This week’s story by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam contains equal parts ghosts and hope, and will send chills through your DNA. ~ Julian and Fran, October 9, 2022
Family Is Never Far Away
By Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
Here’s a secret, as hidden as the world beneath our feet: even before the death of Amelia’s mother, Amelia was afraid of everything. Each morning she woke to an overeager pulse. Each evening she tossed and turned, too hot then too cold as the room spun around her. She drove only on roads where she could pull off if she needed to. She didn’t take trips, even though her lifelong dream was to visit every place, known and unknown.
* * *
After Amelia’s mother’s death, Amelia craved comfort food. The first time Amelia baked Nana’s snickerdoodle recipe, she thought Nana’s voice was a hallucination. After all, Nana had been dead for ten years.
“Amelia,” Nana said. “I know you’re not eating cookies for dinner.”
Amelia recognized that Southern cadence. Shaking it off, she laughed at the memory and kept stirring sugar into flour until Nana spoke again.
“You’d better be making those for dessert.”
Amelia’s heart stuttered as she turned in a circle, searching for the ghost, but she was alone with the preheating oven’s swelter and its smell of burning bits of food on the bottom.
“Grandma?” Amelia’s voice broke.
“Is there a salad in your future? A nice cut of chicken?”
With tears in her eyes, Amelia grinned, as egged on as she used to get when Nana fussed over us. “The cookies are an appetizer for the ice cream dinner.”
Nana’s laugh in response warmed Amelia to the bone.
As Nana continued to regale her with a nutrition lesson, Amelia accepted the circumstance: Nana’s voice was speaking across the grave. Once she popped the cookies into the oven, Nana’s voice disappeared, leaving Amelia with an ache for more as memories shook her from the inside out. When Amelia took the cookies out, she slid to the floor and shoveled each gooey treat into her trembling mouth.
* * *
A week prior, Amelia had found the recipe book in her father’s musty attic. She’d offered to clean the place out in preparation for his downsize. Since her mom’s death, he hadn’t touched the dusty boxes. And when I say that Amelia volunteered, I mean she was the only one left to help after he’d pissed off all his brothers and sisters with drunken insults delivered over midnight phone calls.
Amelia took the recipe book home, and in the comfort of her apartment, she searched its handwritten pages, each one covered in sticky fingerprints and dried globs of batter. The book was a treasure trove of family memories: Nana’s cookies, Uncle Jack’s brisket rub, and on the final page, her mom’s potato salad.
Right after the snickerdoodles unveiled the book’s secret, Amelia flipped to that last sheet, scribbled down the ingredients, then rushed out to the 24/7 grocery. Her body hummed as she drove back, a sickening hope turning her stomach. Her mom’s voice. She wanted it more than anything.
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