How the Cookie Crumbles

Life and scribbles on the far side of SIXTY-FIVE

Can You Handle a Surprise?


February 26th I had the sweet opportunity to attend the launch of Time and Place, a cultural quarterly. Nervous as a cat (cliché, I know, but I was nervous), I swallowed hard and went into neutral mode—think the idling of a car while you wait for a green light. This was a two-fold occasion. I also read a story I’d submitted! Yes, me.

Each submission required the significance of time and place regarding origin of story. (Noted at bottom of page.)

photo (4) Time and Place Cultural Quarterly


It has begun…my worst nightmare. Myrna-Jo Bourke blinks and stares into the gas-lit fireplace. Nail-bitten fingers smooth her creased forehead. She frowns at a rap at the door.

A lanky girl, cinnamon hair streaming, soars through the finished basement to the Easy Boy and her grandmother’s arms. “Why are you sitting in the near dark?” The girl squints and pulls back for a better look. Her small hand brushes the rough cheek. “Grammy, are you okay?”

“Of course, I’m all right.” Myrna-Jo offers a fake smile and plunges closed fists into her lap.

Thin lips clamped, Lilli slips out of the light embrace. “Your cheeks are wet. Why?” Stepping away and examining the room, she flicks on the light switch.

Grammy’s glance drops and rises. The half-lie slips out between wobbly lips. “I’m happy to see you.”

The young girl leans in again and lays a warm satin cheek against her grandmother’s. Arms steal over rounded shoulders and circle her neck. “No-one hugs better than you.” Lilli breathes in the baby-powder scent of her grandmother’s neck, sighs, and tightens her embrace.

“Can I help you?”

Giggles tinkle like tiny crystal wind chimes. “I almost forgot.” Her nose scrunches. “Mum wants you to come to supper Saturday. For your birthday.”

Myrna-Jo’s eyelids flutter. “Birthday?”

“You didn’t forget did you, Grammy? Wait till you open my special surprise.” Lilli rocks on stocking feet, hands twirling at her sides.

“Such excitement over a little birthday…”

“But it’s your seventieth.” Pink-faced, bunched hands rise and slip underneath her chin.

“Seventieth?” The voice cracks. A spotted hand pats the bun. “Seventieth. And you are how old?”

“Stop teasing, Grammy. I’m eleven. Remember the hot pink dress you gave me last August?”

Myrna-Jo’s eyes wander. Time rushes headlong with a mind of its own. If only I could slow its….

Lilli grins. “You’re coming, right?”


“For supper Saturday, didn’t I just say?” She searches the drawn, clouded gaze of the woman in the recliner. “Grammy?”

Eyes dart left and right as the woman claws her throat. “Who’s my most favorite grandchild in the whole wide world?”

“Silly, I’m your only one.” Fidgety, Lilli caresses the cloud-white hair. “What will you wear?”


“I know—your green pantsuit—makes your eyes look like emeralds.”

“Oh… Come and help me dress, will you…?”

“Okay, an hour before supper. Gotta go. Mom is setting the table.” She plants a kiss on the cold cheek and scurries away. At the door, she hesitates. “Grammy?”


“Love you. See-ya-bye.” Slam. Thump. Thump. Thump. She avoids a collision with her mother on the landing.

“There you are. Thought I’d have to come down. Wash up.”

“Mum, is Grammy all right?”

* * *

Myna-Jo listens to chairs scrape overhead and buries her face. How long before I end up like my Aunt Sylvie. Can I lay this burden at my family’s door?

Another glance ceiling-wise, then she gazes into the rhythmic flames as if answers are written there.


A short time ago, while working on another short story, I rummaged around in my head for a particular phrase. My brain refused to cooperate for a moment. Because of my age, this made me wonder about memory / word loss and its beginnings. What happens when you are aware of what’s happening to you? What if you loved writing?This story is the result of those meandering thoughts, somewhat abbreviated due to word limit.


This has been printed with the permission of Ninth Floor Press ISBN 978-0-9919730-0-2

Editor: Ed Shaw. Submissions:

Author: Let's CUT the Crap!

I'm getting a little LONG in the tooth and have things to say about---ouch---AGEing. I believe it's certainly a state of mind but sometimes it's nice to hear that you're NORMAL. I enjoy reading by the truckload. I'm a grandma but I don't feel OLD although I'm not so young anymore. My plan is to stick it out as long as I can on this lovely planet and only will leave it kicking and screaming!

79 thoughts on “Can You Handle a Surprise?

  1. Congratulations on your submission.I hope you enjoyed your reading after you got past the jitters. Great story. Love the little girl.


  2. Dear Tess,
    Congratulations on the reading, the publication, and for a powerful piece of writing.


  3. I loved this: “cinnamon hair streaming”, and “talcum powder scent of grandma”. You captured this situation, and the feelings of someone who is declining and all too aware of the fact.


  4. That scene is all too familiar to me with my job. 😦 So vivid. You are a wonderful character creator. Congratulations Tess! 🙂


  5. Bravo!! The best of talent gets the gitters/stage fright. You go girl go! Great writing. Wish I could’ve been there. 🙂


    • Thank YOU, Paulette. It would have been wonderful to have you there, but not for me to know until afterwards. A little beer helped. I don’t do front of the house stuff, I prefer behind the scenes.


  6. Wonderful, emotional story. Kudos to you for submitting AND reading it. The latter would send me scurrying in fear!


  7. Congrats! You look like a natural story teller too.


    • Thanks so much. Usually I stutter and clear my throat. I rather be behind the scenes not where someone can hear me. I was in a trance because I knew I had to do it and then my knees did the Watusi when I sat down.


  8. Great capture of the 2 characters. I felt myself being drawn in immediately into the situation. Wonderful job, and congrats!


  9. Hi Tess. Grammy’s confusion came alive for me. I also related to your comment at the end, re: awareness of memory changes. Sometimes, I get nervous myself, searching for a particular word. The wrong one is on the tip of my tongue. I know it’s not the one I want, but I can’t think of the correct one. Scary.

    Nice piece and congrats on having the guts to stand up and read it. That’s always an undertaking for me. I’d much rather sing.


  10. Thank you for sharing this. It touches all of us, especially the evasive words and the searching moments.

    Congrats on presenting. Once you get into reading to a group it’s kind of fun:)


    • Thank you, Nancy. When will the fun start? I was in a coma when I read. Had some sips of beer beforehand. Maybe that helped. Don’t remember details. 🙂 My knees did the jitterbug when I sat down.


  11. This hit home and my mum, characters, the story telling imaginative, placed me there with the imagery. So lovely, congratulations Tess…on your bottom note…nods I rely heavily on my thesaurus now 🙂 xx


  12. This one made me sad. You can feel her worry, her fears, her fading memory, and yet she has the love of a grandchild. (Deep Sigh). You sure have a way with words and with describing emotions. I bet you stole the show or at least the hearts of all who were listening! Awesome.


    • You are sweet, Tressa. I was in shock. I have no idea how I got through it. I had some advice for an old English actress. She told me to read slow and it helped, like putting one foot in front of the other. 😉


  13. Tess sincere congrats to you on the publication and the reading. You have a natural flow to your descriptive writing that hooks the reader every time. Within a few sentences I can visualize Grammy’s fear. Well done!


  14. Tess – You have this wonderful way of bringing your characters alive complete with emotions, how they live and appear to each other, and you manage to manipulate us as well. You are indeed the queen of storytelling.


  15. Tess, you built the tension in those small tight details. The contrast between the young and the old; “Arms steal over rounded shoulders and circle her neck. … the baby powder scent of her grandmother’s neck…” the half-lie that slips out from wobbly lips… You’ve a keen, merciless eye for the details we remember each other by.

    I can still remember breathing in the scent of my mother with every hug, the smallness of her frame.

    The fears of age and of youth – Lilli is aware time is passing, too, for her Grammy.

    Very good,, Tess. Thank you for sharing it. Your pic looks terrific!


  16. It is fabulous! You have a real talent there Miss! Thank you for sharing & well done for getting over the nerves!


  17. Evocative story, Tess. I went through Alzheimer’s with my mom and I know the terror that strikes– and I too can relate to the occasional forgetting of words. I think that’s common, though, and not necessarily an ominous sign. As the old saying goes, if you lose your car keys, that’s one thing. If you forget what they’re for, you have a problem!


  18. Thoughtfully written and beautifully portrayed ! xx


  19. The underlying fear is readily understood for me in this story. The innocent concern of the granddaughter is touching and real-to-life.

    Indeed, it’s a moving story, Tess.


  20. Well done, it’s a great and thought provoking story and you’re brave – I couldn’t read anything out to a room!


  21. Excellent story Tess. And how brave you are. This was a touching story. yesterday I talked to my mom on the phone – she told me 5 times she has a Doppler of her carotid. Each time I would say, really? Does the Dr. think there is a problem? rather than, you just told me……it’s a small thing I can do to give her respect, but I do it. This story really did reach out here to me. Good on you.


  22. I just want to say what everyone else has already said. Your ability to tell a story is so captivating.:)


  23. Tess, I love your writing. The pace, the description dialogue…it’s all there. I only wish I could’ve heard you tell it. Congratulations! 😉


    • Coming from you, Susan, this means a lot. You know I have always admired your writing. Thank YOU. 🙂

      Silly me, I’m new to my iPad and thought a friend might video me but we couldn’t figure it out. Ha ha.


  24. Yep, I’m getting up there, too, mind wanders, phrases get lost, time gets jumbled. You captured the feelings, not only of the grandmother wondering if she is losing it, but also the child, how she notices, but doesn’t. The child’s boundless energy is a counterbalance in the scene, perfect, not overdone. She appears to be oblivious of her grandma’s feelings, and yet she does ask her mom as soon as she leaves the room. Carefree youth, confusion of age, and an excellent writer to express it. 🙂


  25. Obliviousness of youth – I well remember it.


  26. Congratulations!!! This is indeed exciting news….


  27. wow–congratulations!


  28. ‘Giggles tinkle like tiny crystal wind chimes.’ A beautifully written story Tess, and as always with your writing, so very powerful and about a subject close to all our hearts. I struggle now with those ‘lost’ words and thoughts and it worries me…

    Many congratulations too on your publication and very well done with the public reading, boy, that takes a lot of guts to do that! I love how you made the analogy with idling at a green light, in neutral, trying to ease the nerves 🙂


  29. Great story — and congrats! How did the crowd react?


  30. well done Tess and I agree with the comments above, you ARE a natural story teller! 🙂

    Oh, btw, Mr. Cheddar says to tell you that cats do not “do” nervous!!!!

    Hugs and Happy Week, G


  31. Apologies for the lateness of my comment. So glad you went ahead with reading your work. You are indeed a great storyteller, packing a whole lot of punch with each word. Keep pushing them boundaries, Tess 😉


  32. I love this and that you read it. You are a wonderful storyteller and I appreciate the back story.

    I still owe you Tess, sorry some things have come up and I have simply fallen far behind.


  33. Beautiful.
    And scary.
    Kudos for this one, Tess.