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Tollcross Cakes

Tariq Latif

It’s that dead hour of the night

when the blazing burners to the vast ovens,

turned low, hum solemn psalms as the bakers

go outside to smoke. Dazed, half-awake

they shuffle into the car park like cakes

on a conveyer belt. Some of the workers gaze

at the tenements where their children and parents


doze in the warm caramelised air. A stark moon

shines over Parkhead. ‘Look it’s made of butter,

dough, sugar and salt!’ The men joke as they make

small red moons glow in their mouths. They baptise

each other with wreaths of smoke. Some of the bakers

swallow little white moons, poppers, keep me

awake gob-smackers. Some of the women,


turning their sallow faces to the moon,

are reminded of the millionth sponge cake

they will have baked and how that sickly

scent of baking never quite washes

from their skin or hair as they muddle

through life working with debt, dealing with asbos

and feeding their children just the right


addictive mix of sugar and salt. An owl hoots

from some hidden place, before the clock

strikes three to summon the bakers back in.

Each contented hoot is followed by comments

from the crowd. ‘All this must have been woodland

long ago. How has it survived? The factory mice!

Sugar and spice and all things nice!’


The girl barely turned seventeen has a bun

in the oven. She has the choice between

living with secrets and scars or her love

and hate for ginger bread men and life on the dole

as a single mum. Broken, she knew nothing would ever

be the same again. She knew that not all the workers

or family or friends could ever put her together again.


From The Rialto No 66 (Spring 2009)

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