Editor’s note: In the Saturdays of Advent, a story will be told on the installment plan; this is part one of four.
Melanie wanted her two children to have a lovely, memorable Christmas.
The last year had been memorable, but not in good ways. Melanie’s mother had died after a long illness, and she wasn’t sure the boys even remembered her when she was still up and around and making cookies in the kitchen. Their father had stopped calling even on their birthdays as he traveled with his work out of state. She was thankful for a promotion at work and a pay raise, but it meant longer hours and she covered shifts more than she wished.
So tonight she planned to make sugar cookies for Christmas. It was something her mother did when Melanie was a child, and she realized they hadn’t ever done that in this home, and it was five years since the divorce and their move to this neighborhood.
She pulled up a simple sugar cookie recipe on her phone, and checked the canisters, dusty along the back of the kitchen counter, and was relieved to find a hardened container of baking powder in the back of the cabinets. There were eggs in the fridge, and she knew vanilla and flour were sufficient because she did make pancakes fairly often . . . well, often enough. (Make pancakes every Saturday this December, she thought to herself as she got out the big bowl.)
The butter was softening in a ceramic bowl, and she sifted together the flour and baking soda and baking powder which she’d chipped loose enough for a half teaspoon, with the oven heating up to 375. Melanie started thinking about having the boys come in and help put the dough on the cookie sheets.
For the next step, the two sticks of butter got mashed and mixed in with the cup and a half of sugar. She opened up the canister and reached in to scoop out the measuring cup’s worth, but heard not a scoop but a scrape.
There was just enough sugar to cover the bottom; the while interior fooled her into thinking there was plenty, when there was nowhere near enough. Maybe a half cup at most, and she needed a cup and a half. And these were sugar cookies: it’s not like there’s a workaround.
She spent some time ransacking cupboards, thinking there might be an old bag of brown sugar she kept for oatmeal (when was the last time they had oatmeal for breakfast?), and maybe that could work? But it had either been eaten or thrown out. No sugar. She found an extra blue canister of salt, sighed and shrugged.
It was late, looked like rain on the forecast, and too near the boys’ bedtime. So much was mixed and ready, but she just needed a cup of sugar. The butter could go back in the fridge, the bowl of flour and dry ingredients could go back in the cabinet and would probably be okay . . .
Or she could ask Mrs. Morley next door. Melanie remembered how when she was little, sometimes her mom and neighbors would call and borrow an egg or two, or a cup of buttermilk, but that was when people cooked and neighbors talked to each other. She’d never asked a neighbor for a cup of anything.
But Mrs. Morley looked like a lady who might bake occasionally. She could offer her half the batch, maybe? What would that be, two dozen cookies for her, still plenty for the three of them. Sighing again, she grabbed the measuring cup, shrugged on her coat, and stuck her head around the doorway into the living room to tell the boys she’d be right back. They barely nodded.
Out the front door, around on the walk since the grass was soggy and probably muddy, and up the neighbor’s driveway. The lights were on, her car was in the carport behind the house, it didn’t seem too late, but Melanie was nervous. It seemed odd, but then it came to her that she had never in these last few years come over to her neighbor’s house. Mrs. Morley had always been the one to come over to her house, to offer a hand or to say hello. How odd, but that’s how it had turned out.
Feeling uneasy enough she almost didn’t, but then she thought about her mom, the boys, and those cookies she wanted them to have, and she knocked on the door.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and preacher in central Ohio; he’s pretty sure he knows where this story will go, but you never know. Let him know what you think happens next at email@example.com or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.