Brown sugar, packed. Thump.
White sugar, heaping. Ssssss.
A teaspoon of vanilla. Splash.
Two eggs. Crack. Splat. Crack. Splat.
I lift the metal bowl to my face, lips a hairsbreadth from slimy golden yolk, and breathe. Glorious.
“What is it about sugary eggs and vanilla?”
Now that other ingredient. I wrinkle my nose and scoop the pungent stuff, spoonful by hated spoonful. The whir of a hand mixer reminds me that humming helps. But there is nothing soothing about a random tune—my grandmother did that and she never hit a note—so I choose something. Fast.
“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer…” I hate when people just can’t let Christmas go. Damn if that song isn’t still stuck in my brain. “Mmm mmm mmm mmm mmm, huh huh.”
Dough rolled and ready, exactly one quarter-inch thick. I sift through cutters. Heart? Suspicious. Star? Ironic. Four-leafed clover? Just hateful. I smile and select the clover.
“One little, two little, three little clovers.” The dough is satisfying to cut. Solid but pliable, like Play Doh. Forgiving. “Five little, six little, seven little…” The rest of my invented song escapes me. “See, that’s why you stick with the classics.”
I strip off my rubber gloves and bang the tins into the oven. Then wait. And wait. Baking cookies have no business smelling so…so…
“Had a very shiny nose.” I tap my feet, crave the ding. “And if you ever saw it.” My hands sweat in their mitts. “You would even say it—”
A delicate tea saucer. And a paper doily. I plunk down the clover while it’s still steaming. Oil seeps into the doily, an evil halo. But warm cookies are more appetizing than cold cookies, so I shake my head, get a grip. Last minute inspiration sends down a sprinkle of powdered sugar—a kindness or a mockery—and I push through the swinging doors.
My slippers tap checkerboard marble floors. A home shouldn’t echo like that.
Click. Click. Click.
The tick-tock of a disapproving grandfather clock melts my resolve and I slow, my breath shallow.
A firm grip swings me around and I almost drop my offering. “I’ll take it to her.”
Blood thunders in my ears. I can hardly hear my own feeble, “Okay,” so I bob my head and shove the plate into his chest.
“It’s almost over.” His smile is blurred, his finger tracing my jawline warm.
I nod again and a hot tear hits my shoe. An acrid smell escapes her sickroom and buffets my cheeks as he closes the door on my shame.
I scrub my face with both hands, square my shoulders. A galvanizing breath strains my diaphragm. “Okay. Fresh linens.” Stick to the basics. Don’t think. “All of the other reindeer…”
My steps echo to the stupid melody and I wonder if I should perform a step-ball-change to mix things up.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
I pause to open the glass door, halt the heavy pendulum.