The smell roused me from my sleep, pulled me from the many sunken levels of my dreams. Same dream every time.
I saw up over the bed and rubbed my eyes. Sighed and looked over at the journal on the desk, the pen with a full amount of ink. Who was I kidding? I haven’t written anything since he died, not for myself, not anyone, so why would I write a letter to him, he who could not read my letter anymore, he who could not take my calls. I put in the effort to drive to the store and pick out the nicest notebook I could and the smoothest pen.
I cannot write that I feel guilty because then I can’t convince myself that I’m not, that I wasted the last years of his life living away from. The guilt will be real because its evidence that I didn’t call enough or listen enough or even hold it together long enough on the phone during the last few time we could really have a conversation. But I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, and these dreams, they just won’t stop. Just before I wake, I start to smell this familiar aroma accompanied by this deep and curving melody. Maybe, I should lean into it.
Humming from the kitchen swirled through the walls into my room and I could feel that even with my eyes closed the darkness was leaving as the humming danced through in the light. A cheerful dream, always in the beginning; three hums between five slaps of the dough. I wonder if you knew how much you carried around your rhythm. I wond-
Maybe this is why I can hardly separate the memories from the taut tops of bongo drums and the floured surface of the counter. Did you know I would watch your hands at eye level for both activities? For both dough or drums, they were slapped and beat with the thick, meaty base part of the hand; tapped and twisted with the strong, lengthy parts of the fingers.
I should just get to work.
I’m at my station now setting my own pace with the slap and the roll of the dough. Usually with each fold and push and pull I can breathe a little more stable as the last ends of the memories fade. Honestly with every turn and refold of the dough, I do sometimes try and think back to catch the end of it. I know there is something left that is hiding from me. I think even that there is something that I am hiding from myself. A memory but it feels more like a clue, wrapped in a distant sound or a feeling, but the time I feel most able to grasp it, is through the smell, like someone who has just passed you by. You turn your head because you can tell that it’s someone you know but when you look, they’ve already gone. The smell is still there, left in the shape of them. The more I try to grab the tail end of the dream the more I push it away.
Today my breathe stays shaky and I keep imagining his hands overlaying mine. Everything in the kitchen now feels overwhelming. I look around to calm myself, but it all reminds me of him today. The wood paneling by the stove is the color of his skin, the shake and hiss of the tea of the stove is like the beginning of his favorite radio station, the one that played jazz the entire car ride.
The cry from the pain of the loss of someone is deep. No one ever told me that most tears are selfish ones. Those cries are like vinegar as they are salty and acidic. I am in pain; I am sad; you have hurt me. All those things are valid and true, and they can swallow you whole while they dry you out from the inside.
This time too I thought I would cry because I missed him, because of guilt, because we didn’t spend enough time together and that was my fault. No. I cried because he was gone. And it just wasn’t right.
I learned that day that I saw him there in the hospital bed and then every other day that I thought of him since that tears from a loss are full bodied. They are round and dense and feel so heavy as they well inside you but flow out with a remarkable ease. I sat there and cried those tears ; I let my body release and as I did the dream started to come back too.
I couldn’t wait for the tears to clear though. I closed my eyes and let them flow, and finally I saw it so clearly. The smell, that haunted me- it came from my dream this whole time. So, I stood up and got started.
Today I figured out your recipe. I guess I didn’t realize that all this time you never wrote it down.
Find a medium sized bowl. You’ll need one just big enough to dig your hands in to mix the ingredients, but small enough for all the spices and flour to get to know one another, about the size of a living room with little arms and legs folded over jagged and bruised elbows, sprawled between scraped and patched-up knees. You should be able to clearly hear the scrapes of the spoon or fingers like the giggles and cries from cousins and siblings; the hushes and smiles from the uncles and aunts.
Beat the butter and sugars together until frothy and creamy. Add the secret smell, the eggs and vanilla until its one complete paste. Use the end part of dinner for measurement, when we’re all still laughing and playing and the warmth of the final stages of dessert were coming together. Everyone made sure to finish their plate, so they’d be nice and ready for the treats soon to come.
Chill before rolling them into balls and lay out on a metal tray. Space them out like the lines we stood in, anxious for our turn to get two warm soft and gooey cookies placed on our plates.
Wait, (the longest part) until I’m not sure when, but again the smell will let me know. I got it down the first time I made them actually. I didn’t set a timer, and I didn’t look at a clock, but just like the dreams I’ve been having, I knew I would have to wait until that final moment, where you crystallized in front of me, the smell wafting out of warm dough and cinnamon and nutmeg, dark and light sugar, and cloves. The smell fully emerging from the final ingredient, which had been waking me from my sleep- the molasses.
The final step:
Breathe in the cookie, because that smell, that I thought was molasses, possibly love, or maybe even loss; that smell that surrounded me and pulled me in to the kitchen to make all these cookies, it was you, just you, all this time. The memory of you, the loss of you, the love of you, all this time.
You never named these, so I will name them for you.
"papa’s marvelous molasses cookies"
Optimal season to make them is in the summer, or fall, or winter, or spring. They are always there when you need them.