulag the assembly.  Another dozen or so hands merged to make Mulaff a new rolling pin.

Finally, the morning came when Mulaff rose in the darkness and rolled and baked, rolled and baked.  Six AM hit and Mulaff flipped the sign, "Open."  Day one, no one came.  No one.  "I hear Mulaff reopened but is using a new rolling pin. It can't be the same"  Dlievians were skpetical and rumor was the pin was scarred, ugly to the eye."  And they were right.  The pastries and breads weren't the same and the rolling pin was scarred.  Mulaff had designed it that way, depicting his scars on the pin so that it might never take center stage again.  But day two came and Mulaff rolled and baked, rolled and baked.

Day two.  No one, but Mulaff rolled and baked, rolled and baked.
Day three. No one, but Mulaff... and so it went.
Day 17. A family of 5 stopped for breakfast on their way to Kudrov for the Saturday boat races.  They ordered.  They ate.  They noticed the rolling pin, winced at it's scars but left saying, "That was better than the last time we ate here!" They spread the experience and the lines returned to "Gutten Brotes" and it was always the same response: shock at the rolling pin's scars but a surprise, "This bread is better."

And the bread was better and it was better because of the rolling pin, but now when Mulaff looked at the scarred pin, he didn't admire it for its sake.  His heart was filled with gratitude for all the hands that built it, all the hands that were not his hands, all that hands that made baking possible again.  Every time he rolled the dough he thought of Griegor, Camilia, Elena, Victor, Tulag and the rest.  And unlike before, when people asked, "Wow, what is your secret?"  he no longer pointed them to the rolling pin, but rather said, "The hands that make these breads are far more than two, and my two are the least important."

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