Shooter Flash: “For Heaven’s Bakes” by Chris Cottom

Launch Day Latte: Pumpkin Spice

On the first morning of her new cake and coffee shop Suzette takes pictures of Kezia in a crisp white tunic, holding a rhubarb and custard roulade. Kezia is five foot ten, pencil-slim, and Ophelia-pale, with a wilderness of carroty hair and rosebud lips that she paints as red as Christmas. 

‘I’ll show these to Barry tonight,’ Suzette says.

‘Aren’t you posting them on Facebook?’ 

‘I’m no good at all that.’

Kezia takes Suzette’s phone and does it for her. Twenty minutes later six cyclists are queuing for pre-ride carb loading. 

I hit the jackpot with you, Suzette thinks. I’ll take the agency a complimentary box of cranberry cookies.

Day Two Traybake: Sticky Date Surprise

Kezia stands outside with a plate of bite-sized Black Forest mini-rolls.

‘Only one each, naughty boy!’ she tells a guy with a hipster beard, while Suzette takes pictures.

The man says he’s a teacher and asks about work experience for his Year Tens. 

‘There’s barely enough room in the kitchen for me and Kezia,’ Suzette says. ‘How about a cappuccino cupcake for your dinner?’

In the corner of the best photo is a bit of the boarded-up Indian restaurant next door.

‘We can crop that out,’ Kezia says, her fingers flashing over the screen.

The hipster teacher comes back in the afternoon. ‘Another gingerbread latte?’ Kezia asks, tracing a long black fingernail along the ice-blue neon letters behind the counter. ‘Fancy anything else?’ 

Day Five-a-Day Featured Fruit: Banana Bread

Suzette takes pictures while she bakes, and drips lemon drizzle on the lens of her phone.

‘You need an Instagram husband,’ Kezia says.

‘I’ve got an accounts husband. That’s enough.’ 

She takes a collapsed individual cherry cheesecake home for him. It doesn’t stop Barry wittering about cashflow forecasts and asset turnover. 

A certificate in Business Studies, Suzette thinks, and he reckons he’s Bill Gates. ‘The only turnovers we need,’ she says, ‘are apple and cinnamon.’

‘Excuse me! Whose redundancy money paid for your fit-out, all that wall-to-wall stainless steel?’

‘I know, I’m sorry.’

‘And I’m not even a sleeping partner.’

In more ways than one, thankfully, Suzette thinks. 

Day Seventh Heaven: Lemon Meringue Whoopie Cookies

‘I’m starting prepping at home in the evenings,’ Suzette says.

‘Either the mixer goes,’ Barry jokes an hour later, ‘or I do.’

‘Easy choice then,’ Suzette says with a laugh, putting her pecans on fast grind. 

Day Nine: Vanilla Cloud Cake 

A van parks on the pavement and spills builders into the former restaurant next door. The men pop in all the time for flat whites and flapjacks. The younger ones crack cakey jokes designed to make Kezia forget she’s dating a chemical engineer with a BMW. They wield their wrecking bars and soon there are more white vans than you can shake a spatula at: electricians and joiners, plumbers and shopfitters. 

Day Thirteen: Passionfruit Pavlova

‘All these guys are great for business,’ Suzette says, getting out another tray of salted caramel tarts. 

‘They’re not bad for my personal life either,’ Kezia says, yawning.

‘What’s it going to be next door?’ Suzette asks Afran, the foreman, who’s developing a serious brownie habit.

‘Maybe sandwich shop,’ he says, shrugging. ‘Maybe pizza.’

‘Either’s fine,’ Suzette tells Barry that evening. ‘People can step round to us for their puddings.’ 

Barry, who’s learning to live with food processing, nevertheless urges a tactical marketing uplift. ‘Enhanced customer loyalty programme, local radio advertising, door-to-door leafleting. You can call it Operation Dessert Storm.’ 

‘I can’t afford all that,’ Suzette says. ‘This is a start-up business, actually.’

‘I was going to suggest you use the last of my redundancy money.’

She rushes over and buries her face against Barry’s cardiganed chest and he slides his palms down her back to her hips. 

‘Might cost you…’

‘Don’t get any funny ideas,’ she says, slapping his hands away.

‘I’ll settle for a daily giant Jammie Dodger. With a bonus Bakewell blondie if I do the leaflet drop myself.’

‘You don’t have to do that.’

‘I need to lose an ounce or two. It’s not as if there’s much accounts work to do yet.’

Day Twenty: Rocky Road Slice

‘I see there’s a notice in the window next door,’ Suzette says, as she staggers in from the cash and carry with a fifteen-kilo multipack of Fairtrade demerara. 

‘They’re advertising for staff,’ Kezia says. 

‘Could you stay another hour on Monday? Barry’s insisting I go to the bank with him.’

‘They’re paying apprentices more than I’m getting.’ 

Never mind customer loyalty, Suzette thinks. What about staff loyalty? ‘What are they calling the place anyway?’ she asks, knowing it won’t be half as witty as For Heaven’s Bakes.

‘Starbucks.’

*

Chris Cottom won the 2021 Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize. He was the People’s Choice Winner of the LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2022, highly commended in the Bournemouth Short Story Writing Prize 2022, and shortlisted twice in the Parracombe Prize Short Story Competition 2022. He’s also had stories published by Cranked Anvil and Streetcake and broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds.

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