The Dough Lady lived three doors down from us on the Cul-de-Sac. We would point and scream when we saw her, us on our bikes. She walked so funny, wobbling and slopping about like earthquake Jell-O, probably because she didn’t have any bones. We made fun of her all the time even though we felt bad about it. It was wrong, deep down we knew that perfectly well, but our moms and dads never said anything, they just kept reading their newspapers or watching the news so we kept on doing it.
“Hey, Dough Lady!” yelled Jeremy Thomas, “Want to get buttered up?”
“Hey fatty!” giggled Ellie Baker, “Maybe you should cut down on the carbs!”
The Dough Lady never answered –I don’t think she could speak- but she would wobble away faster when she heard us. That just made us laugh even harder, even those of us who felt too guilty to tease her. It really was funny to watch her go. Those giant thighs made a wet slapping sound as she went. Sometimes two folds would stick together and fall apart, releasing air bubbles with sounds that were so much like farts it was impossible not to laugh. She would go as quick as she could to her car, inside which she would cower before she finally turned on the ignition and drove away. She was a never-ending source of comedy that Dough Lady.
Soon we started playing in front of her house, waiting for her to come out so we could get more laughs. We told our friends in the neighborhood and they came to watch as well. She couldn’t stay in all day, even if she was terrified of us. She had to go to work, get groceries, feel something besides the constant blast of the eight air conditioners in her home. The Dough Lady had to come out some time and when she did we were always waiting for her.
There were other things in our neighborhood at the time, you know, lots of interesting people with fascinating dreams and histories. There was an old man who lived across the street from us who was like the Picasso of hedge sculpture. Green knights on unicorns and bears jousted on his front lawn. There was a yuppie couple a few doors down who had made a fortune speculating in stocks and they spent it all on buying expensive liberal arts educations for their dogs. When I delivered newspapers to their door in the morning the dogs that were running around on the lawn would viciously quote Spinoza or Chomsky at me until I left. The couple eventually went bankrupt and they and their dogs all had to live out of their station wagon. They never seemed to leave that car; I guess they were ashamed to show their faces now that they were poor. I walked by the car one day and I heard the dogs deep in discussion. Something to do with Rousseau. There was a horrible smell leaking out of the slight crack in the windows. I walked by faster. The next day the car was towed. I don’t know what happened to the couple.
My own parents were very interesting. My father was a writer and my mother was a photographer and they surrounded me with beautiful things. Like I said, our neighborhood was filled with all kinds of interesting people. None of them liked the Dough Lady.
“She’s horrible. She never says a word,” said my dad as he sat down with me on our front porch, pipe in hand. Every day we watched the sunset together, my dad and me.
“And she looks disgusting,” added my mom joining us with a tray of cookies. “A woman that age… When is she finally going to grow up and get herself baked?”
“Mmm-hmm,” agreed my father as he stuffed his gob with a cookie. “She could learn a thing or two from these wonderful treats of yours, sweetie-muffin.”
I thought very seriously about what they said as we watched the edge of the world burn and blacken. I was a serious kid.
Around that time I was discovering the wonders of masturbation. Don’t worry I’m not going to bore you with descriptions of my blossoming sexuality or describe that first issue of Playboy I found discarded on the sidewalk or in my dad’s hidden stash. But I will say that, for whatever reasons, those early fantasies of mine often involved the Dough Lady. In my imagination she would straddle me, that great glob goddess, and ride me across the plains of ecstasy, jiggling and farting, perfumed with butter and egg and wheat…
That sounds pretty gross, huh? Well it freaked the hell out of me, even though I came harder than I ever would for the rest of my life. I washed my hands thoroughly afterwards, then I’d wash my dick, and finally I’d take a long shower just for good measure. None of it worked. I could still feel the dough hanging all over me, heavy and moist. I was unclean. I cringed when people tried to touch me. They were there, those strands of ropey dough like limp leeches, under my clothes, hanging off of my pubes and my hair, even if nobody could see them. I hated her. She was sick, grotesque, but I couldn’t stop and so I only became more repulsed by her as I indulged deeper and sicker fantasies about her.
One day, I’d had enough.
“Who does that Dough Lady think she is?” I asked the other kids in the Cul-de-Sac. I’d watched “Patton” last night to practice my oratory skills and you could’ve smelled the dust on the invisible American flag flapping behind me.
“A lady her age… and she still hasn’t got the courage to face the oven?! I don’t want to be neighbors with that sort of person!” The other kids nodded in agreement as I paced in front of them, hands held behind my back as though to restrain my righteous fury with reasoned discipline. At the most dramatic moment in the speech I turned on my heel to face my rapt audience directly. I presented a fist to them and said:
“I say we get in there and give her a choice: grow up or get out!”
They were behind me a hundred percent and they gave a cheer to show it. Calvin Trillian threw his stick into the air while Joey McQuire and Michael Reeves made snorting bull-noises as they pawed the lawn with their Keds. Their fury throbbed against my back as I lead them to the Dough Lady’s door and rang the bell.
We didn’t even wait for her to answer before we started throwing rocks at the first floor windows. When the glass broke it sounded as though the neighborhood had shattered but though a few adult heads popped out of doors and windows, none of them said anything or tried to stop us as we climbed in through the open window.
We found her cowering in the upstairs bathroom. She had been too stupid, too scared to even think of locking the door. We stared in revulsion at her slug like body quivering in the tub. I just about puked looking at her. How this fat useless thing had given me such a hard-on I would never know. Until that moment I couldn’t have imagined anything that could have inspired such disgust in me. Not Nazis, not puppy murderers, not even myself.
After that, our individual identities broke down and we merged into an amorphous creature named Mob. We pulled her out of the bathtub with our many arms and dragged her down the stairs. She stuck to every step but we were patient and thorough in our fury and we got her downstairs without so much as a pinch of dough missing.
We found eggs in the kitchen. Jeremy Thomas turned on the oven while Kellie Kay and Ellie Baker flipped through “The Joy of Cooking.” The littler kids broke the eggs into a bowl and beat up the yolks with a whisk while the rest of us held her down. The Dough Lady squirmed but all she managed were a few farting noises to make Mob laugh. Her terror was a palpable thing, bubbling up and filling the room like a scent.
When the yolks were blended we tipped the bowl over her. She had given up by then and didn’t move to stop Mob from reaching in with its probing fingers to rub the yolk all over, to coat every cranny with chicken-that-never-would-be. Soon she was covered head to foot in the yellow fluid, glazed in the color that reflected her fear. Mob paused to take in its handiwork. The oven was ready. She was too heavy to carry so we rolled her in. She lay like a loaf on the racks as we closed the door. We set the kitchen timer for what seemed like a good amount and we waited.
Through the transparent oven door we watched her change. First she rose then she hardened and then she darkened like a thickening storm cloud. An aroma filled the kitchen, fresh like the scent of a newborn but soft and permeating like a mother’s hug. It was delicious. Our stomachs began to rumble and our mouths to flood. We found butter in the fridge and jam in the cabinet. She may have been hesitant but she had been prepared.
The timer dinged and we were too hungry to wait any longer. Our heads nearly collided as we all reached for the oven door handle but the sudden flush of heat drove us back. She emerged from the burning box, no longer the pale and quavering Dough Lady but now a firm, giant Bread Woman with a dark crust crackling and steaming as she stepped out onto the kitchen linoleum. She blinked her sesame-seed eyes in the bright fluorescence and began to stagger forward. No wobbling jelly steps were these though they were slow. Accompanied by a creaking and cracking like a thousand beetles were being crushed under a heavy boot, these steps filled the room with the sound of their force.
Maybe we should have run away then- she was limping towards us. What we had done to her had been cruel. Now double the size she had been before and steaming with heat trapped beneath that dark crust she could have easily grabbed us small children and burned us or smashed our heads through that crust to suffocate us in her white innards. We should have run but we didn’t just as she could have done those things to us but didn’t. Her burnt fingers curled over a serrated knife on the kitchen counter. Silent but for the crackling that surrounded her every movement, she studied us with her sesame eyes then raised the knife and began her violence.
Her hands were clumsy, her crust was thick and the cut was rough but the knife went all the way through her wrist. Her hand fell with a crunch to the linoleum and lay there steaming. Its hot aroma made our stomachs bubble.
I was the first to approach the severed hunk. The moment I picked it up I let out a gasp and dropped it onto the kitchen counter. It was too hot to eat immediately so we let it cool, slathering its pillowy interior with butter while we waited. When the fuse of our patience had finally burnt out we tore into it like jackals at a corpse, ripping it into pieces that we stuffed into our mouths. As we ate the Bread Woman began to carve out her stomach with a clumsy hand. The bread scorched our mouths and our throats but we didn’t care. It was more than delicious, the white pulp that was more cream than wheat fulfilled a hunger we had not even known that we’d had. The bread filled more than our stomachs, it filled our fingers, our ears, our toes, every hair on our scalps and in our nostrils. By the time we were finished with the first loaf we were far from satisfied, having just been made aware of the hunger that had wracked us since our births. We were ready for more.
And the Bread Woman provided. Though her movements were shaky she took great care and her stomach came out cleanly. We huddled around it on the floor, gorging, not even bothering with the butter. After that we were no longer hungry but were still far from satisfied so off came her left breast and her right. We helped her with them, tearing them off of her chest after she had loosened them with her knife. Her generosity knew no limits and the tears of our gratitude flavored the bread with salt. Finally, she lay down on the linoleum, her sesames pointed up at the fluorescent ceiling and we huddled around her, taking her into us.
Two days later the neighbors called the police to complain about the Dough Lady’s shattered windows. The police found her stiff and stale remains on the kitchen floor. A raccoon had made his home in the hollow of her belly and the house was filthy with birds. The body was disposed of and the house boarded up. No one mentioned the Dough Lady or the Bread Woman again, not our parents, not us.
For a long time I forgot about the incident altogether. It’s come back to me slowly over the years since my children were born. I felt her in the rise and fall of my belly that night and I went to bed cradling my stomach as though it were a lover or a favorite toy. I think my mother was aware of the change and they had made me a stranger to her. Sometimes I suspect it’s the reason they eventually left that interesting neighborhood. Now that the memories have returned to me I think about her every day- whenever I see my children playing or crying or doing anything really. Sometimes when I take a bite of toast I smile. Sometimes when I’m alone with my wife I cry.
David X. Wiggin grew up in Japan, Singapore, Russia, Narnia and Interzone. He has never successfully baked bread but his fiction has appeared in Steampunk Magazine, Alt Hist Magazine, and Pseudopod.