One in three Australians suffer from issues with sleep, often waking in the early hours of the morning or unable to get rest at all. For those who are always awake, we present a monthly short story series about the side of Sydney that never sleeps.

1

She is sticking her face against the window of the bakery. It’s four in the morning. The lights are on because the sun is not up yet. It means she can properly see Danny work. The scent is driving her crazy; she wants to gorge herself on it. She wants to buy everything and take it all home to her shoebox apartment, many kilometres away from here, and lie on her IKEA bed surrounded by bread. When she finally falls asleep, it will be next to a sourdough, Danishes at her feet, baguettes in the spaces made by her arms. Danny will feed slices to her with butter and salt and she will never be full.

2

She is sticking her face against the window of the bakery. Danny gives her the finger. The bakery is called Infinity and she likes that, because that’s how long she will be in love with Danny. They have not said a word to each other yet. The heat has fogged the window; she can feel it warming her cheeks through the glass. Danny is proofing a row of ciabatta loaves as the guy next to him starts loading trays of croissants into the oven. This guy is the reason she knows Danny is called Danny. To piss him off, he sings to him “Oh, Danny boy …” in an Irish accent. She is not sure if Danny is actually Irish, but he has freckles and they are beautiful.

3

She is sticking her face against the window of the bakery. Today is her birthday. She is four hours into being nineteen. It’s Friday, the bakers are making lots of pastries. They look tiny and pale. Limp foetuses. You wouldn’t line up for a Danish if you knew it started out like that, she thinks. She waves at Danny. He gives her the finger, smiling. The other guy sees her in the window and makes kissy faces. Danny pushes him and he jostles back. His freckles coagulate. A baby cinnamon scroll drops to the floor. He picks it up. There are no germs after the oven.

4

It’s five in the morning.

She is in the back lane behind the bakery. He kisses her, licks her neck. He smells like flour and stone and his blue apron, flung to the ground, is covered in white dust. She wants to ask Danny if he eats his bread with butter and salt. She kisses him back, licks his earlobes. Danny tastes like icing sugar and menthol cigarettes. He fumbles with his belt and she says no. She pulls his head back so that she can look at him properly. He is still wearing that stupid baker’s hat.

5

She is sticking her face up against the window of the bakery.
Danny has walked outside for a cigarette.
“You’re here a lot.”
“I just really love the smell of bread.’
“That’s it?”
“That’s it.”
“Well fuck, you can have my job and I’ll just hang out and do whatever it is you do.”
“I work at a crematorium.”
“Really?”
“Really.”
“Guess we both know a thing or two about ovens.”

6

She is sticking her face against the window of the bakery. Her headphones are in, she’s listening to Kurt Vile. She should be asleep, class starts in a few hours. Every so often her eyes close and she is back in her room, surrounded by bread and butter and Danny. She jolts back to reality. One of the other bakers has come out for some air. In his hands is a chunk of olive bread, fresh from the oven. He has torn it from the loaf, dismembered the perfect whole. The steam wafts into the empty street; she is starving. He wolfs the entire thing down in front of her and turns to go back inside. “Don’t worry about a thing,” Kurt Vile sings, “It’s only dying”.

7

She is sticking her face against the window of the bakery. Danny is ignoring her. He is pretending to focus on folding the infant Danishes. His freckles have rearranged themselves to look angry. The light over his head sputters like a strobe. She slips into the back lane, where the sun is dragging itself over the dirty horizon. Closing her eyes, she tries to summon Danny to her. She wants to feel his arms on her back, taste chewing gum and croissants. The vents belch warm, bready air and she falls asleep leaning against the wall. When she wakes up, the bakers have all gone home.

8

She is banging her fist against the window of the bakery. The men have their hands full. They are using peels to pull trays of pastries from the oven, heaving and shaking. She bangs some more. She is 19-and-two-weeks-old and demands respect. The glass rattles in its frame. Eventually one baker hears and comes over, hitting the button for the door. It doesn’t open with a swoosh like she imagined it would.

“I want a fucking croissant,” she says quickly. “I want it to be hot. Straight from the oven. I want you to tell Danny to bring it to me in a bag with two serviettes. There should still be steam coming off it. I want it cut in half lengthways and I want him to smother it in some butter – the real, good butter, not that margarine shit – and sprinkle some salt. I want him to tear the pieces so they almost burn his hands, and I want him to feed them to me. I will lick his fingers. That is all I want.”

She pauses. She has not taken a breath. The baker looks at her ruefully.

“I’m really sorry honey, but we don’t open ‘til six.”

9

She is sticking her face against the window of the bakery. Her shift is over, she has wiped down the bar and said goodnight. She probably pulled 200 beers. The smell is what gets her. The nascent croissantness of it. It slithers into her brain like fog, nothing else matters. She is gaping through the window, face smooshed between the ‘I’ and ‘N’ of Infinity. She barely notices the baker with sandy red hair and freckles. He is obscured from view by trays on racks, racks on trolleys. Stoned on scent, she reels back into the black night.

10

“I hate croissants,” he says.
They are sardines pressed into her bed. His fingers are wrapped deep in her hair, so when he strokes it, it feels like he’s tugging.

“When I was growing up, my aunt used to bring them over on Sundays when our parents weren’t around. That’s how we knew Dad had been drinking again, that he’d hit her and she’d left. I can’t stand the smell of them.”

She lies there quietly, knowing she will forget this. The sun will rise and she will still be in love with him.

11

She is sticking her face up against the window of the bakery. It is so hot that her T-shirt is pasted to her body. When she eventually pulls back into the night, she will leave the bakers a sweaty facsimile. But now, the room is dark. In the corner where Danny brings baby Danishes to life, the broken light still flickers. It is Christmas Eve, which means it is now Christmas Day. Her heart is tired. She is awake. It is 3am. Her boyfriend will be worried.

12

She is sticking her face up against the window of the boulangerie. The smell is unlike anything she has ever experienced. It is Infinity Bakery times infinity and she is high on the scent, sucking it in like it might disappear at any moment. She opens her eyes and Danny is smiling. They have been arguing over this trip to Paris for two years, but now they are here. She kisses him on his freckled nose and they walk inside. The croissants are the size of baseball caps. She orders four, even though she knows she won’t finish them.

“Mon chéri!” she says giddily to Danny as they step outside, clinging to her treasure.

“Fuck off,” he laughs, offering her a drag of his cigarette. Their hands intertwine as they stroll down to the Tuileries.

13

She is sticking her face up against the window of the bakery. Danny has walked outside for a cigarette.
“You’re here a lot.”
“I just really love the smell of bread.”
“That’s it?”
“That’s it.”

Read part one of the series, The Emergency Room.