THE BAKERY, THE KILN: New Short Fiction by Ian Macartney

They called the Bakery, Hailey’s workplace, the Glass Pyramid, contemporary edifice stunning and awkward between two grey buildings in the Liberties. Once upon a time there used to be a church beneath but that was obscure knowledge. 

Standing behind the quartz counter there appeared to be no walls, just sky and the surrounding city, that and the criss-cross of crystal lines demarcating panes. From the other side, though, O what another story! – it was mirrored slant upon slant, mirrored, bearing down on the white floor tiles and grey metal shelves stacked with breads, pastries, cakes. The top prism was too blinding to observe, so named that too, the Top Prism. 

The lighting was constant.

Customers arrived to a pristine doubling world upon entrance, elongations of Hailey pulled across the rising walls like dough. Or they would see the other bakers, women as young as she – Danielle, Henrietta, Mary. Even Gwen, when she was still there. It was easy to mistake one for the other, except for Mary.

Mary! Mary was the oldest, just, the manager, fully mirthful while Hailey was easily flummoxed, though both shared the same bronze sheen in their ginger braids. It was Mary who forbade the others to know the recipes, to look under their trolleys abandoned in front of the forbidden lift every morning, trolleys which always disappeared when a back was turned. She with the sweetest laugh. 

The Bakery’s speciality was the Pillow, also known as the Brick, a huge yellow sponge the width and length of a hospital’s bedside table with an equal dollop of pink icing the same volume and dimensions as the sponge, super-evenly spread. Like two cakes were at play – the pink block, then the yellow block. This was the most popular product, balanced precarious in the arms of many a customer opening the small transparent door back out to the capital, left foot first. 

One day Gwen, spurred by boredom, looked under the trolley’s ashen tarpaulin and saw nothing short of the ordinary. Eggs. Glass bottles of milk. Flour. What was missing? Only the supposed secret, for even bags of sugar lined the bottom like sandbags, hiding nothing. She quit that evening. 

Days later, days before Hailey learned what she had to learn, Danielle tried to touch a croissant, except Mary emerged to witness this transgression. Laughed. In other words, Danielle was fired. The ex-baker left in tears via the fire exit, meaning Danielle left as the only baker known to descend the lift, because the fire exit was on the bottom floor, which Henrietta found wildly inadequate.

She whispered as such during lunch breaks.

Mary never laughed when Henrietta had a reason to speak. 

Suddenly it was Sunday. Hailey always had to skip Mass to make work in time – preparations began early, at 2am. Black sky. Only Mary was behind the counter, beaming, lips glazed in pomegranate-bright lipstick. Hailey asked where Henrietta was and Mary spoke through a smile. 

Hurt, she said. Very hurt.

Hours passed. Hailey trundled over the first trolley to be abandoned. This is when a groaning noise began behind the lift doors, then continued, eternal. Flanked by the far ends of the shelves, Hailey was obscured from May, conversing with the first twelve customers of the day. This was useful – if Mary had glanced behind to gaze on the eastern slope she would have seen a warped ginger teardrop touch the lift door, yet Hailey placed her hand on the metal and the door was hot to the touch and nothing occurred with Mary in mind.

Of course she stepped through with the trolley. Well, it was not a lift, but a staircase. So how did the trolley get down? Well, it didn’t – there were piles of tattered tarpaulins at the bottom. That and dust, the dust of stones, a pale ashen hue. 

Experimentally, Hailey dumped her own fill down the hole in the centre of the stairs. Eggs and milk and flour and sugar rained down, but not as the substances she thought they were, because the milk bottles were solid blocks of porcelain, smashing apart as such. The eggs, too, a kind of sculpture. Urns. This explained the ash. 

Hailey was mortified. She had to go on. Leaving the trolley in front of the door, she descended the dingy shaft. Began to hear the breath of machinery. That, too, never stopped.

Soon she was down, the pile too close for comfort. There was another door, solid steel, which Hailey opened with trembling hands. 

What was inside changed everything. First, it was molten, and second, it lasted forever. Infinite shelves of brimstone. Gold veins, pulsing downward – not towards an eventual astonishment like the Top Prism, but on and on, a darkness stifling. Ovens were stacked like bricks or pillows between the molten shelves, each cooking something clay, and still the breathing of machinery. 

Hailey became aware of a source, especially loud. It was the closest kiln, to her left. She looked into the fire. Henrietta was being cooked alive, obviously, but now the paint had peeled off and Hailey saw the true shell of her colleague’s self, the crack in her calm bald head glowing like magma, one thousand degrees, a million degrees, an infinity possessed by flame.

This was when Mary attacked with a rolling pin. But – and can this be believed, really? – she missed. So Hailey screamed, dodged the next swipe, back-first into a shelf. Black Forest gateau fell to the floor, smashing into umber shards. Now it was Mary’s turn to shriek. Her produce, her work, etcetera!

Hailey took the initiative and punched the hollow pottery of her superior’s face. 

Darkness within. No candle. Mary stood still, un-unnerved, like the throw never came. Like the shards of her visage would eventually reassemble. But who was left to care? Hailey sprinted back to the grey door, up the stairs, leaping over the trolley dismantled by Mary’s furnaced fists. Over the quartz counter. Not one customer remained.

Right shoulder into the small transparent door with all a baker’s might, into the rising sun, daylight an encroachment. The streets, also empty. And Hailey looked back only once – she saw only the light and mirrored surfaces of the Glass Pyramid which held, bejewelling, the ceramic souls of cake, but also those artefacts falling into themselves in the reflection, as themselves, on themselves, the Top Prism of unbearable light.

About the author

Ian Macartney (TikTok, @e7519.6a0c85.088182) can be found at, but for how much longer? 

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The Glasgow Review of Books (ISSN 2053-0560) is a review journal publishing short and long reviews, review essays and interviews, as well as translations, fiction, poetry, and visual art. We are interested in all forms of cultural practice and seek to incorporate more marginal, peripheral or neglected forms into our debates and discussions. We aim to foster discussion of work from small and specialised publishers and practitioners, and to maintain a focus on issues in and about translation. The review has a determinedly international approach, but is also a proud resident of Glasgow.

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