I opened my eyes and saw a painting on the wall opposite my bed—instantly I realized I was not at home. Although this might have alarmed me in my earlier years, I had grown somewhat more flexible in my thinking, and so began looking around for clues as to my current situation. My last memory—lying on the floor of my room, my cane out of reach and blood on the flowered rug from a cut on my forehead.
I studied the painting carefully—a still life, yellow and white chrysanthemums in a dark green vase. It was a soothing image, and I was content to lay there and gaze at it. The painting itself seemed ordinary, painted with average skill. Still, there was something that was unexpected, something different, and as I studied it closer, I realized that each of the flowers had a dim and distant face, with tiny twinkly dark eyes that blinked slowly and distinctly. The flowers’ mouths were small dark lines that appeared to be tremulously moving, as if the flowers were murmuring.
I strained to hear what they were saying. I thought I heard a distant sound like a series of bells, but then it was gone. The flowers’ eyes seemed to shift about, and I felt at times that they were looking directly at me. It seemed an even-handed gaze, one without prejudice or comment. I thought that if I ever left this room and returned home, I would be happy to take the painting with me.
As soon as I thought of home, I turned my attention to the room in which I found myself. I appeared to be in a small hospital room, lying in a metal-framed bed with clean white pressed sheets. I was tucked in tightly and there was a white cotton blanket at my feet that provided an extra bit of warmth. I tried to move my arms and legs, but could do so only with great effort. My health had been declining for several years and I had gradually been losing the use of my limbs—they felt particularly heavy and useless, although I flexed my fingers and felt some satisfaction when they curled inward slightly. There was a small lamp at the head of my bed that filled the room with a luminous glow. In the far corner of the room I saw some medical apparatus. I turned my head to the right and saw that the bed had been pushed up next to a small window.
There was a deep snow on the ground outside, which surprised me—I did not remember it being winter. I could see several small blue green fir and pine trees in a tiny brick courtyard with more brick buildings beyond. The snow was continuing to fall as I lay there watching, the light flakes being blown here and there by the stiff breeze. It was beautiful, and I felt content to lie quietly, turning my gaze from the fir trees to the chrysanthemums and back again.
The trees and the chrysanthemums spoke to me in their own way. There was a wonderful benevolence in the flowers’ countenance which put me at ease. The trees, too, were friendly, even conversational, though the only sound I heard was the light shushing of the wind against the windowpane.
I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep. A dream—I was young and strong, hiking in a pine forest. As I walked along, I became aware of a presence behind me, but when I turned, no one was there. This happened several times, and I began to enjoy this game—stopping, turning, and staring. Once when I turned, the trees became transparent and I saw a small creature of indeterminate shape, skipping and darting. I called out and my voice was like a clear bell sounding—the little creature laughed and I woke up.
Waking Up Again.
It was night, the room dark save for the bedside table lamp. Someone had been in the room while I slept—there was a chair beside my bed. There was also a flowered china plate on the bedside table, on which sat two cookies. These cookies appeared to be ginger snaps and were thin with scalloped edges. They looked irresistibly delicious and cheerful. I reached out slowly and was delighted to find I was able to take a cookie and maneuver it clumsily to my mouth. The cookie tasted dark and rich, and with each small bite I felt restored and heartened. I managed to eat the whole cookie, and feeling fortified, I looked around again.
The flowers were still there, murmuring their secrets in the dark. I rested my head on the pillow and watched the dim vision of the flowers, the shifting shapes of their eyes and mouths. Then I turned my attention to the window. The snow was still falling lightly, and the heavy blue-black sky held a handful of stars, visibly twinkling and trembling.
My attention was suddenly diverted by something much nearer at hand. While I slept, someone had affixed a small wooden box to the bottom quarter of the window on the outside. As I looked at it carefully, I began to make it out—it appeared to be a room in miniature, a sort of diorama, with the window serving as a fourth transparent wall, affording me a perfect view. I frowned, squinting to make out all the details of what I was seeing.
It appeared to be a replica of a small, one-room apartment, in many ways reminiscent of an apartment I had lived in alone as a young girl. The details were charming—the walls were wood-paneled, and the furnishings were perfectly in keeping with the size of the room. There was a tiny wooden-framed bed, not more than four inches long, covered with a worn cotton quilt. In addition to the bed, there was an old-fashioned secretary for writing and study and a small wooden chair with a straight back. On the ceiling was a single bare bulb the size of a garden pea, dangling from a tiny electrical wire, and this was sufficient to illuminate the entire room. On the floor of the room was a woven rug, colored in warm reds and yellows. There was a small porcelain sink on one wall of the room, complete with washbowl and cloth. There was also a single hotplate and a white coffee pot decorated with blue painted flowers. I was surprised to see on the wall above the bed a miniature replica of the chrysanthemum painting.
Most surprising of all, however, was the inhabitant of the room. It was a cookie—a small flat round pale cookie the size of a half-dollar, possibly shortbread. The cookie had a face similar to the chrysanthemums—two thin black slits for its eyes and another for its mouth. Unlike the flowers, the cookie had thin black wire arms and legs, and was wearing black lace-up shoes made of marzipan. The cookie was standing in a pensive pose in the center of the rug, looking directly at me through the transparent pane of window glass that comprised the fourth wall of its room.
Although what I saw was unexpected, it was presented to me in so matter-of-fact a manner that I immediately accepted it. I held up a finger at the cookie in order to establish contact, and was surprised when the cookie completely ignored the gesture. I then smiled, thinking that this might be seen as friendly, but again, the cookie ignored me. I decided the cookie could not see through the glass, and did not know I was there. I tested this theory by tapping on the glass—the cookie merely looked around for a moment and then lost interest.
I spent some little time taking in the details of the room while the cookie stood, apparently lost in thought. I noticed that the secretary had several drawers, and that there was a thick sheaf of papers on the desk. In addition, there was an old-fashioned quill pen and an inkwell, quite out of keeping with modern times, but appropriate for the setting. I wondered if the cookie was a writer—if that was true, what a cookie might have to report? I noticed that there were several small leather-bound books stacked on the floor next to the bed. The gold script on the sides was so tiny I could not read it, so I had to content myself to imagine what they might be—what would a cookie read late at night?
While I was lost in this reverie, the cookie emerged from its own dreamy state, and walked over to the secretary. Opening the top drawer, the cookie removed a shot glass and what appeared to be a bottle of spirits. The cookie poured a hefty shot and drained it dry with a single practiced motion. The cookie then went back to the secretary and took a cigarette from a small paper pack, lighting it with a match so tiny I could not see it. Taking a long drag on its cigarette, the cookie began to pace around the room, slowly at first, and then quickening its pace gradually until it was a gallop.
I could feel the cookie’s distress, and as I watched, the cookie ran, making strange wordless cries, flinging itself against the walls and furniture. This is when I realized that there was no door in the small apartment, and that the cookie was, in fact, a prisoner in its tiny space. When I realized this, I understood the cookie’s anguish. Just when I thought the cookie would dash itself to pieces, it flung itself wearily face-down onto its bed, heaving its tiny body, flailing its wiry arms and legs, and making strange high-pitched sobbing noises. I noticed that there were crumbs lying around the apartment where the cookie had thrown itself, and wondered if the cookie could be injured.
As I pondered this, the cookie gradually stopped flinging itself about and became still. I could see its breathing even out—the cookie had dropped off to sleep. I felt a great sense of relief. I turned my head away and closed my eyes, and let the welcome darkness take me.
The Next Day—The Cookie Gets Down to Work.
When I woke, it was late morning, and I realized I had again been visited while I slept. My gown was changed, and the bed linens seemed freshened. There was a new china plate by my bed with a gold fleur-de-lis pattern. There were three cookies on the plate, two chocolate chip and an oatmeal raisin. I lacked sufficient strength to lift one to my mouth, so I contented myself with admiring them. I had to admit I was much less interested in the ordinary sort of cookie that one simply eats, and much more interested in the sort of cookie I had seen in the night. I turned my head to check on the cookie in its apartment.
It was late morning in the cookie’s room, as well. The cookie had arisen from its bed, leaving several crumbs and a faint trace of grease in its wake. It was sipping coffee and smoking a cigarette while sitting at the secretary. I could see that the cookie had made an attempt to write, as there were sheets of paper flung here and there on the floor, with the faint scratching of the cookie’s script and occasional blots of ink. I watched the cookie, anguishing and laboring over each word, and often making a high-pitched exclamation before it flung the paper to the floor and began again.
As I watched, I felt a strong sympathy toward the little creature. The cookie was a prisoner—trapped in this little room, provided for, but left with a difficult task to complete.
I also began to wonder about the cookie’s lifespan. The way the cookie was shedding crumbs and throwing itself about, it might have a limited time in which to complete the task it had assigned itself. The more I considered it, the more this seemed the source of the cookie’s desperation. I looked anxiously around the room at the crumbs lying on the rug, and then studied the cookie’s back as it bent over its work, looking for signs of dryness and crumbling. It seemed solid and sturdy enough. After I had stared at the cookie for a long while, I was suddenly overcome with weariness, and turned my head away from the window, drifting quickly into a profound slumber.
This time I walked in the same pine forest, but I was no longer alone– the cookie and I walked hand in hand. I had shrunk in size to become the perfect companion, and the enormous pine trees stretched up out of sight. We walked briskly among the pine needles, clambering over the pine cones, or simply walking around them. I had a great feeling of ease and comfort, and my body was strong and limber. The cookie, although silent, was an attentive companion, and pointed out interesting sights as we walked along. I longed to ask the cookie so many questions, but I found that I had forgotten how to speak. My eyes had become like the cookie’s, far seeing and twinkly, small slits in my face. My gaze seemed complete and infinite. I turned to the cookie, found myself alone—then I woke up.
Waking Again. The Cookie’s Story Appears.
Again I had been tended in my sleep. The sun was setting outside, the dying light slowly leaving my room. My arms seemed stronger, and i raised my hands to my head and felt that my hair had been re-braided and pinned. When I looked at the bedside table, I found another small china plate with two cookies—a meringue and a macaroon—as well as another small object. Feeling hungry, I ate the two cookies, and then with some difficulty picked up what appeared to be a small sheaf of papers bound with a piece of red thread. The sheets were no larger than a matchbox, and on the first one I saw the tiny scratch marks of an impossibly small quill pen. I realized they were the cookie’s , and I used my stiff fingers to slide the thread off from around the pages. I found that if I held the pages six inches from my face and squinted, I could just barely make out some of the script.
When I woke up this morning, I thought, you know, I can really do this. I can…But by the time…coffee, I knew the truth, like always. I waited too late, there’s no time… really through. I’m not up to this, I’m finished…
It was a great effort to my old tired eyes to read the cramped writing, and after a few moments, I lay the tiny pages back on the table. What was it that the cookie was trying to say? Whatever it was, it seemed to be tearing its very soul apart. I mused for a few minutes on the nature of the cookie’s soul—would it linger on after the cookie was gone? I looked up at the painting on the wall, thinking to ask the flowers but they were all asleep, their petals moving gently as their soft snoring shook their stems from side to side almost imperceptibly. Watching this movement, I became irresistibly sleepy myself, and nodded off.
The Next Dream.
Again I was walking in the deep woods, alone again, a light dusting of snow on the uneven ground. I was older in this dream, not as sure on my feet, and I picked my way carefully through the fallen limbs and needles. As I passed an enormous tree, I heard a faint cry coming from the hollow base. I walked toward it and saw a small white cat curled up in a nest of pine needles. I knelt down next to the cat, my breath billowing out in the frigid air, and looked at it carefully. The cat glowed in the fading light and I realized it was transparent. I could see the workings of its body, the faint movement of its slowly beating heart, the lacy delicate lungs rising and falling. The cat opened its eyes and pierced me with its green-eyed gaze, an even expectant look. I held out my hands and it stood up slowly, in obvious pain. I pulled it to me and held it against my face, smelling the sweet hay scent of its thin fur. I carefully placed the cat on my shoulder and continued to walk, and the cat nestled into the warm wool of my coat. As we moved deeper into the woods, I woke up.
Cookie in the Rain
It was raining outside, the cold rain piercing the snow that still blanketed the ground, and the waning daylight was grey and thin. I turned my head and saw the cookie pacing on its wiry legs and throwing down shot after shot. I tried to imagine what kind of liquor the cookie was drinking, and what it was doing to its thin, crisp metabolism. I noticed with a slight pang in my heart that the cookie’s left side looked slightly careworn and ragged, as though it had lost more of its precious crumbs.
Suddenly, the cookie hurled the glass to the floor, shattering it. The cookie sat down at the secretary and began to write rapidly. I lay back on my pillow and concentrated on sending the cookie the energy and courage to complete its task. Turning my head to the left, I saw a small transparent glass plate with three cookies on it, small sand tarts cut into star shapes. They had been carefully sprinkled with white sugar crystals. Next to the plate was another small pile of papers. I quickly ate two of the cookies, and then reached out to take the sheaf of papers. Opening them up, I held them to the bedside lamp and pored over them, hoping to make sense of the cookie’s narrative:
Flour…sugar…butter…that much is plain. But what…soda…? Dare I…mention? I can feel… crumbling…I can feel myself cracking…I want to leave something…I cannot…accomplishing nothing…there is so much I want to say, so much…explain…can I not find my way through this maze of tricky words…
When I read this, a memory came to me from my childhood—the first time I made sugar cookies. I clumsily rolled out the dough, and then used the cookie cutters to make flat stars, trees, flowers. I waited by the oven expectantly, and watched over them with great delight, assigning names and personalities. I wondered if the cookie was trying to remember its recipe and write it down before it crumbled, in the hopes that someone could recreate its corporeal being. I smiled, thinking of my own crumbling form. I closed my eyes, and sleep came quickly.
The Dream Continues.
Still in the woods, the little cat on my shoulder, I walked. I could clearly feel the little cat’s inner workings, and felt the ticking of her little clock slowing. Suddenly she was on the ground, running beside me, calling to me and I followed her down a small hill to the bank of an icy stream. The stream was clogged with pinecones and ice, but I could see the water moving steadily underneath the surface. The cat called out again, like a tiny bell ringing, and the sound echoed in the silent space. I knelt down beside her and she showed me a small creature half-hidden in the ice. It was about the size of my hand, pink and pale blue and transparent. It had the shape of a tiny simple person, much like a gingerbread cookie man, but thicker and more corporeal than a cookie. I could see that it was dying in the deep cold, its innards turning an icy blue and its organs slowly freezing. I immediately put it in my right coat pocket and put my hand around it in an attempt to warm it up. The cat returned to my shoulder and we continued to walk on, crossing the stream in a quick hop. As we came into a clearing, the cat called out again, and I woke up to find myself back in the room.
It was a shock to return from the forest and be lying again in the bed. I turned my head immediately to check on the cookie. It was lying on the rug on its back—its thin legs and arms sprawled out on either side. I felt a small pang in my heart as I wondered if the cookie had died while I slept, but I saw its tiny flat chest move slightly. I looked around the apartment—the bedclothes were rumpled and there was a broken plate on the floor by the sink. There was also a large pile of discarded paper covered with blots of ink. After what seemed like an hour or so, the cookie awoke and stretched its thin appendages mightily. It stood and stretched again, and looked around the room in what I interpreted as a self-satisfied manner. It began tidying its small abode, emptying the overflowing ashtray into a small dustbin, and picking the broken plate pieces up off the floor. It then made the bed and did a little light dusting.
I turned my head to the left and saw a small piece of date nut bread on a translucent green glass plate. Next to the plate was another small sheaf of papers, again tied with a thin red thread. I picked up the papers, untied the thread, and pored over the script, so tiny it looked like an insect had penned the words.
Not so fast…this morning I came alive again as the sun struck me…my words…insubstantial…my longing for sleep seems important…quickly I pen this, invoking yeast and soda…the sense of a benevolent gaze warms my room—still, my insides quiver with a permanent cold…
I dreamt again, sinking deeply into the pillow and rising from my bed to continue my walk through the forest. The creature in my pocket stirred faintly, seemingly recovering from its icy dip. The little white cat was back on my shoulder, looking directly behind me as I moved forward. I could feel her little body tense with fear from moment to moment as she saw things—real? Imagined?—moving among the trees. I looked more than once behind me but could not see clearly into the fog that lay over the landscape.
The intense cold crept through my heavy cloth coat, and my arms and legs began to shiver lightly. I could feel my vital organs, my heart and lungs still warm, but a powdery snow had begun to fall, and I wondered how long I could keep walking. I began to wonder—did I have a destination? I felt my companions as a heavy responsibility and a slight panic came up over me. My steps quickened and I peered ahead into the dim light, trying to see. My panic turned to dread, choking me, and I began to run, the little cat bobbing up and down on my shoulder.
I woke to find myself back in my bed, and I turned to look for the cookie. I was not surprised that the cookie, and indeed, the entire room was gone from the window. It seemed that the cookie had finished its business and was satisfied. What need did it have to continue on in its little prison? Better for it to be whisked away by some unseen hand when its job was complete. I turned to the left and saw that the cookie plate and the papers were gone. I looked to the flower painting and was not surprised to find it simply an ordinary still life.
I closed my eyes, full of the most intense weariness. I wanted nothing more than to go back to the pine forest, to curl up with the little cat and go to sleep in the enveloping chill of that mist-filled place. No sooner had this wish entered my mind than it was fulfilled. I found myself in the hollow base of an enormous pine tree, the heat from my body making a cozy space, the little white cat curled up next to my belly, purring in its ragged little way. I felt in my pocket for the little amphibious creature and was reassured by its movements that it was well and happy. I sighed, closed my eyes, and there I went to sleep.