Clear morning light filtered in the empty door of the bakery. I was alone behind the storefront, a wall of bagel baskets hanging like a curtain between me and the rest of the world. My mother busied herself in the front of the store, wiping counters and making coffee as I methodically drew and cut the clear plastic wrap in its long rolls. I wrapped another sponge cake, applied the golden bakery label, and set the finished product on a tray to be stored and sold for the Jewish holidays. It was normally one of the busiest weeks in the store: the owner was Jewish and had many connections with the synagogues in northern New Jersey. We were a hotspot for holiday feasts.
The street outside was still. Taking a moment’s break, I wandered to the front windows and peeked out. A few police cars were gathered at one end of the road, their officers bundled together talking. It was too far away to see their expressions. I tried to swallow the creeping sense of unease mounting beneath the silence of the morning. The television had been abuzz when we left for work, though no one knew what was going on. My grandparents urged us to listen to the radio at work and see if we could find out, but the news was no more conclusive in the shop.
At length a trembling woman in work attire bustled into our shop, her face white and drawn. She had come in for coffee, but she carried a more valuable commodity: information. “They’re saying a plane hit the World Trade Center,” she told my mother. “They’re grounding all flights. They don’t know how many were hijacked. They don’t know how big this is, but they think there’s at least one headed for the Pentagon. We’re under attack.” My mother blanched.
Searching their faces and finding fear, I felt my mouth go dry and a chill overtake my body. I had never heard of the World Trade Center before, much less noticed the buildings on the single occasion I’d been to New York, but this was not the time to admit that. I hastily fumbled with the radio for more details, hiding myself again behind the bagels and sponge cakes as my mother probed the woman for more details. A sober but breathless journalist murmured over the radio that the southern tower had collapsed. Imagining a fiery building toppling ablaze into the Hudson River, I carried the radio to my mother and mechanically told her the news. Our guest stood frozen. She’d clearly left work to visit us, but there seemed little point in returning now. Dazedly, she turned and stepped away, deciding that others needed to be told.
I looked again at the police outside and was gripped with the sudden realization that the final prophecies were surely coming true. My stomach contracted. I felt cold, weak, unable to stand. What had I done with my fifteen years of life? Had I ever really imagined what the end of the world felt like? Did I have the Holy Spirit, or was this the last hour I’d spend on earth with my mother? I looked at her. She hadn’t been raptured yet, but it had to be soon.