It's turning out to be quite the eventful summer, readers! If you're new to this blog, I'd recommend starting with my post from May 31. (For a helpful link: just click here!) Because today the weirdness continues...
Readers, my camera is still giving me trouble. More than trouble: it is giving me episodes of camera-throwing frustration. I have so far not given in to these, but my resolve is weakening. You will probably have guessed by now that my camera is still not doing what I need it to do, which is to produce recognizable pictures of things. If so, you are correct. I have done about as much as a person with no special expertise in electronics can be expected to do about this. I have read the manual. I have registered my complaints online, when Internet access could be had. I have spent long periods of time on the phone with unhelpful customer service representatives. And still, all my camera will give me are blurs of light and color. But all is not lost, dear readers: I have happened upon a solution of sorts, inspired by an experience over the weekend.
It was Sunday, and on Sundays, readers, I like to eat donuts. Really, I like to eat donuts all days of the week, but on Sundays especially. The donut, in my opinion, is a food of either great haste or great leisure. We eat donuts when in need of speedy and inexpensive calories, or when we have the time to savor a morning dessert—and the second of these is, for me, a pretty perfect Sunday morning, particularly when combined with a book, a cup of coffee, and a secluded spot in a café or park. And so I was very happy to learn Prism Bay has its own very well regarded bakery, and that donuts are a specialty of the house.
The bakery is called Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen, or simply Amy’s. It is situated in the town center’s eastern end, near the docks, and it is just great. I learned about it, as I learn about most of Prism Bay’s more interesting features, from Mrs. Sylvester, who noted my passion for pastry over breakfast one morning and suggested I might enjoy a stop at Amy’s. It is truly an all-hours establishment—or, anyway, I’ve never seen it closed. I think it was even one of the few shops open that early morning I first drove through Prism Bay, though I could be misremembering. It’s common to see lines at Amy’s extending out the door and down the street, even blocking traffic, but of course popularity is no guarantee of quality, readers, as we all know. If Mrs. Sylvester thought it worth a visit, however, that was enough for me.
There are two reasons I prefer to visit donut shops early in the morning. The first is that the donuts are freshest then, and readers, if you have never experienced a freshly prepared donut, I recommend you drop everything and do so right now. The difference between your average, mundane donut and a donut straight from the fryer, crispy and still warm, is like the difference between a picture of a sunset and the actual thing. The two can hardly even be compared. (And to those of my readers who suffer from gluten intolerance or any other condition that might prevent you from enjoying these splendors, please know that I am only trying to share one of my passions, not to revel in something the cruelty of fate has denied you.) The second reason is that I dislike crowds, and I like lines even less. As you might expect, lines at donutteries are usually at their height on Sundays, an important donut-eating day for much of America. A popular donut shop will see a surge by nine in the morning; by ten, it will be unapproachable except by air. For both these reasons—freshness of product and avoidance of the madding crowd—I like to go around five or six, if store hours allow it. And at Amy’s, closing times are as rare as the end of an unbitten donut.
You will understand my surprise, then, and my dismay, when I arrived at Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen to find the place positively packed. This was two Sundays back, readers. The sun not yet up, and if the clock had ticked past 5:30 I will eat the hat I do not usually wear. The crowd was—well, it’s difficult to say exactly what the crowd was. I try not to judge people based on appearance, but the only conclusion I could come up with was that my fellow donut enthusiasts had just arrived from some all-night theme party. As a writer of science fiction, I sometimes have the opportunity to attend pop-culture events—Comic Con being a well-known example—where one will see a great many people in costume. “Cosplay” is the term I hear most. I have nothing but respect for cosplayers, readers, but it can be jarring to see them out of context, especially in large numbers. Once, during a convention in Boston, I found myself in line at Tasty Burger with Harry Potter and most of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. Walking into Amy’s this Sunday morning was a bit like that, dear readers, only I didn’t recognize the theme, if in fact there was one. (And in case you’re wondering, the Boy Who Lived had two orders of tater tots and a tall pilsner.)
The outfits at Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen were not nearly as elaborate as some you might see at Comic Con; they just weren’t what you’d usually expected to find at a pastry shop at five in the morning. I, for example, was wearing jeans, a t-shirt that read, “Vermont”, and a hooted sweatshirt. Some of my fellow patrons also had hoods, but they were, by and large, attached to capes or cloaks. There were also quite a few masks. I wondered if maybe I’d stumbled onto some local equivalent of Mardi Gras, though I’d be lying if I claimed certain references to Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut did not cross my mind. I desperately wanted to take a picture—with permission, of course, as good etiquette demands; cosplayers usually don’t mind being photographed, though it’s considered rude to snap a picture on the sly—but my camera had been misbehaving since my first outing in Prism Bay two days before.
On another day, in another place, the sight of so massive a crowd would probably have chased me away, but I was intrigued by this cloaked-and-masked bunch, and the air was sweet with the smell of fresh pastry, so I stayed, hoping to overhear some snippet of chatter that would tell me what was going on here, knowing that, at the very least, donuts awaited me at the end of the line. They weren’t a very talkative group, unfortunately—or, at least, each time I tried to eavesdrop, the conversation was too quiet for me to understand, whispers and low susurrations that only added to the weird vibe. I thought about just asking one of them what the deal was, but decided against it, imagining having to awkwardly stand in line for the next half hour behind someone I’d unintentionally insulted.
The beginning of an explanation, at least, awaited me at the front of that long and winding line. You will remember, readers, the unusual lunch I had my first day in Prism Bay—how Hank, home from college, presented me with a special “seasonal menu” of novelty dishes upon learning I was living at the Hemlocks. It seemed Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen catered to similar tastes: beneath the glass of the bakery’s counter, and displayed in trays along the wall, was a wide selection of donuts and other pastries, all proclaiming unusual flavors, ingredients, and methods of preparation.
A few that have stuck in my memory: crushed dragonfly wings, sweater static, the first passage of A Tale of Two Cities, souls of gummy bears, a brief interlude of madness, lobster roe, salted papercuts, rainy afternoon contentment, tapioca, dark thoughts about Ashley, and, simply, fire.
I will not go so far as to say I was used to this sort of thing, readers, but I was less surprised than when Hank first handed me a menu referencing squeezed leeches. Some of the flavors—tapioca and lobster roe, for example—might just have been daring culinary choices, like horseradish ice cream. Others were plainly pure whimsy. I did like the sound of rainy afternoon contentment, and a brief interlude of madness was intriguing if nothing else, but readers, this was not what I had hauled myself from bed at five am for. I take my donuts very seriously, and whenever I first visit a new donuttery, I prefer to judge on the fundamentals. My standard order is one raised donut and one cake donut—usually a glazed and a chocolate, respectively. As I inspected the inventory of Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen, however, I did not see either of these—or, in fact, anything except what we might call “seasonal” varieties.
By the time this realization struck home, I had been standing there at the counter for quite some time. This was very embarrassing, readers, because I absolutely hate when people do this. The primary responsibility of anyone standing in a very long line is to know exactly what you want to order by the time you reach the front. You have the entire duration of your trip through the line to figure it out, and everyone still waiting is depending on you to move things along. But readers, it simply hadn’t occurred to me that I would recognize absolutely nothing of what I saw here. There were no sugar donuts, no jelly, no butter crunch, no Boston cream. Readers, they did not even have old-fashioned, the simplest and most basic of all donuts. I did not know what to do. Meanwhile, the crowd was beginning to make its discontent known. There were no words I could understand, but menacing growls and hisses were beginning to rise behind me, and what excuse did I have? They were right to be angry.
I nearly gave up, readers, nearly retreated without my donuts, but at the last moment, I came up with one final, desperate gambit. I asked the person at the counter, a sleepy-eyed fellow of generous proportions, whether he had any glazed donuts. “Or maybe chocolate?” I tried, adding, “I’m trying to keep it simple today.”
Until that moment, he had seemed in a daze, doubtless due to the early hour. I myself was far from bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. But at my question, he seemed to rouse from his haze. “Oh, yeah, sure,” he said, blinking. “Let me check.” He turned toward a nearby door—which I concluded, by the waft of delicious smells, must lead to the kitchen—and shouted, “Hey, are the chocolates up?”
The chocolates were up, readers, as were the glazeds. They were presented to me on a small tray, because they were still too fresh, too warm and tender, to survive being placed in a bag. “Careful with those,” said my new best friend. “We don’t usually bring them out until six or seven. Before then it’s mostly just the late night crowd.” And here he glanced toward the room of cloaks and masks behind me and smiled conspiratorially, as though to say he and I were facing this strangeness together. “Enjoy.”
I couldn’t have foreseen a better outcome, readers. The donuts were some of the best in my memory—not in the surprising, almost disorienting way of the essence of early summer soup, but in the way of things lovingly and expertly made from the very best ingredients. The glazed donut was airy yet substantial, like the love child of sticky caramel and a cumulonimbus cloud, while the chocolate had the rich flavor of a hot brownie encased in a sweet, crispy shell. It was glorious. I didn’t even care that I’d forgotten to order coffee.
When one finds a donuttery like that, readers, one does not neglect it. Or at least, I don’t. And so this Sunday I went back. I still haven’t tried anything from the seasonal menu. A person can only eat so many donuts before descending into sugar-induced insanity, and for me that number is around three or four, meaning I generally limit myself to a maximum of two per sitting. Novelty donuts, I have found, are best enjoyed in groups, where everyone can sample different flavors in small portions. If I am only allowed two donuts, I want to be sure they’re good, and I know the glazed and chocolate are good. I just don’t think I could handle the regret of ordering something that didn’t measure up.
Remembering the comments of my pal from the donut counter, I allowed myself to sleep in this time around, arriving closer to seven than six. It was still a little dark out—the sun was probably rising somewhere, even if the mist rolling in from the sea made it hard to tell—but there were only a few costumed patrons waiting. Soon I had my donuts—I got coffee this time, too—and was sitting down at one of the little tables to read and watch the crowd. By then, the cloaked clique had vanished—though, thinking back, I can’t say I actually saw them leave—and a new line of donut-seekers was forming, this one in jeans and plaids, shorts and t-shirts, baseball caps and hair ties, not a mask among them. The seasonal menu gave way to more familiar donut varieties. In no time, the place was packed once again, and as my donuts were done and my coffee down to a single sip, I decided to make way for other patrons and continue my Sunday elsewhere.
As I was wiping up the last of my crumbs, a woman approached me from the direction of the counter. I assumed she’d just made her purchase and was looking for someplace to sit, but instead of asking if she could have my table, she said, “Did you enjoy the donuts?”
This must be one of Amy’s employees, I realized. She was dressed appropriately, at least: aproned and generally flour-dusted. Unless, of course, she was simply costumed as a baker. “They were fantastic,” I said, and launched into a panegyric to Amy’s donuts, and donuts generally, similar to the ravings that have filled much of this post.
“Glad to have a happy customer,” she said with a smile, then wiped a hand on her apron and presented it to me. “Amy Elfin.” (Out of respect for Amy’s privacy, readers, I have given her a pseudonym here, and I am, of course, paraphrasing. My memory is neither phono- nor photographic, and I wasn’t taking notes, but if this is not a word-for-word recollection, I’d say the general gist is accurate enough.)
Readers, it was the Amy, of Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen. Today's post is, probably, the first you have heard of her, but to me, she had already assumed celebrity—if not outright legendary—status. I noticed then that she had the sort of powerful arms and shoulders a person might get from kneading dough for a living—probably not a costume, then. “I think you’ve got quite a few happy customers,” I said, shaking the hand of Amy Elfin. “Though maybe the level of happiness isn’t always obvious, given the number of masks and hoods.”
This got a laugh from Amy of Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen. “I saw you here last week,” she said. “I hope you didn’t have too much trouble with our crepuscular clientele.”
This last comment was delivered with a knowing smirk, as if in reference to some wacky situation we both knew well, and I did my best to play along. It is a marvelous thing to be on good terms with a baker, readers, and I didn’t want to mess this up. I had not forgotten how Hank the uneasy barkeep had reacted upon learning I was from the Hemlocks, and who knew what Amy would think if she learned I was as much an outsider as the masked and hooded throngs.
“Not that I’m complaining,” Amy went on. “Business is good, and at least I don’t have any trouble filling the night shift.” She waved toward someone at the counter, and I turned to see a shadowy shape lingering by the register. “Just need to make sure everyone’s wearing their gloves and hairnets,” she said, turning back to me. “Don’t want any scales or acid drool in the pastry—unless the recipe calls for it.”
Readers, I could not tell if she was joking. I smiled and nodded. When I looked again, the shadowy shape had vanished.
Prism Bay was still shrouded in fog when I left Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen, but the day was brightening, evidence there might actually be a sun behind the blankets of white. The atmosphere was eerie, but also quite pretty in a sort of minimalist way. As I walked down the docks toward the place I’d left my bike—unsecured; Mrs. Sylvester believed in locking bicycles as little as she believed in locking houses, and insisted I leave my borrowed conveyance unfettered—I noticed something moving through the fog. Many somethings, actually: they looked like a fleet of small boats—and that was just what they turned out to be.
I assumed at first they must be sailboats, because each had something tall and billowing rising from its center, but as they drew closer I saw these central billowing things were people. The billowing part was some kind of fabric. There was one rider to each boat, and all were draped from head to toe, like costumed ghosts, only without holes cut for eyes. The fabric, meanwhile, was something light and gauzy—the sort of stuff you’d use for a bridal veil, maybe. There were about twenty such boats altogether, all gliding like a flotilla of swans through the calm morning water.
It was a surprising sight, readers, and my surprise got the better of me. I wondered aloud what in the world I was seeing, but in language slightly more colorful than I’d prefer to recount here. My exclamation was answered with a chuckle from somewhere nearby, and I swiveled around to find a man sitting on one of the wooden benches along the docks. I’d seen him at Amy’s All-Hours Confectionary Kitchen not long before—but even if I hadn’t, it would have been obvious he’d come from there recently by the sugar donut and store-branded coffee cup in his hands. I was a little embarrassed to be caught loudly cursing to myself, but not so embarrassed I couldn’t ask him what was going on out there.
“Tide Wraiths,” the man said with a shrug. He was aged and grizzled, with a whitish beard and an air of seaworthiness.
“So that’s like, what?” I asked. “The local sailing club?” It seemed like a reasonable enough explanation. I knew “sailing club” was, in most coastal areas, a synonym for “drinking club”, and that some such clubs engaged in strange activities and traditions. I’d even heard a few stories about costumes, though mostly from the sixties and seventies, and mostly involving outfits that were not so much creepy as vaguely racist.
The Old Salt shrugged again. “Summer people,” he said, as though these two words required no further elaboration, and, shaking his head, set off down the docks, leaving me to watch the Tide Wraiths Adult Intramural Sailing Club cruise silently across the bay, full-body veils drifting in the windless air.
I got out my camera and tried snapping a photo, but the attempt failed even more miserably than usual, yielding only a misty field of white. It was frustrating, readers, so frustrating I nearly chucked my camera into the bay then and there.
And that, dear readers, was when inspiration struck. I might be photographically impaired for now, but I am not without other resources. Humanity has been telling stories in pictures for a long time, beginning several millennia before the invention of the camera. Maybe I couldn’t capture a photo for you, readers, but I could draw a picture or two. There is a long and distinguished tradition of authors illustrating their own work—among them two of my favorites, J.R.R. Tolkien and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. If hand-drawn illustrations were good enough for The Hobbit and Le Petit Prince, well, they’re good enough for my little blog, too. I cannot claim to be any great hand in graphic media, readers, but until I get my camera working—or find a new camera—perhaps I can, as Antoine de S-E put it, “fumble along, now good, now bad, and hope generally to be fair to middling”.
I have already mixed a few of my sketches into this post, dear readers, but I will leave you with the subject that gave me the idea—and thusly, I hope, bring you a little closer to this land of the summer people. So, without further ado: the (presumed) Tide Wraiths Adult Intramural Sailing Club.
I will keep practicing; hopefully you'll get to watch my skills improve. Until next time, readers, many happy Sundays to you all!