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The small wisps of scented smoke rising off the mounds of baked dough and chocolate would always curl from the kitchen to my nostrils and fill me with glee. My mum baked them before she left to pick me up from school, of course.
If I ever had a bad day, whether it be receiving a poor result on a class test, or receiving a Chinese burn from the school bully, the smell of cookies baked by my mother’s fair hand would replace my unhappiness with a sense of belonging and a stately fact that I would always be loved by my mother, no matter how badly school treated me.
On a summer's day, at the end of a rather more productive day in the classroom (and playground), I waited for my mum's Volkswagen to emerge around the corner the school grounds stood on, I eagerly awaited a new batch of after-school cookies. I hopped from foot to foot in anticipation, ignoring the looks and giggles I received from my friends.
When my mum did pull into the school car parking lot, I rushed over to her, threw open the door and leaped into the front seat. She greeted me with a wide smile and ruffled my hair before proceeding to ask me how my day was. I told her it was fine and gave that classic schoolboy answer - ‘stuff’ - when she asked me what I did in class.
She laughed, eased off the handbrake and began the journey home. She talked to me about how she had weeded the garden, talked to our neighbor and drank lemonade while enjoying the summer breeze. I responded politely saying things like ‘That’s nice’ and ‘Yes mum, that sounds great’. I didn’t care, really. My little childish brain had only one thing going through it: cookies, cookies, cookies!
Although I wasn’t really listening, the parts that I caught sounded wrong somehow. Well not wrong exactly, just a little inaccurate. Even at that age, I could recognize when my mother’s daily routine had altered, or when a regular event was changed.
For example: when she talked about how after weeding the garden she watered her tulips on the balcony, but the tulips were beside the backdoor step in a large pot. Also, she said that she was talking to Janice across the street, even though it was Michael and Hannah that lived across the street.
Janice lived several blocks away. I waved it away as a symptom of old age. My mother was 34 at the time. Stupid, I know, but I was only seven years old. I didn’t have room in my head for questions anyway; I was too busy focusing on the cookies.
When we stepped inside our house I was about to run into the kitchen to sink my teeth into one of the cookies, but stopped. I knew the smell of my mother’s homemade baking from a mile away and the air I was breathing did not carry the scent of her cookies. I mean, it smelled very similar, but there were subtle differences in what I was inhaling.
“Mum, did you bake the cookies yourself today?” I asked.
“Yes dear, of course I did! I always do, don’t I?” She gave a little smile.
“Yeah, but… well I guess they just smell a bit different, that’s all.”
A look of puzzlement crossed her face and she frowned, but then her confusion gave way to realization and she said, “Oh yes! Well I suppose they do smell a little different. I just changed one or two of the ingredients. I thought you might be getting bored with the same cookies.”
I paused for a moment before replying, “Oh, ok mum.”
My mother never changed any of the ingredients in her recipes, especially in her baking. Once again, I dismissed it as her simply wanting to spice up her cooking a little bit and followed her into the kitchen where the cookies sat lying on the counter.
I was about to reach over and take one off the tray, but before I could, my mother snatched one up and wolfed it down in two bites. I froze in place, my pudgy hand still wavering in the air. The feelings of love, happiness and affection my mum’s cookies always brought were replaced with shock and disbelief.
I was always allowed the first cookie. It may seem silly, but it was an unspoken rule shared between my mother and I; I would always, always have the first cookie. It wasn’t like I was selfish, or greedy or anything, I wasn’t. I was just so used to having the first one, it was second nature.
“Mum! What are you doing?!” I cried, my voice cracking a little.
My mum looked at me in surprise, genuinely confused. “What’s the matter?” she said, “Did you want them on a plate?”
Now I was beginning to think something was amiss. The strange inconsistencies in the car I could understand. The changing of her standard ingredients, while rather strange, I could also understand. The fact that my mother could not remember our own cookie rule scared me though. I simply stood and stared, still flabbergasted. My mum picked up the tray and held it out towards me.
“I’m sorry son. I’ll remember to put them on a plate next time. Just try one though, they’re really good.” She gave an insincere little grin.
I looked up at my mother’s still smiling face and then back at the cookies. Suddenly my seven year old imagination started thinking about reasons why the ingredients had been changed and why my mum had eaten a cookie first.
These reasons were ridiculous and incredibly childish, but looking back, the ideas that grew within me could well have saved my life. I thought that she had perhaps poisoned them with something that only worked on children and that she only ate one to try and prove to me that they were indeed edible. I trembled as I shook my head.
“No thank you mum, I’m not really hungry anymore.”
My mother raised an eyebrow and wrinkled up her face.
“Now don’t be silly. Here, have a cookie. I’ll be hurt if you don’t eat them.”
Once again thoughts of my mother poisoning the cookies, or putting something bad in them entered my head. Visions of rancid black liquid oozing out of the dough emerged into my head.
“No mum, I really don’t want any right now.” I said softly, trying to hide the fear that was building inside me.
“Just eat a cookie, there’s a good boy.”
I don’t know why, but the way my mother said that statement just tipped me over the edge and sent a surge of adrenaline through my body.
“No!” I screeched and ran for the front door, flinging it open and charging down the street.
I remembered my dad telling me if I was ever in trouble to head to my Gran's house, which was half a block away, so I did just that. When she answered the door, I threw myself in and began to cry, curled up in the fetal position. Once she calmed me down I told her the whole story of my mum, the strange contradictions, and the cookies.
When I was done, I noticed that my gran had gone pale and was staring flatly in the distance. She was silent for a long time. Eventually she began to talk to me, telling me that what I just described was impossible. I sat on the floor and wiped my eyes, confused.
When I asked why, she said shakily, “Because your mother came for a visit this afternoon and she only left to fetch you from school five minutes ago.”