The days had been passing in a fog. Taz would bob to the surface during bursts of sunlight, only to be dragged back down again, deeper than before. Some days she would forget, life would resume like nothing had changed. Then it would hit her, creeping into her brain like a virus. It always seemed to be triggered by something seemingly obscure. A pattern on a blanket. A coffee cup. A Hershey’s kiss. Memories would rush back, so clear her senses would be overwhelmed by actual scents and sounds. The crackle and smell of wood smoke by the fireplace. The smell seeping into the plaid wool blanket, to waft out every time it came out of storage. Grams sitting in her rocking chair, book propped on her knee.
“I’m calling bullshit, Taz. No way she would choose him! She would make it on her own, and make it work.”
“That’s what you always say, Grams. People like when they end up together. You are the outlier.”
“Bullshit.” It would come as a sing-songy whisper. Taz had arched a brow in her direction. Grams winked in response.
Her funeral had been on a snowy Tuesday afternoon in the beginning of December. Snow had started to fall while they were in the chapel. Shadowed figures drifting down outside the stained glass. Taz sat in the back row, unable to sit through the grief, the pain, the pity, under the watchful eyes of the packed church. Her mother had tried to get her to sit in the front with the rest of the family but Taz had refused. Their pain was forced. The guilted motions of family obligation. Her grandmother had been the one person in their family to love Taz with no strings attached. And now that Grams was gone, Taz felt terribly, terribly alone.
Taz had woken up one morning in the blurry weeks after the funeral, confused as to why the house didn’t smell like coffee. She had woken up to the buzz of caffeine in the air for the past five years. Was something wrong, had Grams overslept? She flung the covers off of her bed and padded quickly down the hall to her grandmother’s room. She saw the made bed and a vision knocked her against the doorframe. Another morning with no coffee. Another morning walking to this room confused and bleary eyed. But that morning a different sight had greeted her. That time the bed hadn’t been empty, and yet it had been, all at the same time. Taz sank to the floor, braced in the doorway like the earthquake in her head was real. She barely had any tears left to give, but she laid on the floor until she could offer no more. At this point she didn’t know if coffee would make the throbbing in her head dissipate or make the panic attack cause her heart to explode. Numbly she got up from the floor and made her way downstairs. She got as far as the couch before her legs gave out and refused to carry her the rest of the way. She curled up with the plaid blanket and inhaled the stale woodsmoke.
A knock on the door shook her from her fog.
“It’s open.” She croaked.
A dark curly head poked its way around the door. “Coffee?” Elise stepped into the house, just like she had a thousand times before, but looked around like she was walking into a museum for the first time. “The house is never this quiet.” Her London accent accentuated by the whisper and the grief. Grams was always busy and bustling noisily around the house. Music was always playing. Even at night, a fan whirled white noise throughout the upper floor and clocks ticked away the darkness on the first. Taz sat up and Elise came and sat next to her on the couch, two steaming white cups in tow. Taz reached for the smaller of the two and wrapped her chilled hands about the cardboard.
After a couple minutes of silence Elise asked, “Need anything?”
“This.” Taz curled her feet up under her and leaned her head on Elise’s shoulder.
Elise chuckled, “this doesn’t feel like anything. This is what we always do.”
“It will get easier, sweets. I promise.” Her voice was low but started to crack, nonetheless. Grams had basically been family to Elise, too. Her home was a haven to whoever needed it. No matter the hour, Grams always had cookies on the table and more types of tea than you could count.
“God, being here makes me want one of those peanut cookies. You know, the ones with the chocolate in the middle?”
“Peanut blossoms. Grams only makes them around Christmas. She showed me how to make them once, when I was little.” Taz closed her eyes, smelling the peanut butter and watching her little hands pull the paper tab to unwrap the chocolate.
“I’m watching you, little girl. I need all those kisses for the cookies. You better not eat any.”
She had looked at her grandmother sheepishly, her little voice answering, “Too late, Grams.” Grams had sighed in the over exaggerated way you do with children when you pretend to be mad.
“Then whatever will be do with this extra cookie dough? I guess we will just have to eat it plain to even it out. Here.” She had handed Taz a spoon heaped with cookie dough and winked.
Taz drifted slowly back to the present, the taste and grit of raw cookie dough on her tongue. “I think she just bought the peanut butter and kisses for them last week. She always brought them to the family Christmas party.” She extracted herself from Elise’s shoulder and brought her coffee to her lap. She rubbed her face and shifted to put her feet back on the floor.
“You want to make them?” Elise said as she turned to face Taz.
The thought of getting off the couch was exhausting but Taz had an itch to do something, to make something, to pour herself into something productive, something real.
“Grams never wrote down her recipes. We will have to figure out how to make them. I think I remember most of the ingredients.”
She could almost hear Grams saying “Try it. If it’s shit, we will throw it out and try again. You might make something great. Who knows?”
Elise got up from the couch first and held her hand out for Taz. She took it and pulled herself up. Their hands stayed locked until they got to the doorway of the kitchen. Both stopped short. The image of Grams covered in flour and bouncing between the stove and stand mixer played through Taz’s head. That would have been Elise’s first memory of Grams too, but that first memory would have been replaced by a thousand others, all overlapping and merging together like a flip book. Taz broke the spell and stepped in. She walked over to the pantry where Grams kept the aprons, while Elise went to the window where a small radio sat on the sill. She turned the knob a little too far and Christmas music erupted, resounding through the house. They both began to laugh and gather the ingredients they needed for the cookies. Taz could swear she saw the ghost of her grandmother sitting at the kitchen table, steaming mug of tea before her, throwing out thoughts and quips every now and then.
“Who actually has time to bring the eggs and butter to room temperature? Just throw them in as is. Don’t listen to that bullshit.”
The butter and sugar got creamed in a bowl.
“I never mix the dry ingredients together first. Just throw it all in. It will all work out.”
Dry ingredients and peanut butter next. The stand mixer did most of the work. Taz handed Elise a peanut butter spatula to lick clean.
“You do have to chill the dough, though. That one is true. Who the hell wants flat cookies?”
Elise started to roll out the dough into little balls and press them flat with her palm. She paused, looking over them. “These don’t look right. Did we miss something?”
Taz looked at the balls of dough, reaching back into her memory, pulling at times when she had seen Grams bake these cookies.
“They get rolled in sugar first, then flattened.” She could feel the crunch of sugar on her teeth, the moment right before peanut butter and chocolate melded into one flavor. She placed a kiss on the last cookie and looked back into the bag. She smiled as she saw three foil-wrapped kisses sitting at the bottom of the bag.
“Perfect. One for you.” She handed the shiny red one to Elise. “One for me.” She tucked the purple one with silver peeking through the top further into her enclosed fingers. “And one for Grams.” She placed the green one on the table, next to Grams’ empty teacup.