I just keep thinking we'll slide right past the black hole, and it'll all be like a Y2K kind of thing.
That's why I stayed, I guess. Why I go to work. I mean, people need bread and they'll keep needing bread. And then all this debate about whether the black hole will suck us into Heaven or Hell or just plain nothingness will seem kind of silly, won't it?
I like to picture you on a camel, his hump full of water, the pyramids coming into view. I hear it's chaos over there, everyone fighting over their end times story. But I know you had to go. While you had the chance, I guess.
When I started at the bakery fifty years ago, it was full of Polish and Hungarian women in hairnets at each station, mixing or kneading or cutting the dough, and bald Italian guys yelling at them to stop talking, work faster.
I know you've heard this before, but stick with me. I'm telling it again for a reason.
I started in high school carrying the big metal trays of dough or bread from station to station in that loud, enormous warehouse of a room. But now it's just me monitoring the whispering machines.
What happened to all those people? I mean besides you, of course. What happened to the others? Once the bosses realize they don't need me, will I disappear into the same black hole they did?
I've stopped watching the news, stopped worrying why you aren't responding to these texts. I'm becoming like the conspiracy theorists, wondering if it's all made up to sell antidepressants and booze.
When I put my hearing aids on in the morning, a woman's voice says Right, when I put in the right one and Left, when I put in the left. Right, Left. That's the mantra that keeps me going when I stall or start to cry.
I wonder about that small sliver of Egyptian ancestry that showed up on your 23andMe. Could it be Eve or Lucy or some great Earth Mother we all trace back to? Are we all just like siblings, fighting in the backseat on the way to some relative's funeral?
Sometimes I can't resist and turn on the news again. They're arguing on every station about whether the black hole was already there or just formed. Every show has an animation showing what happens when you go into a black hole. And they're all different. Nobody knows!
Polls say the majority now wants to be sucked in! blasts the graphics on one station. Polls say the majority wants to survive! says another. In small print is the margin of error: 8%. That's also the Vegas odds of our survival.
I don't think we'll all go out like a Big Bang. I think we're more likely to disappear one by one like in the factory, like a whittling back down to Adam and Eve, until there's just two of us left. I hope it's you and me.
You wouldn't have gone if we had kids. After that sonogram we were never the same. We went in as parents-to-be, dreaming of the baby girl in your belly, and came out a barren couple in mourning.
That was a black hole we never really came out of, wasn't it? Does an apocalypse have to be the whole world ending or could it just be ours?
They're all naming End Dates now. Of course, they can't agree. But no more if, just when.
I keep bringing home too many groceries—out of habit, mostly, but on some level hoping you'll be back.
I know you needed that connection to something big, but what's wrong with being someone who just gets up every morning and goes to work? That's what the pyramid builders did.
I don't want to be mean, but you're more likely related to the builders than the pharaohs. Most never saw the finished pyramids. And if we all go, the pyramids go too.
I remember when you first came to the bakery with your black curls and thick accent, I thought you were just somebody's daughter there for bring-your-kid-to-work day. She's going to be beautiful when she grows up, I thought. And you were. You are.
Everybody called me College Boy by then, even though I just went at night. Who knew you'd be College Girl someday and smarter than me? Who knew we'd help turn the bakery into one silent machine and my voice would be swallowed up by the emptiness as I talk to no one?
They're all just fighting on the news now—I mean really fighting—throwing things, punching, wrestling each other to the floor. As I switch from station to station, I imagine them all in one big room somewhere, at neighboring sets and soon stumbling into each other's shots.
They all agree, it's just a matter of days.
I circle the bakery checking gauges, making adjustments, typing in code, sampling the loaves.
The raw ingredients mixed and formed into little loaves, rolled, moistened, proofed, transformed again and again into new incarnations before passing into the black hole of the oven and coming out wounded but smelling of new life.
The baby was like a little loaf, wasn't she?
Maybe I was just too old to go with you—too afraid to change.
Outside, the temperature's rising, the wind's blowing harder, more earthquakes, more tornados.
I still think we might just skip by it. I still think we might survive and you might come back and the bakery will fill again with people, and their voices will echo off the walls. I hope.
I know it's crazy, but these are crazy times, right?
Jack Powers is the author of two poetry collections: Everybody's Vaguely Familiar (2018) and Still Love (2023). His poems have appeared in The Southern Review, The Cortland Review and elsewhere. He won the 2015 and 2012 Connecticut River Review Poetry Contests and was a finalist for the 2013 and 2014 Rattle Poetry Prizes. He is currently working on a collection of flash fiction. Visit his website: http://www.jackpowers13.com/.