Janice loved to bake. Her favorite part was the breathlessness after the first wave of heat enveloped her senses. For a second, she could feel herself suffocating, and damn it felt good.
“You burned the goddamned cookies again, didn’t you?”
For a moment Janice considered leaving the macaroons in the oven for a few extra minutes, just to satisfy her insolent husband. “No, honey, they turned out just as they look on the box: fabulous.” Janice transferred the cookies to a green ceramic plate and sat it at the kitchen table. The steam flowing from the plate reminded her of that from a warm cup of cocoa on a wintry evening. “Come and see, Benjamin.”
“I don’t have to tell you that I worked twelve hours securing a single client at work today. I’m sore and I’m tired. Just bring the plate to me, Jan.”
Janice wanted so badly to sob and throw each of the cookies in the trash, but she flashed a smile and obeyed. She approached her master, trembling as she placed the platter in his lap.
Benjamin carefully inspected each of the macaroons, his beefy fingers tracing every last one. “Too much flour,” he muttered, tossing the dozen cookies on the floor. “Trash as usual. Try again – chocolate chip this time – and don’t you dare come back in here until you get it right.” He hacked a wad of tobacco and spat it in a clear Dixie cup. “Your grandmother told me before she died that she taught you everything she knew! I guess in addition to her being a stupid nigger she was also a liar!”
Janice remained calm, despite her insides rattling. “You’re right,” she confessed. “I didn’t put as much effort in that batch as I could have.” The woman quickly picked the cookies and crumbs from the floor and retreated to the kitchen.
“And don’t even give me that, ‘I’m tired,’ bullshit, because you’re not resting until you bake an immaculate batch of cookies – even if I have to eat them in the morning.”
Concealing her cries, Janice repeated the process her Grandmother Clarice taught her: first the sugar, add the butter, drop the eggs, then the extra fixings. With the oven already warm from the last batch, it didn’t take it long to heat up to a nifty 375.
As she was stirring the mix, she recalled the last advice her grandmother had given her. It was during the night of Janice and Benjamin’s wedding, before the ceremony. Janice was in the back getting prepared, having to redo her hair because Benjamin said it made her look too young. It didn’t take Grandmother Clarice long to realize her soon-to-be-grandson-in-law was a domineering prick.
“Janice, baby,” she said, her voice shaky and frail, “are you sure you want to go through with this?”
Janice hesitated. “Of course, Grandmother. Benjamin will provide for me more than any other man can. I believe I can be happy with him.”
“Darling, did I ever tell you the story of your late Grandfather Nicholas?” The old woman ushered Janice onto a chair.
“You said he was a great man.”
“Of course I did, babe. That’s what any good wife would recall of her husband, and in some aspects it’s true. He left me and your mother a large sum of money after his passing, and for that I am forever grateful.” The woman hacked into a handkerchief before continuing. “But he was a brute, a dog. I am a strong woman, so I sheltered through the first five years of snarky comments, but the second he laid a hand on me, it was over. And keep in mind this was many years ago, when women were expected to forgive and forget. So divorce was not an option.”
“Grandmother, what are you saying?”
The old lady placed a black vial in the bride’s hands, and whispered, “When the time is right and you feel there is no other option, slip this into his meal or a glass of wine. Consider this the best wedding gift you’ll ever get.
“I have a feeling you’ll really like this batch, honey!” Janice exclaimed, fetching her grandmother’s vile of poison from the back of the silverware drawer.
The arsenic dropped into the cookie mix like the devil’s tears – at first Janice added only three drops, but then she considered her husband’s weight and stubbornness, and she just emptied the damned thing. “I’m not taking any chances,” she whispered before shaping the dough and placing the pan in the oven.
After several minutes, the house filled with a sweet aroma – it reminded her of how Grandmother Clarice’s house used to smell.
“Smells good, Jan!” Benjamin flipped through a newspaper, chewing on a handful of Milk Duds. “It took a while, but I think you’re finally getting the hang of baking. Just don’t burn them now!”
Janice beamed, leaning on the refrigerator. “Oh, I learned from the best!”