Kim Adrian ~ Last Cookies

To make last cook­ies, you first must make not-last cookies—Chocolate-Almond Biscotti, packed in a large tea tin. These you must give to your father to give to his sis­ter at Christmastime, his sis­ter hav­ing stayed home in New York City, as she was too ill to vis­it Boston for the hol­i­day.

Of course, you can’t go so far as to call this a batch of “every­day” cook­ies, because your aunt is so sick, but they are at least vague­ly feel-good cook­ies because while she’s lost her appetite for almost every­thing else, your aunt (whom you have always resem­bled) eats them one right after the oth­er while lying on the couch in the apart­ment she shares with your father, attached to an oxy­gen tank and watch­ing Dr. Phil with her nurse’s aide.

She loves them,” your father tells you dur­ing your next phone con­ver­sa­tion. “She can’t get enough!”

Last cook­ies come lat­er. In fact, one of the pri­ma­ry ingre­di­ents for last cook­ies is pro­cras­ti­na­tion born of active denial. It works like this: from the moment your father tells you how much your aunt loves the bis­cot­ti you made her, you resolve to make anoth­er, larg­er batch and send it off. Every day, you think, today’s the day I will make Aunt Karen an extra-extra large batch of Chocolate-Almond Biscotti!

But every day there are oth­er things to do, and bis­cot­ti are time-consuming—you have to bake them twice, after all. Besides, to make them would mean to con­tem­plate your aunt and her dimin­ished body, her dwin­dling appetite, the can­cer that migrat­ed a year ago from her brain to both lungs—inoperable tumors that have not respond­ed to chemother­a­py or radi­a­tion.

In this way, weeks go by. Then months. Your father vis­its the funer­al home, and still you don’t make the cook­ies. He helps your aunt pick out what clothes she’ll wear in her cof­fin, what music she wants played dur­ing the ser­vice. And still you don’t make the cook­ies. He feeds her slen­der tubes of sub-lin­gual mor­phine twice a day, informs you that she’s start­ing to smell from the can­cer itself, that she’s lost a tremen­dous amount of weight, has large bald patch­es, can’t hear well any­more, and seems to be hal­lu­ci­nat­ing at times. Still, no cook­ies.

It boils down to a child­like form of denial, as in, if I don’t make the cook­ies, my aunt can’t eat them; if she can’t eat them, she can’t die. Logic is not the point. The point is to secret­ly believe that there is some kind of cause-and-effect action at work, no mat­ter how non­sen­si­cal, and to place your­self in the “cause” part of that equa­tion. In this way, you allow your­self to believe that you actu­al­ly have some con­trol over the sit­u­a­tion. That’s the gen­er­ous inter­pre­ta­tion. The less gen­er­ous take is that your pro­cras­ti­na­tion is borne of a self­ish indul­gence in child­like behav­ior. Because the some­what ten­ta­tive yet deeply affec­tion­ate rela­tion­ship you have always enjoyed with your aunt is root­ed (at least in your mind) in the fact that on some lev­el she still sees you as the lit­tle girl you once were.

Over the phone, a few days in a row, your father men­tions that things are chang­ing quick­ly. You and your hus­band decide to dri­ve down to New York with the kids. You have a whole week to make the cook­ies. But life is so busy. Somehow, you don’t get around to it until just hours before you’re sup­posed to leave. The cook­ies are com­pli­cat­ed. You’re dis­tract­ed. Pre-occu­pied. You almost burn them, but your hus­band pulls them out of the oven in the nick of time.

Unfortunately, when you get to New York you dis­cov­er that your aunt is no longer eat­ing sol­id food of any kind—only a half-pint of Ensure every day, out of a plas­tic cup. She has no inter­est in the cook­ies. The cook­ies do not even war­rant a glance because food is not on your aunt’s mind, instead, what she likes now is to look out the win­dow in the liv­ing room on the fourth floor, past the per­ma­nent­ly installed air con­di­tion­er that occu­pies the bot­tom third of that win­dow, onto a view of leaf­less black tree branch­es prefer­ably in a scene of rain or falling snow, which she finds so peace­ful.

~

Kim Adrian’s short sto­ries and essays have appeared in Tin HouseAgni, the Gettysburg ReviewCrazyhorse, the New England ReviewNinth Letter, the Raritan Review, and else­where. Among the awards and recog­ni­tions she’s received are a P.E.N. New England Discovery Award, an Artist’s Grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, three Pushcart Prize nom­i­na­tions, and the Editor’s Prize in Nonfiction from the New Ohio Review, as well as res­i­den­cies at the Edward Albee Barn, Ragdale, and VCCA, and schol­ar­ships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Key West Literary Seminars. Find more at kimadrian.com