Friday, December 13, 2013

Pick Your Poison

Image by Clara via Wikimedia Commons
Jodi straightened her shoulders and steeled herself before ringing the doorbell. A pear-shaped woman answered. The first thing Jodi noticed was her red sweater featuring a reindeer drinking from a martini glass. The woman stared at her with a bland smile on her face.

“Hello, I’m Jodi. I work with Reg down at the Y.”

“Of course you do,” said the woman. “I sent Reginald down to the market for more Tom and Jerry mix. But do come in.”

The woman took her coat and tossed it in a dark bedroom. She introduced the room to Jodi as ‘TobyMikeSarahEuniceJohnJohnPeggyPenelopeRupert and Ed.’ Then waved at a dining room table overflowing with candy, dessert bars, beer nuts, cheeses, sausages, cakes, dips, and a supermarket’s worth of crackers.

“Help yourself,” the woman said.

Jodi hesitated, looking over the treats sitting on their paper plates, Tupperware containers, plastic wrap, and supermarket deli containers. Reg hadn’t told her to bring anything to the party and she realized now she should have. The woman snapped her fingers and waved a red-and-green fingernailed hand.

“That’s just the snack table. Come on into the kitchen.”

Jodi’s let out a breath and followed the hostess into a kitchen large enough to cater a barn raising. Jodi gasped. The smell of vanilla, butter, cinnamon, and toast hit her. Her mouth stung as it let loose a tsunami of saliva.

“Oh my,” she said.

On every flat surface sat a plate of cookies. Iced cookies in greens, reds, blues, all dotted with sprinkles, licorice, and mints. Then there was the chocolate category. Mint chocolate, dark chocolate, Kisses, M&Ms, white chocolate, milk chocolate. If there were pretzels, they’d be dipped in chocolate too. Pinwheels, thumbprints, gingerbread, butter, shortbread, anise, cinnamon, German Lepp, ginger, and plain sugar. But there is no such thing as plain sugar. The sugar had to be big-crystaled turbino, or covered with blue sugar, red sugar, green sugar, cut out in shapes that reminded one of the season, Santa Claus, reindeer, Christmas trees, presents with bows, gingerbread men, stockings, and stars. Frosting in all manner of colors and flavors slathered on with a trowel and piled higher with more sugar and candy. Candy! M&Ms, red hots, licorice, Kisses, mints, candy canes, and in one case, Snickers bars. It was as if the bakers had found a way to get rid of all the kid’s candy from Halloween, repackaged in cookie form.

“Yeah, I love to bake. I’m in the wedding cake business, but Reginald probably already told you that.”

Reg hadn’t said anything of the sort, so Jodi just smiled and nodded. The woman blew out a breath and pressed her lips together.

“Anyway, have a cookie,” the hostess said.

Three years of classes at the YMCA. Body pump in the morning, swimming laps at lunch hour, boot camp after work. She avoided all the treats brought into the office all year. Birthday donuts, new baby bagels (it’s a girl!), leftover BBQ from entertaining the big donors, the yearly chili cook-off, brats and dogs Fridays before every Packer game (home or away, plus the playoffs). Endless summer parties with dips all based on mayonnaise, cream cheese, or a combination of both. She avoided them all, a rock in a sea of trans-fats and glycemic armageddon.

But cookies? They were the worst temptation. Worse than ice cream, worse than margaritas, worse than potato chips, trumping even bacon. Cookies. Small morsels of sugary goodness that reminded her of cold winter days at Grandma’s house, dipped in a mug of hot chocolate, a perfect end to an unexpected gift of a day off from school. Helping with the making, the mixing, the gooey rolling out and shaping, sneaking globs of raw dough from fingers, sneaking licks of frosting, sampling the toppings to make sure they were good, which they always were.  The whole house smelling of sweet goodness: vanilla, cinnamon, and toast – warm love from the oven.

She loved cookies, but loved double takes from the boys more. She could look through a magazine and tsk at the way celebrities had let themselves go. She wore a two-piece and made sure she was front and center for all the vacation pictures. Her Facebook photos always got more likes than her friends’. All that would go down the crapper if she had a cookie.

One wouldn’t hurt. That was Satan’s whisper. Frito-Lay had it right when they bet you couldn’t eat just one, they had just applied it to the wrong food. What the Christmas party world needed was a good scare. She should start it.

Her Christmas Cookie party would be glorious. The guests would gush over her cookies, all the way to the hospital where the doctors would have to open them up to remove the ground stained-glass sprinkles, the razor-sharp flakes of surgical steel, or administer the antidote to crystalized rat poison and Drano (if there was such a thing). For the kids, pretzels dipped in chocolate Ex-Lax, M&M cookies laced with No-Doz. For those with allergies, peanut butter buttons with ground almonds. She could make thumbprints filled with transmission fluid. Molasses cookies made with motor oil. They’d gobble it all up until it was too late.

After that, no one would bring cookies to parties. People would think twice before eating one. Hospitals would open their x-ray machines to anyone who wanted to scan them for razor blades. Soon, Christmas parties would be like Halloween, and no one would trust any treat not wrapped in safe plastic with a company logo on the front. And once that happened, she could waltz by the cookies in peace. A wrapped cookie was easily ignored. 

The hostess cleared her throat, snapping Jodi back to her senses. “Please,” the hostess said, “have a cookie.”

“No thanks,” said Jodi, “I'm fine.”

“Are you sure? We have tons.” The hostess planted her feet as if she wasn’t going to move until Jodi put one of the accursed things in her mouth.

“Okay,” she said. With a trembling hand, she reached for a frosted snowflake with purple sprinkles.

“It's all right, they're not poisoned,” the hostess said.

She paused before putting the cookie in her mouth. What was it Reg always said? There were no new ideas in the world, just recycled old ones. If she could think of a thing like poisoned cookie, so could someone else. Like Reg’s wife.

If that were the case, Jodi thought as she took a bite, at least she would be a good-looking corpse.


  1. The worst part about this story is that it got me thinking about baking Christmas cookies. I got as far as buying the chocolate.

  2. Hahaha... I think that happens with most of us. When we are afraid of something and if somebody utter about it even jokingly then all our senses start tingling up. Nice story by the way! I enjoyed it.

    Finn Felton