When I was a child, my grandmother would bake the most delicious-smelling cookies. Her house would be full of the aroma of those treats as they baked in her oven. She would remove them and place them on the various cooling wire stands as my siblings and me would stand and watch, eyes wide and mouths salivating. The flavours that she would make were so enticing. Chocolate chip, peanut butter, fudge chocolate, cinnamon, cranberry and orange and white chocolate. We were not allowed to eat them when they were warm, even though we knew from our mother’s cookies that they tasted sensational in this state. The selection of mouth-watering treats was placed inside a large cookie jar and placed on a shelf.
“Now, ” my grandmother would announce, ” cookies must be earned. Good behaviour will result in being given a cookie of your favourite flavour.”
“I like chocolate chip best of all,” my sister would declare.
“I prefer peanut butter,” my elder brother would announce.
“It’s got to be cinnamon for me,” weighed in my younger brother as he fizzed with excitement. I would stand saying nothing.
“What about you HG ? Which is your favourite?” asked my grandmother as she leant down to level with my face,
“I like them all grandma, I don’t have a favourite,” I would answer.
My grandmother would laugh.
“Oh you can’t have them all HG, you’ll be sick,” she would say and ruffle my hair.
“He will grandma, he is greedy,” my sister would scold and I would give her my look. I had perfected this stare in the mirror over the preceding summer. I narrowed my eyes and fixed my gaze summoning up every ounce of anger, malice and hatred that I could muster. I found it worked best if I thought of things which angered me. I would recall being left out of the school football team but for no apparent reason. I would remember when my painting did not win the competition organised by the church (“But you came second,” congratulated my younger brother, what’s the good of second?!) and every other injustice that had been meted out to me. I recalled the fury I felt from each act of exclusion and failure to recognise my talents and I channelled it into creating the cold, malicious stare. When I shot it towards my sister she immediately fell quiet. She knew better than to cross me once I had given her that look.
“Well,” my grandmother would continue as she straightened herself, “if you all help me clean the baking utensils you can all have a cookie each. I sneered as my siblings gathered around to assist so readily compliant for such a meagre reward. I turned and walked out of the room unwilling to engage in their collective submission.
“Don’t you want a cookie?” my grandmother would ask, her voice following me as I walked into the garden.
“No thank you,” I called over my shoulder and made my way to my favourite tree to climb high into its branches and sit in splendid isolation looking across the extensive garden which surrounded my grandparents’ impressive house. I would sit up there for hours, master of all I surveyed.
When I returned for dinner my siblings would remind me of how delicious the cookies had tasted yet I was unaffected by their ineffectual goading for I knew that my triumph would surpass their laughable achievement. I merely smiled and got on with eating my dinner.
That night I waited until the rest of the house was asleep and then I made my way downstairs, back into the kitchen. I stood on the cool stone floor, the moonlight shining into the room causing the glass jar to gleam. I hopped up onto one of the kitchen counters and claimed my prize. I placed the jar down before me and lifted off the lid before dipping my hand inside and selecting a white chocolate cookie. I devoured it in three bites. I grabbed a cinnamon one and wolfed that down before attacking a cranberry and orange cookie in much the same way. I pulled the chocolate chip, peanut butter and chocolate fudge flavoured ones and put them beside me, ready to carry to bed. My hand lingered over the jar again. How I wanted to take a further cinnamon cookie and break it up, scattering crumbs besides my younger brother’s bed but I knew that it was futile. My grandmother could never remember how many she had baked of each cookie and she would never notice that six had been taken overnight. That was the basis for my success. Therefore, there was no point in leading a trail to the bed of my younger brother, no matter how satisfying it would have been to have seen him accused and cry as he protested his innocence. I replaced the jar and scooped up my bounty ready to pad back to my bed and enjoy my stolen snacks and reflect on my skills. Even back then I knew what people’s weaknesses were and how best to exploit them.