Cookies and Stories

She lives on two things: cookies and stories.

The best afternoons are the ones where she comes home to a fresh batch, eats three, then dashes up to her room to read. She sneaks down again after a few chapters, while her mother is occupied elsewhere, and sneaks three more.

She reads entire books in one sitting, then flips to the front and starts over.

Stories fill her mind; stories she’s read, stories she’s watched, stories she’s written. She has dozens of beginnings written, and she keeps sketchbooks and journals everywhere. Her desk drawers are full to overflowing.

She goes to university and graduates with an English degree, the fancy way of saying she spent four years studying stories.

She goes a bit nuts with the cookies.

She gets married; works a bit; has some babies. She feeds her babies cookies, and stories. It’s hard, spending her days with pre-rational creatures who have no qualms about driving her to the brink and back day in and day out. They steal her stories, for a while.

The darkness is awfully dark. On their own, the cookies are powerless.

One day she looks back at the stories she wrote. The ones she put on a shelf in her mind while she dealt with school and marriage and babies and figuring herself out. She remembers the feeling of getting lost in the words, feeling them leak and bubble and gush and pour, keys and clues to the stories that unfolded in her mind while she walked to school, while she sat in the car on road trips, while she lay in her bed in the dark. She wants that feeling again.

The words are terrible. The story is not good.

She starts over. The words come. She eats cookies while she writes, and feels alive.

A Rescue

Alarm rings. Press snooze. Groan. Turn over.

Alarm rings. Turn it off. Groan. Get up. Sit on edge of bed and stare into the abyss for a minute.

Get showered, dressed, fed, caffeinated.

Rush to bus stop. Wait for bus in the inevitable drizzle. Curse the fact that this spring has been unseasonably cold and rainy. Even though spring is always cold and rainy.

Board bus. Find a spot away from other people. Stare out the window.

This is how every day had started so far this year.

At least at the beginning of the year she had classes to go to in the afternoons. Now Steph only had months of other people’s groceries to ring through.

This morning was no different. Until someone sat directly across from her, right in her window-staring line of vision. Someone was a girl about her size and age, but much cooler. Half her head was shaved, and the hair that remained fell to her shoulders and was dyed bright red. She looked back at Steph and smiled. Steph smiled quickly back but looked away. She made small talk all day; she really didn’t want to interact with another person. But when she looked back at the girl, Steph swore she winked at her. Now she started to squirm in her seat. Her stop was coming up, so she decided to just get up and stand near the door. When it was time to ring the bell for her stop, the bus driver yelled back. “Sorry if anyone needs the next stop, the intersection up ahead is closed, so I’ll have to do a bit of a detour here.”

Steph looked back at the girl but she had disappeared. Suddenly overwhelmed, she walked to the front of the bus so she could ask the driver to stop the bus. She should just go home. She could call in sick for one day. But the bus driver who had been there before was gone, and the red haired girl was now driving the bus. Steph realized she was the only one left aboard. The girl smiled a reassuring smile as she cranked the wheel hard and took a fast turn. Steph was not reassured as she hung on for dear life. She ran to the door and tried to pry it open with her fingers. When that didn’t work she started banging on the door and panicking. Just when she thought she was going to lose it, the bus stopped and the front doors opened. They were on a small dirt road, and there was a wooded area in the distance. Steph stepped outside. In the middle of the field in between the road and the wood stood the oldest oak tree Steph had ever seen. It towered above them, and the thick trunk was covered in knots bigger than both her hands together. Steph frowned and shook her head as she realized that in the oak tree’s general area it seemed to not be drizzly. And the tree was in full leaf, while all the other trees still had their spring buds.

Steph looked at the girl, dumbfounded. She was still sitting in the driver’s seat, leaning on her arms on the steering wheel, watching Steph with a grin on her face.

“I know”. The girl said. “It is super weird. But it helped me, and when I saw you this morning I knew you needed help too. So it is yours now. Just promise you’ll show someone else when you don’t need it anymore.” She smiled again, then closed the bus doors and drove off.

Steph walked towards the tree, and as she did she felt the air getting warmer. She looked up at a clear blue sky. When she reached the tree she found an alcove at the base of the huge truck with a sleeping mat, blanket and pillow rolled up inside. There was some food and a thermos of tea, which Steph started to drink while leaning against the trunk of the oak. It felt solid, supporting her, but it was somehow soft at the same time.

She spent the whole day at the foot of the tree. She ate, and alternated sitting in the sun and shade. She read some books that she found in the sleeping nook. After the sun set, she curled up under the tree and looked at the stars that she could see through the branches.

She woke up to sunshine and birdsong.

Deadlines

The deadline for her writing project grew nearer and nearer and she stared at the blank page with increasing frustration. How was she supposed to write in her voice, but about herself? It seems like such a fun assignment, but the distractions kept mounting. New books were published, podcasts filled her phone, twitter kept updating and that candy certainly wasn’t going to crush itself. And most of all, they just kept airing more and more superhero shows. It was a job in itself just to keep up – nevermind her actual job. Plus two kids. Speaking of which, the voice of a five year old little girl called from the bedroom.

“Moommmyyyeeee!!!”

Sighing, Jan walked down the hall and knelt by her daughter’s bed.

“Mommy, I can’t sleep. Tell me a story.”

“Alright. Once upon a time there was a tiger named…”

“TIGG!” The little girl held her stuffed tiger aloft.

“Tigg. Tigg lived deep in the dark jungle. One day Tigg wandered away from her mommy and daddy and found herself all alone in the jungle. No matter where she looked, she couldn’t find her way home. Suddenly she heard a noise ‘Ah-chooo!’. Tigg was scared, but so she hid in some nearby bushes. She watched as a big grey foot stomped by and heard another ‘Ah-choo!’. It was Sneezy the Elephant!”

“Yay!”

Sneezy was a character Jan had invented one night when her story had been interrupted by a sneeze attack. In the past, Sneezy had rescued a princess, saved an owl and helped a bunny find her carrots.

“Sneezy saw Tigg cowering in the bushes and said ‘What are you doing in there, little tiger?’ And Tigg said ‘I’m lost and I can’t find my home.’ So Sneezy scooped up Tigg with her trunk and sat her on top of her head. From there, Tigg could see all over the jungle, and she saw where her house was. So Sneezy took her back to her home where she was so tired from her adventure that she curled up in her cave, slowly relaxed her whole body and fell fast asleep.”

The kids had yet to notice that every single nighttime story ended with the main character falling asleep. She whispered goodnight, left the room and faced her computer again, this time with a story in her head.