Cookies for Caleb
Her hands shook as she undid the paper wrapper and dropped the butter into the mixing bowl. Caleb. Her son. Caleb loved chocolate chip cookies. The picture of him as a child, sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, came to mind. Spilled milk all around a glass, an empty plate covered with chocolate chip cookie crumbs sitting in front of him, looking at her with huge innocent blue eyes he lisped, "What cookies, Mama?" chocolate smeared all over his lips. He never had caught on to moderation or honesty for that matter, until now.
Holding still for a moment she folded her arms in front of her and pressed them tightly into her abdomen, holding at bay the pain invading her body. Siphoning another person's pain from them to herself was difficult. What to do with it after she got it was even worse but then dealing with Caleb had held only pain for her for so long. The arduous journey between that beautiful teachable child and the young man writhing in agony on the day bed had been just plain hellacious. Watching the police take him away, the first time, still seared her soul. He’d come out of jail the first time with his body straight but his mind still bent on beating the system and getting high again.
She stood there for a moment rocking back and forth gathering control. She glanced out the window. The crystal Caleb had given her hung there without sparkling. There wasn't enough sunlight slipping between the dark clouds that rushed before the wind. Relaxing she looked at all the momentos from her children in these two rooms. Lightning flared making colored sparkles dance around the rooms as the light passed through the crystal. She counted fifteen, then the thunder crashed.
Her attention focused back on the task at hand.
3/4 cup white sugar.
3/4 cup brown sugar (firmly packed).
Deliberately, she went over to the stove and turned it on to 375 degrees. She went to the cupboard and got out the measuring cup dipping it in the container of white sugar. She then tilted this over the butter in the bowl. She reached up and got the package of brown sugar down from the cupboard, then packed it tightly into the measuring cup and tilted this over the butter also.
Her hands trembled at the thought of Caleb actually wanting a chance to put his life in order. To have all that joy within her grasp was more than she dared hope for. He'd come to her twice demanding help. Full of pride and unwilling to sacrifice any of his addictions for what was necessary. The terror of turning him away was agonizing. Nothing she did would ever help, until Caleb was ready to make the necessary changes for a better life. Finally, he'd come back. The humble beginnings of change started. Now he'd have a chance to re-direct the course of his life.
As she was positioning the bowl under the beater of the mixer, she felt Caleb begin to thrash around, instantly pulling her attention to him. She didn't need her eyes to know what her Sight would tell her. It kept her informed of every human frailty with-in seeing distance. She'd spent a good share of her life watching other people's pain and foolish choices. Automatically she turned on the mixer and hurried to his side.
Her heart clenched as it always did at the sight of the chains. Chains, light and dark, large and small. Soundless chains that covered his whole body like a flotsam web. They never clicked across each other as his body spasmed. The lightning flashed again. Any of the brightly colored sparkles that fell on Caleb were absorbed by the chains encasing his body as if they'd never been.
Caleb's lanky body thrashed in the daybed in the small family room, giving his unfocused eyes an unimpaired view of the kitchen where his mother had stood. His sweat soaked brown hair lay matted across his forehead. The muscles of his emaciated body contracted painfully wrenching him in odd directions, but his screaming tore at her the most. She closed her eyes, concentrating on not letting the sound be noticed beyond the room. She hadn't the strength left to deal with the well-meaning misunderstanding of neighbors. Satisfied, that the storm covered any noise that leaked out, she opened her eyes and watched her son.
The storm beyond the room couldn't keep her from feeling each pain filled sound. His screams lacerated her unprotected nerve ends. No matter how hard she tried it was impossible to suppress the irritability of her nerves where her family was concerned. She'd worked so hard to build defensive walls, strong, thick walls. To keep herself protected from the pain this child's actions caused her. She watched his eager embrace of anything to heighten his physical and emotional stimulation until the chains wrapped him so tightly that he'd never be able to get away by himself. She hardly felt the tear trickle down her cheek as she watched his eyes darting frantically, she'd spilled so many for him. His screams continued, cutting her with their jagged edges. His thrashing became more violent but less frequent than earlier. His body arched rigidly, then flopped spastically stopping only when it was too spent to exert itself.
She hesitated, praying her strength would be adequate to the task at hand. Then steeling herself, she slid her right hand under the tangle of chains, placing it carefully over his heart. She placed her left wrist across his forehead bisecting one of the chains embedded there. Pain shot into her, through her, until there was nothing left of the world around her but suffering, his regrets over his own callous desires, pain over leading friends into destruction, his sorrow for the agony he caused his family, anguish over his betrayal of everything honorable, his fear of never being clean again, his guilt over his parents torment, pain, and more pain.
She would have shielded him from this suffering but knew she couldn't. These were the consequences of his own actions, but being witness to it was almost more than she could bear. He relaxed, taking comfort from her presence and touch, knowing he wasn't alone.
The extreme coldness of his skin brought her back to her darkening little home on the outskirts of town. The wind howled, thunder and lightning crackled outside. She hardly noticed. Her sweat slickened hands trembled threatening to break the contact. When she could hold on no more without falling she removed her wrist from his forehead, pulling her palm from his chest was like removing it from thick tar.
Drained, she found herself on her knees, braced between the wall and a little table near the head of the bed. She knocked one of three thick beeswax candles over as she rose to her feet. It was almost too much trouble to set it back up.
She stood, trying to gather her shattered strength as she quietly dealt with the pain her son had shared. Re-arranging the items on the night table, she moved the tissues to the back, set the glass of water with-in easy reach, straightened the pen, re-stacked the little slips of paper, and moved the three candles closer to the bedside. That small task completed she turned her attention back to her son. He rested easier.
Tentatively she grasped the largest of the heavy black shackles, the most deeply established in her son, and tried to shift it from side to side. It moved, barely but it did move. Laughter bubbled up from deep inside her as tears salted her lips. He seemed comforted, his movements quieter. She turned up the thermostat, knowing it wouldn't really warm him through his icy webbing of chain. Embedded huge black links were twined about with small silver and gold ones. Writhing around each other, extracting sustenance from her son, they moved with an insatiable animation. They hampered his movements and his life. They made no noise as he tossed about. It always seemed odd that the things she could see so clearly had no voice.
Still supported by the wall, while she collected and confined the pain she'd released from him, she remembered him as a child. The simple joy he took in life. The laughter always behind his bright blue eyes. The man he should become joyfully peeking out. Then, the vision of the day he came home with the first chain dangling around his neck intruded. A simple silver looking chain that moved with a voracious life of its own. She'd known immediately what freedom he'd squandered. His beginning to smoke wasn't near as bad as his determination to lie to her about it. The lying made the chain gleam and sparkle. When he would give up neither her fear for him and the torment she'd felt were unspeakable.
It was the first time she'd ever questioned her Sight. The 'gift' conferred upon her by her dying grandmother. Alone with her grandmother, she'd been asked to kneel beside the bed with her arms folded. She felt two sets of gentle hands placed on her childish head. The emotions she'd experienced as the Gift was conferred upon her, was an event she always cherished. Afterward grandma had gathered her into her arms kissed her cheek and assured her child self that Gran would always be with her. Grandma Jacobs died that night. The next morning, long before becoming Caleb's mother, she could 'See.' She'd learned quickly not to speak of it to others, what she saw always made them uncomfortable. Until now she'd accepted her Gift. She always knew the meaning of what she saw. That time she didn't want to know. It was the only time she ever questioned her Sight. Why couldn't she have been given a different Gift?
She'd watched then, as powerless as the young man now on the daybed was, as his chains grew, thickened, blackened, were reinforced by the choices he made. She'd fought him as he betrayed those who loved him most and felt helpless as he damaged his siblings. She cried as he did it politely with a surface of concern for them one moment and a ruthless unconcern the next. Impotent she'd watched him brutalize and slay the kind, generous, loving child he'd been. She couldn't turn him from destroying everything he touched. When it hurt to much to care, she strengthened her walls swearing she'd never let him in again, and succored the injured. When the police came and took him away a second time she felt guilty for being grateful. At least she knew where he was at night.
Viciously wiping tears from her eyes that she hadn't realized she was spilling she moved away from the bed. She didn't have enough energy to mourn for that child today. She tucked the old miseries away to be examined another time. Today, she could help him, maybe.
1/2 teaspoon soda.
1/2 teaspoon salt.
1 teaspoon vanilla.
Went in while it was still mixing.
2 tablespoons coffee.
She stopped the mixer while she slowly hunted for the jar of instant decaf. Something else she never used except for this recipe. Thunder roared outside her little house and the lightning brightened her kitchen momentarily. Why the presence of untasteable coffee would enhance the flavor of the chocolate she didn't understand but she knew it worked. Maybe it was like her Sight, she didn't need to understand it to know its importance. There was the coffee behind the sesame seeds. She reached out for it as he began screaming and thrashing around again. She watched, knowing his pain, feeling it claw at her spirit, as she blended the coffee too strong to drink. She tilted it into the cookie batter and turned the mixer back on, leaning against the counter for support she was jarred again, by his screaming.
She couldn't deal with any more of his agony now. She wasn't sure what was worse watching or feeling it, but then at times they were the same. It was like tolerating the intolerable. His movements were becoming easier. She prayed for the strength she would need. She stood watching the young man she loved so much. Her walls had nearly killed that love. One day he'd screamed at her, "Nothing I do would make you happy." The comment stopped her cold. He was right. She'd realized that walling in her pain and feeding it with anger was withering her own soul, and at that moment, no matter what he did it would be wrong. Her walls kept out the good as well as the bad. She vowed to change her attitude and began to study ways to help them both. It was impossible at first. There was only the bad. She looked hard to find some good things about him. There, there was one thing, there another. Little things at first. Now practice. She began to express her love for him without reserve. He knew she didn't condone his behavior, but she didn't mention it unless he asked. It was a very tricky road, there were subtleties on it beyond belief, but slowly in spite of everything her heart changed and it changed her life. Hopefully, it could now change his.
Caleb let out one long shriek and then lay quietly, panting as one of the small silver shackles actually fell from his body, hit the bed and writhed to the floor. Surprised she watched, torn up by the agony she heard, as the chain turned making its way toward her. Before she could think of anything to do to counter its movements, it reached her foot. With the speed of thought, it attached itself to her leg like a baby python fighting for a few moments more of sustenance. She felt it leaching freedom from her, embedding itself in her flesh like a hot wire, but after her initial reaction the burning was reduced to an irritation. She knelt down on one knee and tried to pry it off but it wouldn't move. She didn't have time for this, or strength. She must call on all her careful preparation for this day. She must think. Too much was at stake to fail now! There would be more falling soon. She hadn't realized that they would still be animate when they fell. How could she keep them confined? She'd deal with this little one later, besides it could never stay there permanently without the corresponding behavior to support it. She wasn't about to go out and steal a car no matter how exciting it felt right now. She took firm hold on her thoughts. Still, the chains unaccustomed restriction made her limp as she went back over to her son and brushed the sweat soaked hair from his eyes.
She was grateful for the respite as his screaming changed to low moans. She must pull her pain fragmented mind together. Think. His skin temperature was increasing. There was a normal glow seeping into his cheeks. Turning up the furnace was helping. The webbing of chains hung loosely around him now. She placed her wrist on his forehead. It was warmer than at anytime since he'd come home, seeking what help she could give him. All she felt from him now was a mild, manageable pain and the itch of healing. It was almost over!
The storm was beginning to move away as she stripped the bedding from the day bed he was on and replaced it. Then she arranged the kitchen chairs in a semi-circle around the foot of the bed and draped the used bedding over it making certain there were no cracks in the barrier. She hoped this would work. The blankets containing so much of his essence would only need to confine the chains for a little while. When it was as complete as she could make it, she took the few steps back into the kitchen area and turned off the mixer. She must wait for a while.
2 1/4 cups flour.
Flour. She needed to think about flour. Never one to sit still she knew the cookies had to be in the oven soon. It was important to keep moving, don't stop now. She went to the cupboard and took out the bag of flour. She filled the measuring cup and tilted the contents into the dough. With a long handled wooden spoon she stirred mechanically. She absently scratched at the chain on her leg with the other foot as she added the rest of the flour and stirred.
She felt her control slipping. The pain taking over. She must hold on to herself or she'd disappear too. The past was truly past now. It would only hurt as much as she let it. Push through the pain. Put it in its place. Away from her. She glanced down, noticing a new pain in her palm. She'd been clutching the wooden spoon so tightly she'd broken it. The two halves hung limply from her hand.
It was time for the next ingredient.
1 1/2 cup chocolate chips.
She opened the package of chips sitting on the counter. Milk chocolate was Caleb's favorite. He liked them mixed with peanut butter chips but she'd forgotten the peanut butter ones when she went to Hardy's Grocery. Maybe next time. There would be a next time. She tilted the contents in without measuring, got out a new spoon and stirred.
She took a pan from the bottom of the stove and dropped dough onto it by the spoonful. Then she slid the pan into the oven and set the timer for eleven minutes. She got another pan out and began filling it while she watched the momentous event unfolding before her. Her love and sorrow for her son drifted with the aroma of warm chocolate chip cookies permeating the room. She waited, mindful of maintaining that barrier between herself and the chaos on the other side. Caleb's torturous writhing stopped. He became calm, lighter, as he shed the horror of the shackles he'd taken on himself.
The timer went off, making her jump.
She took the cookies out, lifted them individually onto a rack to cool and put the other batch in the oven setting the timer. She got out the fanciest plate she owned and when they were cool enough, arranged them on it. Slowly she made her way around the kitchen counter and put it on the corner nearest the bed where he'd see it when he woke.
Another chain, unable to maintain it's parasitic hold, slipped off Caleb's body a small golden one this time, and slithered to the floor. She watched in horrified fascination as it reared back like a cobra and felt the air. It turned, searching, and moved toward her, blindly grasping for sustenance. She stepped quickly back behind the counter. When it reached the blanket barrier it was halted. It probed for a way around. From her position behind the counter she weakly watched Caleb as she filled another pan with cookies. Sometimes, she felt that was what she had spent her life doing with this man-child. Sometimes. Yet, she could feel the flicker of promise he still contained burn brighter with each chain he shed. When the golden links couldn't get past the barrier it threw itself frantically across the floor, clanking soundlessly in a fit of rage, until it could no longer maintain itself and dissipated in a smear of fog.
More of the smaller chains dropped from Caleb's body. They slithered along the floor like the others, seeking a way out, someone else to parasitize. At the barrier they went wild and thrashed around each other. When they couldn't find egress, they threw themselves at the blankets that never moved, then thrashed on the floor, fighting each other twisting obscenely together in their death throes. She watched, feeling sicker.
She looked up startled at the pain-filled whispered word. Caleb, eyes closed, held out his hand to her. She never hesitated. She opened the barrier and went to her son's side. Unanticipated fear overrode her ability to move as the writhing horrors raced toward her for their temporary existence. Caleb's Mother tried to dodge the maelstrom at her feet but the chain on her leg jerked toward its companions, bringing her jarringly to the floor. Shock replaced fear as she was overwhelmed. Covered with uninvited shackles, she struggled momentarily, the chains bloating as they licked at tears streaming down her face and fed voraciously from her already depleted strength. Calling on the last of her determination, she propped herself up on one elbow and then slowly rose to her knees, crawling until she was beside his bed. Grabbing the night stand she levered herself the rest of the way up.
She gently took his hand and stroked it. "Yes, Caleb. I'm here." The mass of chains burned into her soul and she sat abruptly on the side of the bed.
"What's wrong?" He asked in a gravely voice, his lips dry and cracked. She propped him up and supported his head as he drank from the cup of water that had been on the bedside table. She fought to remain conscious.
"Nothing, sweetheart." He seemed satisfied with that. Keeping him propped she slid behind him on the bed and cradling him in her arms, he relaxed and lay still for a moment. "You've made cookies!" His pleasure was evident in his murmured words. She felt his desperate bone aching weariness, but overlaying that was a determination to cast off the shackles that had bound him for so long. She rejoiced.
"Is it time?"
"If you're ready." Two of the largest chains released their strangle hold from his relaxing form one resistingly slithered to the floor the other found her and wrapped itself tightly around her arm and neck. Her own fear threatened to overwhelm her. Though she was breathing fine she felt suffocated.
"I love you." she whispered.
A tear rolled down his cheek and he turned his head so that he could look into her face. "I love you, too Mom."
Weakly, he turned his weary body slightly and reaching out, fumbled for the stacked slips of paper on the bedside table. He picked up the top one and named it. Trembling, he feebly held it in the candle's flame. As the paper caught fire, one of the chains still on the floor stiffened out to its full length, then it looked like each link tried to go in a different direction all straining against each other. Unable to maintain itself it suddenly became slack and dissipated. She prayed Caleb would hurry. Pain from her attachments was increasing. He took another and held it in the flames. This one wouldn't burn. She realized that it was one that was bloated and anchored at her throat.
"Just a minute son." Her calm whispered voice was hoarse and strained. She put her hand over his and held the paper out of the flames. Calming herself she reached deep into her being and called forth the truth. "I will not support you." The frantic chains attached to her stiffened. "You will not survive here."
Their grip on her loosened. The one around her neck resisted. "Leave me!" She moved his hand so the paper was back over the flames. It crackled as the voracious chain on her wrist began to writhe each link fighting the other. Unable to maintain cohesion it fell from her body and dis-appeared. Her eyes brightened with content. Her body and his spirit feeling more and more liberated. Her son picked up another named and burned it and another and another until both his and her body were free.
She must have dozed because when she looked up there stood Granny J, shining just outside of the candles glow. Gran smiled, the conveyed joy and peace in the intimate gesture did more to reassure Caleb's Mother than any earthly conviction could have. The warm presence moved closer and placed her hands upon the head of the young man. She nodded at Caleb's Mother to do the same. She knew what was necessary. When the Gift was bestowed Gran smiled again lovingly and reached down caressing Caleb's cheek.
She could see areas of normal, healthily flushed skin on the young man's gaunt torso. Caleb finally drifted into a normal quiet sleep. A sleep that would heal him faster than anything she could do. Praying that with this second chance he'd truly find the peace he searched for she also understood that he'd need help adjusting to the reality of his new life. During the difficult days ahead it would take every ounce of determination he had to keep the shackles at bay. It's so easy to fall back into familiar habits and comfortable destructive patterns.
Caleb shifted and with a smile on his lips, mumbled in a hoarse whisper, "Mom, you're burning the cookies, again." She just shifted to a more comfortable position cradling her son as she watched him sleep.
Hello. I hope you feel your time reading Cookies for Caleb was well spent. I know I enjoyed spending this time with you. This is my first published story. When Iím better known someone else will have to write about me but for now let me introduce myself. Iím a Pacific Northwest native though I put in a decade or so in drier, warmer climes until the webbing between my toes began to peel. I discovered the wonder of science fiction and fantasy as a kid. Iíd scour the shelves of the Bookmobile for any new worlds I could find. Anything was better than living on a boring old dairy farm and every week I found all the excitement I needed between the covers of books.
Well, Iím back living on a small piece of that dairy farm and even though the cows are gone now, I donít find it boring at all. I live with my wonderful husband of 26 years, three of our five children, two cats, one dog, and a canary. I sent the tarantula my brother gave me for my birthday home with him.
Writing has always been part of my life but three years ago a friend gave me an entry form for the Writerís Digest contest. On a whim I entered and was surprised when my short story took 14th in its category. Imagine my shock when I found out there were 13,000 entries in the contest that year. I decided it might be time to get serious about writing. I'd love to hear what you thought of Cookies for Caleb.