Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Cookie Crumbles — a short story

It is 5:20 in the afternoon. I look out the window and see such a picturesque scene.  The sun is just about to set; and the sky is painted in hues of pinks and oranges — my favorite colors.  I take a picnic blanket and carefully spread it on my bedroom floor by the window.  Like a painting, my two-by-two-feet window shows the most spectacular colors.  The leaves on the maple and persimmon trees are now mostly fiery red with dots of yellow, orange and green.  I try to soak up as much of the fall colors because I know they will again be coated in white in no time.  


I don’t like white.  It just feels lonely, and a bit scary.


I look at our cupboard for something to munch on for my indoor picnic.  There is a jar of flour, a bag of biscuits, and a can of Mrs. Wakefield chocolate chip cookies.  It’s a childhood favorite.


This is the same brand of chocolate chip cookies my mom used to bring home from the Winter Market.  I remember the first time she brought one home in December of 1995 when my older sister Maven had her birthday.  The can was the size of three Coca-Cola bottles combined.  Inside were cookies, double the size of my 5-year-old palm, with a generous serving of chocolate chunks.  Every bite was a delight. 


While eating, my sister thought of a way for us to enjoy the cookies until the following week. 


“Trish,” she said, “Let’s eat these cookies with the honey milk mom gives us before we sleep.  We can share one cookie every night.”


She broke the cookie and gave one half to me.  We took as little bites of our halves as possible to see how long a single cookie could last between the two of us while laughing and sharing stories.


“Don’t you think it’s more fun to eat from the same cookie?”


True enough, this has allowed us to savor the cookie to the utmost level.  We called it our ‘cookie bond’.  Oh, those were the days!


Suddenly, a strong gust of wind blows the window open.  It is so cold. The sky turns purplish black. I rush back to close the window and see something fall from the sky.  Is it rain? No, I don’t seem to hear any droplets.  Oh no, it is the first snowfall.  Winter has come.


Every time I see snow, it brings me back to one winter day in 2000 when I was 10 and Maven was 12. Mom used to take us to the Winter Market. Back then, I loved winter.   All the trees, the cobbled streets, the rooftops were covered in soft plush white snow.  And the market was lively with all the lights, food and activities.  During our trip to the market, my mom would give us 5 dollars each and allow us to buy whatever we wanted.  We felt quite independent because she gave us time to look around by ourselves as long as we made sure to meet her by the main entrance after an hour.


That evening, I asked my sister to go to a nearby play area with me.  There was an ‘off-limits’ board posted on a wooden gate that intrigued me.  Behind it seemed like a nice large park where we could run and slide and play in the snow as much as we wanted.  There were no people to shoo us away, so I went in.  I ran ahead of my sister as I normally did.  She was always the slower, more careful one. 


I heard an odd distant sound, like something was breaking, but thought it was the sound of twigs snapping as Maven made her way to me.  But then, I heard it again. It was louder this time, like a bag of walnuts being crushed under a hammer.  I looked around and saw a crack on the ice underneath my feet. Like a scene in a suspense movie Maven and I used to watch, the crack grew longer and wider until the ground was cut in half; however unlike the movie, I wasn’t able to run.  I plunged into the freezing water.  The water was exactly like what Jack said in the movie Titanic.  It felt like “thousand knives stabbing you all over your body”.  I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t think, at least not about the pain.


My sister rushed towards me and tried to pull me up.  She helped me reach stable ground.  Then there was another cracking sound.  This time, it was Maven who fell into the icy water.  I tried to reach her hand, but she floated farther and farther away from me.  Neither of us knew how to swim.  I shouted for help, but no one could hear me.  I ran to the nearest well-lit place with people for help but when I got back, I saw the most horrifying scene in my entire life. Maven was floating in the icy water.  Her lifeless body turned white as snow. 


I ran as fast and as far as I could.  I didn’t want to go home. I was sure my parents would hate me because I killed their oldest daughter.  After what seemed like hours of running, I looked around and realized that everything around me was different.  There were less lights, less houses, more trees and empty spaces.  I was probably in a different town.  The only structure I could recognize was a small church on top of a hill.  I knocked and peeked in, but saw that there was nobody inside so I entered sat on a pew. 


I must have dozed off until I felt a tap on my shoulder. 


“Hi. I’m sorry child, it is getting late and we are about to close.  Where are your parents?” A middle aged man gently asked me.


“Umm…I don’t have any…” I said hesitantly. 


“I’m Pastor John, by the way.  What is your name?”  He held out his hand for me to shake.


“I’m Trish,” I said, trying to be brave.


“Hi, Trish, where are you staying?” He asked with a concerned look on his face.


“I uh… I don’t have anywhere to go.”  I answered with tears swelling in my eyes.  After answering a few more questions, he invited me to stay in the church house with his family and foster kids.  I was surprised that they welcomed me as if I were a long lost family member without any question.  They didn’t have to know what I did. I didn’t tell them.


The other kids always invited me out to play but I would rather stay in my room.  I was content watching them play from my window. I felt I had no right to have fun especially when someone I loved dearly couldn’t anymore because of me. Instead, with a bit of imagination, I found solace in my books and indoor picnics. Besides, the window was big enough for me to wave ‘hi’ to the kids and connect to the outside world.


For the past 19 years, my window to the world remains open three-quarters of a year. But when winter comes, just as it has today, I’d rather have the view of my pink and yellow floral curtain. And so, I take one last look of the colorful landscape outside my window and bid the outside world goodbye. I close the window and pull down the curtains.


I take the can of cookies from the cupboard and prepare a cup of warm milk with a dollop of honey. I open the can of Mrs. Wakefield.  The smell is exactly the same from my childhood.  I take the top cookie, and break it in half.  How I wish I could share it with Maven.  I can’t help but think of this every single time even now when I’m 30 years old.


As I try to enjoy my half, I check out the can. It still looks the same. It has the logo of “Mrs. Wakefield” with the cartoon drawing of a plump lady holding a rolling pin.   At the back, it has the nutritional facts (okay, noted on the 325 calories per piece) and serving suggestions.  The back part of the packaging has been updated. There is now a drawing of a cookie cut in half.  It says “The best way to enjoy the cookie is to eat it in the ‘cookie bond’ way, sharing it with another person, and enjoying it with a cup of warm milk mixed with honey.  I can’t believe someone else has the exact same weird idea as my sister — the cookie bond? Honey in milk?


Curiously, I read the fine print at the bottom with font size 6.0.  It says:


In the winter of 1996, sisters Maven & Trish received their first can of Mrs. Wakefield. Over a glass of warm milk with honey, they enjoyed each piece of chocolate-ty goodness.  In order to savor the cookie and enjoy a longer bonding experience, they divided each cookie between the two of them, thus the ‘cookie bond’ tradition was born. Though the sisters have been separated by unforeseen circumstance, Maven still eats her cookies in halves in the hopes that one day her sister Trish would return home and they could continue this tradition together again.


I feel a weight over my chest. My vision blurs. The tiniest puddle forms on the cookie can. Now I feel the tears rolling down my cheeks. I wipe them away but they keep flowing. I let myself cry until my tears run dry. I put the lid over the can of cookies. I want to call out to someone but no sound came when I opened my mouth. Even if I shout at the top of my lungs, it would have been drowned out by the merriment of the thanksgiving dinner downstairs. With the can in hand, I walk away from my picnic area and turn the knob of my bedroom door.

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