32 comments

Fiction

Cookie crumbles

1,675 words

I wake to a hot morning—the kind we always get in July in East Texas—slip on my red and white gingham shorts, and head into the kitchen where my mother is making scrambled eggs, grits, and toast. The phone rings. It’s  Granddad. My mother goes silent.

“I’ll be right over,” my mother says, “and I’ll bring Diana with me. She’ll cheer her up.”

My mother grabs my wrist and we run all the way to my grandparents’ white clapboard house three blocks away. The screen door bangs behind us in our hurry. Granny lies on her stomach in her four-poster bed and moans. The bedroom smells of pee and cigarette ashes. My mother tries to shake her awake, but Granny refuses to open her eyes.

“Mama! Can you hear me?” my mother shouts. “It’s time to get up.”

Granny doesn’t move. My mother motions to me to go over to her. I wag my head, but my mother waves me on. I creep up slowly to her face, which is all screwed up and pasty like one of her raw pie doughs. One corner of her mouth droops and saliva trickles out of it. She groans. I turn to look at my mother and again she pushes her chin out at me.

“Hey, Granny,” I say. “How you doin’?”

She stirs and opens one eye. “Hunh?” she asks. “Wazz zzat?”

“It’s me, Diana,” I say. My mother mouths some words to me but I can’t make them out. I shuffle my feet and try to come up with something to add. “Want to bake some cookies?”

“Nooooooooooo!” she howls. I back away until I’m almost out of the room. My mother turns on her heel and heads straight for the telephone in the living room. I follow and huddle near the green-checkered sofa. She gets the operator on the line.

“Beulah,” my mother says, “would you please dial Dr. Thompson’s number for me. It’s an emergency.”

Emergency? My stomach cramps so hard I can barely stand up straight.

“Dr. Thompson, it’s Patsy. Something’s terribly wrong with my mother. Would you please come over here as soon as you can?”

My mother hangs up the phone and starts to pad back and forth like the lion at the zoo in Tyler. Granddad keeps pestering her with questions.

“What do you think is the matter?” my grandfather asks. “Why is she acting this way? She’s always been a good wife, bright-eyed every morning. I’ve never seen her like this. I’m just so torn up inside. What could it be?”

“I don’t know Dad,” my mother says. “And even if I did know, I don’t want to say anything until Dr. Thompson gets a good look at her.”

It feels like an eternity before Dr. Thompson bursts into the house, smacks the screen door against the wall, and makes a beeline for Granny’s bedroom. Opening up his small, black leather bag, he pulls out a stethoscope and places it on her back. He checks her pulse and then asks her to look at him, but she doesn’t move. He douses his handkerchief with something that smells awful and puts it to her nose. She coughs a little but stays prone. Dr. Thompson gets my grandfather to help him roll her over in the bed. When the doctor takes a closer look, he sucks in his breath. Her mouth and one eye are really drooping now, and the fingers on her hand are all drawn up like a dead chicken’s foot.

“Call an ambulance, Patsy!” Dr. Thompson shouts.

“What’s a matter with her, doc?” my grandfather asks.

“Well, I can’t be sure, but I think your wife has suffered a stroke.”

“Oh my good Lord!” He wails and flaps his hands.

A stroke? My head spins thinking of what it could mean. Is that when somebody gets hit by lightning? Like Jeb Traynor did last year on his tractor during a thunderstorm? He hasn’t been the same ever since.

When the ambulance wails down the street taking my Granny away, my insides feel all jumbled up.

A month later, Granny gets out of the hospital. My mother and I visit. When I walk by the kitchen, it is dark and still. The copper pans hanging on the wall are dull, silver spatulas and strainers on the counter lurk in the shadows. No lemon meringue pies cooling on the window sill, or chocolate chip cookies on a baking sheet. No buttery pralines or chewy molasses candies, either. The house smells more like the scent of a clean bathroom after someone uses Lysol to scrub out the toilet.

Granny is sitting up in bed in a blue flannel nightgown. She smiles with half her face and grunts a strange-sounding hello. Patting the bed with her good arm, she wants me to sit beside her. So I do. Granddad is fiddling with a patch of gauze and pouring rubbing alcohol on it.

“Hey Granny, how are you?”

“Ohhhhkayyyy,” she says. “Wha ha yeewww bee doooi?”

“What have I been doing?”

She nods.

“Well, I just started school and stuff. Our fifth-grade teacher really piles on the homework.”

“Awwww,” Granny says.

“On Labor Day, Nancy, Mary, and I went to the State Fair. I ate a corn dog and a candy apple and drank a Dr. Pepper and when I went on the roller coaster, I almost upchucked!”

Granny laughs a little bit. I study her face and notice her lips are funny looking.

“What’s the matter with your mouth, Granny?”

She cocks her head, but doesn’t answer.

“Never mind her mouth, watch yours, young lady!” my Granddad yells. He takes the alcohol-infused gauze and places it on her heel where there is a weeping sore. Granny doesn’t flinch. Then he wraps it with white tape.

“Wahhh a coooo-eee?” she asks.

“A cookie? Sure. Did you bake a batch of chocolate chip?”

“Noooo, hon-eee,” she says. “Soh-reee.” With her good arm, she points to a package of sugar cookies on her dresser that I guess somebody brought during a visit. I don’t like store-bought cookies. They look like dirt clods.

“That’s okay,” I reply. “I’ll have one later. Say, can we read a comic book together?”

Granddad shouts at me, “What kind of lame-brain idea is that?” His face is red and sweaty and all pinched up, but Granny looks toward the living room and I know right away what she wants. In a magazine rack by the sofa, there are some comic books we hadn’t had a chance to read. I grab Little Lulu and jump back up on the bed. This time, I do the reading. Every once in a while, Granny chuckles and I look up into her brown eyes. They look softer than ever before.

By November, Granny is worse. She never sits up in bed. She doesn’t want to read comic books with me anymore. Her eyes are glassy and her hair has turned grey. I wish I could cheer her up. The only thing I know to do is bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I ask my Granddad for permission to use their kitchen and get to work.

In a copper pan, I remember how to cream the butter and sugar until it’s light and fluffy. Then I beat the eggs and vanilla together in one of her white and red porcelain bowls. I combine the flour, chocolate chips, and baking soda and mix all the ingredients together. When the time comes to drop blobs of the dough on the cookie sheet, they stick to the spoon. That never happened when Granny made them. I have to shake the spoon hard to get the blobs off. I forget to preheat the oven at 350 F so I dial up the temperature to 400 F to get it good and hot fast. I shove the cookies into the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes. Or is it 10 minutes? I settle for 15, which would make it 3:25 on my watch. My mother arrives and we go keep Granny company.

In a cheery voice, my mother carries on a one-way conversation with Granny, but she turns away and looks out the window. I’m hoping the aroma of chocolate and sugar will make her smile. I look at my watch. It says 3:20. We should have smelled something by now. My mother prompts me to check on the cookies. I walk into the kitchen and see thin streams of smoke seeping out of the sides of the oven. I put the mitts on and open the door. A billowing black cloud engulfs me. I choke and my eyes water. I reach for the baking sheet and pull it out. Every cookie is a charred lump of coal. I dump them in the sink and turn on the faucet to drown the stench. The house smells like it’s on fire.

My mother rushes into the kitchen and shrieks like a banshee.

“Hells bells! What happened?” 

“Doesn’t matter anymore!” I sob and throw the mitts across the room.                 

Hundreds of people cram into the funeral parlor for the visitation and viewing. Granny is sitting halfway up in her casket. Her curled-up hands rest on her sunken belly and the skin on her face is tightly drawn across her cheekbones and jaw. Her eyes are closed. I keep on expecting her to breathe, but she is still and shiny as a statue in a wax museum.

Her longtime friends, Mrs. Hatch and Mrs. Beamson, file by her casket. With her lace handkerchief pressed against her nose, Mrs. Hatch shakes her head. 

“She could bake like nobody’s business,” says Mrs. Hatch.

Mrs. Beamson nods. “Ooooh, I swear she had a gift with that lemon meringue pie,” she says. “It was sweet and tart all at the same time.”   

Volunteers from the church serve coffee, cake, and cookies. I choose a chocolate chip. It crumbles in my mouth like dust.

December 04, 2020 21:37

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32 comments

San T.
18:47 Dec 12, 2020

Such a touching story...

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June Rogers
20:19 Dec 12, 2020

Thanks, San T. Much appreciated. I'm going to read your story now!

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San T.
02:58 Dec 13, 2020

Thank you... :)

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Claudette Nantel
18:09 Dec 12, 2020

Really touching story, well written. Loved it!

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June Rogers
22:54 Dec 12, 2020

Thank you! Much appreciated.

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Chris Gorman
18:06 Dec 12, 2020

Love this story June. There's nothing like fresh baked treats to evoke our most poignant memories! And the ending is so powerful. Good luck!

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June Rogers
20:19 Dec 12, 2020

Thanks so much, Chris!

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Catherine Rodd
16:25 Dec 22, 2020

Very touching. I loved the opening sentence, set the mood beautifully and it captures a child's grief at losing a grandparent as well as the mystery of it all. The funeral home visitation was particularly visual, we'll all been to those kinds of viewings, and from a child's perspective it is a strange world where the living and the dead are in the same room for a while. Can't wait for the next one! Kate

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Kaya Assaf
04:26 Dec 18, 2020

Sweet and sad and so vivid!

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A.Dot Ram
05:32 Dec 15, 2020

This is vivid and poignant. Well done.

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June Rogers
17:14 Dec 15, 2020

Thanks so much. I just read your story, and feel that we both described the pain of loss through the bittersweetness of life.

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A.Dot Ram
17:22 Dec 15, 2020

Yes, I did feel like we struck some similar emotional notes. Food is so wonderfully personal and laden with associations.

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Reva Nelson
03:16 Dec 15, 2020

I like the descriptive details, especially of her clothing, and the poignancy of her relationship with her grandmother. Nicely done!

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June Rogers
17:08 Dec 15, 2020

Thanks, Reva. Much appreciated.

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June Rogers
17:16 Dec 15, 2020

Thanks, Reva.

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22:35 Dec 14, 2020

So humane, as everything you write. You have a way with feelings descriptions, one that truly belongs to you. Every time I feel as if I was invited to spy on someone s feelings. Very original, and a sheer pleasure... I love it!

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June Rogers
17:08 Dec 15, 2020

Que t'es vraiement gentil! Merci mon ami!

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June Rogers
17:15 Dec 15, 2020

Merci mon ami!

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Allyson Tache
15:37 Dec 14, 2020

Hi June, Bravo! So well written. I love how you weave in the sense of smell, and how the details in your descriptions of the settings evoke Diana's confusion and sorrow.

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June Rogers
20:45 Dec 14, 2020

Merci, ma chere. Much appreciated. Hope you are well.

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Pamela Paris
19:57 Dec 13, 2020

Hi June- well done. the story is a touching and poignant depiction of love and loss, and how sweet memories sustain us through the pain. It was evocative and helps us see the world of grief through a child's eyes. The prose is beautiful.

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June Rogers
20:44 Dec 14, 2020

Thanks, Pamela. Much appreciated!

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Kalman Green
01:20 Dec 13, 2020

I loved this story. The images were so evocative. I could smell the cookies and pies. I could see the fear in Diane's eyes when her grandmother had the stroke. I could hear the sharp barbs from Diane's grandfather. I was totally immersed in this poignant story.

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June Rogers
20:44 Dec 14, 2020

Thanks Kalman. Much appreciated.

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Daphne Jacobs
00:16 Dec 13, 2020

So moving and beautifully written! So enjoyed reading this

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June Rogers
20:43 Dec 14, 2020

Thanks so much Daphne. Much appreciated.

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Margie Wilson
21:01 Dec 12, 2020

I enjoyed this sentimental story told from a child's point-of-view. It is difficult to grasp the many mysteries of adult life when one is too young to comprehend the meaning of life's passages. This story is masterfully written to poise the reader to reflection on their own experiences. Looking back on when as a child they too found themselves in awkward situations beyond their awareness of the adult world. The sweetness of the promise of baking batch of comforting cookies that instead yields bitterness and disappointment gives our young chi...

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June Rogers
22:52 Dec 12, 2020

Thanks so much Margie. I appreciate your taking the time to comment on my story. You have captured it so perfectly. That loss of innocence is key.

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Gordon Mac Kay
21:00 Dec 12, 2020

Thanks June, I may never eat chocolate chip cookies again.

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June Rogers
22:53 Dec 12, 2020

Thanks, Gordon, for reading my story. And as for chocolate chip cookies, you can always eat them as long as they are home made by someone you love, or the recipe of someone you loved and lost.

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Susana Molinolo
19:43 Dec 12, 2020

I adore this story! Good luck June!!

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June Rogers
22:53 Dec 12, 2020

Thank you Susana. Much appreciated.

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