Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rubbing Salt in the Wound

"C'mon!" I hollered as I turned my head to find my sister behind me. She took five-year-old steps through the gravelly alley, her backpack bumping along behind her. I was skipping home today. Mommy had been so sad and tired lately and I knew just how to cheer her up. I had a plan and I couldn't wait to get inside and get to work.

Although she didn't respond to my urgings, I wasn't mad at my sister. I skipped back toward her and tried to take her hand in mine, thinking that some of my excitement could make the leap from my fingers to hers and she would hurry with me. We had plenty of time. Mom was working at the bank until at least 5, but I still couldn't wait.

Tugging at the piece of yarn around my neck, I pulled the house key out from under my sweatshirt. I was so eager to get inside that it took me a few tries to get the key in the right way. My sister had abandoned her pack on the porch and was peeling the thick grey paint off of the concrete steps in chunks, flicking at a loose edge with her fingernail until she could slide one thin finger between the paint and the step and then gently easing it off. There was a mound of discarded chunks growing on our front walk. One of these days we'd have to repaint.

"You staying out here?" I asked her. She nodded, her black hair shiny in the sunlight. I knew how warm it would feel if I put my hand there. I was jealous of her silky hair and the fact that it absorbed all of the warmth of the sun. My hair was mousy brown and never did what I wanted it to.

I bounced inside and dropped my schoolbag on the floor in the hall. I'd deal with that later. Clambering up on to the counter in the kitchen, I pulled down a book of recipes my mother liked to use. As I cracked the spine I imagined I could already smell the gooey chocolate chip cookies cooling on the stovetop. Mmmm, my mouth watered.

"Hee!" a sigh of glee escaped as my stomach jumped. Mom would get home from work and walk in exhausted and she would smell fresh-baked cookies. She would be so surprised!

I found a big bowl and the measuring cups and began: 2 cups flour. Scoop, plop, poof. 1 cup sugar. I loved watching the tiny grains cascade out of the plastic measuring cup and land on the dusty flour. Brown sugar, pack it in. Sticky fingers, but that sand castle shape in the middle of the bowl was so cool! Eggs, butter, baking powder, salt. Hmm, where's the salt? I went hunting for the big blue cardboard Morton's salt container. There wasn't enough in the shaker. Ah, found it. Measure out the salt, pour it in. It cascades in like the sugar. Cool. Chocolate chips. A few for the bowl, a few for me. A cup for the bowl, a few more for me. I was stirring and humming. Wait until Mom sees this! Better let my brother and sister have a few before she came home. It's not fair to make someone wait to have a cookie when you can smell them baking. Besides, there's nothing better than a cold glass of milk and a warm cookie, especially after a day at school.

Stirring, stirring, man this was hard work. Would those yellow streaks of yolk ever blend in with the rest? Dang! I forgot to preheat the oven. I glanced at the clock, completely unaware of whether I had been doing this for moments or hours. Whew! It was only 4:00 - I had plenty of time. Okay, preheat the oven, mix some more. The dough looks a little grainy, guess I'd better taste it to make sure it tastes right.

Ugh! Grainy! Salty. Salty like the ocean. Mix more. I know! Get out the electric mixer. I was a little worried that it might pulverize the chocolate chips, but I knew I needed to mix the salt in better or the cookies would taste awful. Okay, here goes.

As I lifted the beaters out of the bowl and dove in for one more taste test it hit me. Salt. I had been so fixed on using the measuring cup that I had measured out a cup of salt instead of a teaspoon. Everything but my heart stopped. I couldn't breathe. I had screwed up big time. Plop. A huge tear landed in the cookie batter. Well, at least it wouldn't make it any more salty. I'd done that already.

I lifted the phone receiver off the wall and looked up the number we were only supposed to use for emergencies. I dialed my mom's number at the bank. My heart was beating in my throat and fingers and I had to sit on the bar stool to stop shaking.

"Mom," I blurted out as she came on the line "I'm so sorry. I really messed up. I decided to come home and make you some cookies as a surprise but I didn't pay enough attention to the recipe and I put a cup of salt in instead of a teaspoon. I wasted two entire eggs and a whole lot of flour and sugar and the chocolate chips are already mixed in and there aren't any more, so I can't make any cookies and I know we don't have very much money right now and I'm so sorry that I wasted all that food and I swear I'll make it right if you just tell me how to. I'll clean up the mess before you get home but I feel really bad about having to throw away the whole thing of batter. I tasted it, though, and it's awful, really, really awful and I'm so sorry I wasted all that food." I finally took a breath. There, I had said it all.

"Um," came the reply and a deep breath. "It's okay, sweetie. It was a mistake. You are so sweet to do that for me. Just clean it up and we'll talk when I get home, okay?" She let out a chuckle.

"Okay, Mom. I'm so sorry," my tears were unstoppable now. I couldn't see anything in front of my face and my shirt collar was getting soaked. I was deflated. Good intentions were not enough. I couldn't fix everything. Yet.


Kim said...

Oh no, I knew that was coming and it breaks my heart! Such great intentions, foiled!

Amazing writing, with the exact kind of breathless energy you must have had in those moments. Terrific details.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

I was there with you through every emotion - excellent!

Sarah said...

As you write these memories down dosn't it make you wonder what our children will remember?

These are such painful things to write about I am so proud of you that you can let some of them go now.

Love S

Jerri said...

Great telling of the story, Kari. My heart goes out to this little girl and her fear of not being perfect.


Scott from Oregon said...

Sometimes, even too much salt can be sweet.

grammer said...

Poor thing! So well-intentioned and earnest... and so heartbroken at the end there! Oy little one!

I especially enjoyed the mixing paragraph, the use of the rapid-fire inner voice feels so true. Thank you! xo

Deb said...

I love your little girl voice. Isn't it interesting that your mom was great and still your little heart was broken? That little girl with the huge heart.

Prema said...

Could really feel the combination of emotion - excitement, anxiety, love, dread. Feels like you could be changing the destiny of that scene by writing it with such clarity.

Suzy said...

Great descriptive writing- especially loved the "yarn around your neck with the key on it"- so very real Kari! Loved the piece.

Miss Devylish said...

I can so see E doing that one day.. that's so cute..

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