I place my hands on my hips, studying the poster with determination. “Alright,” I
say. “Day one.” I must follow through—I promised I would. But thousands of hours of
mental training would never prepare me for the final battle: Grandmother’s house. It’ll
only be for a day, Jane. You’ll be fine, Jane. I scoff at the memory of my parents speeding
away, leaving me to fend for myself on this suicide mission. Only sheer luck will save me
Broccoli, whole wheat bread, grapes...the images on the poster taunt me with
their verdant colors. Right in the middle was a warning highlighted in bright red: NO
SWEETS. “Okay, just have to follow this. And no sweets. No sweets...” I repeat. The
mantra drones in my mind over and over until it lulls even my ruthless sweet tooth into
Outside, some sparrows nestled within the trees cheer me on. I turn around with
renewed confidence and grasp the doorknob. No matter what happens, just follow the
poster. Opening the door, I march towards the dining room.
The large table lays bare—the perimeter seems secure for now. When I least
expect it, however, an alluring scent infiltrates the room. Intuition warns me that the
long, hard battle is just about to begin.
I sneak towards the kitchen and peer around the corner. The room is dim. I can
only see the silhouette of the perpetrator. Its demure figure stirs ingredients into a pot,
humming an entrancing lullaby. I hold my breath. The figure must hear me coming
because she stops stirring and turns around.
“Lunch is coming along. Would you like to help, dear?” she says with a smile
plastered across her face.
As I come closer, I can see my nemesis clearly. Her thin, graying hair is wrapped
into a sharp bun. Her seemingly gossamer hands grasps a worn wooden spoon, a deadly
weapon lying in wait. The scent of cinnamon sticks to her deceivingly innocent spring
I fire back an artificial smile. “Sure, I would love to!” I lie, hoping she won’t be
able to detect the strain in my voice. Her eyebrows raise in suspicion as she adjusts her
small, thick-rimmed glasses, but she doesn’t seem to suspect a thing. She gestures
towards the steel cauldron.
“Well, could you stir this for me please?” she asks. “I’ll make some tea.” She lets
go of the wooden spoon and hobbles towards the empty kettle farther down the counter.
I approach the pot and grasp the spoon. The handle is still warm from her
unexpectedly firm grip. I mimic the motion she made before, steadily mixing the brew. It bubbles as the flames scorch the vat of orphic poison. Each pop is a burst of venom, each
whiff only further diminishes what little resistance I still have. “Remember your mission. Don’t get distracted,” I tell myself.
That arcane smile stays glued onto her face as she seems to read my thoughts.
“Are you alright, Jane? You seem to be talking to yourself.”
“Oh, nothing much Nana.” I mimic the lilt my mother’s voice would take on
when she haggles with businessmen at her work. “Just thinking out loud.” The last thing
I want is for her to find out my ulterior motive—I wouldn’t escape the labyrinthine
Grandmother persists. “Well, you seem a bit tired from the trip here. Why don’t
you try some of these?” Her hands uncover a loaf of banana bread wrapped in aluminum
foil. It pierces my nose with a lush scent, mocking me. My façade falters. She can’t have
heard me, surely? Though the fiery spark in her eyes beg to differ.
“I don’t think I should eat those, Nana, I still need room for lunch, right?” I
manage to reply. It takes an inordinate amount of willpower not to snatch a slice then
Her face falls. “Perhaps you’re right...” Before she can launch another attack, the
kettle whistles, interrupting the conversation. Her attention turns back towards the
boiling water, and I breathe a sigh of relief.
I return to stirring. Grandmother’s tune collides with my cyclical motions. The
symphony floats into the deep recesses of my brain, and my once solid determination is
now only a nebulous afterthought. Maybe I could relax my guard for a moment...
Then I realize. The aroma that had ambushed me in the dining room doesn’t
come from the banana bread, however alluring it is. I frantically sniff around for the
elusive scent. Tea leaves, Bananas, cinnamon...everything returns to sugar...
“...Sugar?” a voice calls behind me, giving me a mini-heart attack.
“Oh, uh, sugar?” I innocently ask. “What about it?”
Grandmother’s bewildered expression bores into me. “I was asking if you wanted
tea with sugar or not,” she responds with a wary voice. “Are you sure you’re alright,
Jane? You’ve been acting awfully strange lately.”
“Of course I’m alright Nana!” If only she knew. “By the way, is there anything else
you’ve made besides the banana bread?” I keep my voice as nonchalant as possible.
A devious look worms into her face. “Dearie, the hellion you are!” she says. “Why
didn’t you say so earlier? There’s something in the oven waiting just for you.”
My eyes widen with each step she takes towards the oven. “I’m okay Nana, really-” I say, though my words fall on deaf ears. She rips the oven open and a sickly sweet scent comes
blasting out, the same scent from the dining room.
“Tada!” Grandmother sets a tray on the counter. As my legs move toward the tray,
my already wilted resistance crumbles to dust. “They’re sugar cookies! Your favorite!” she
says. I think of my promise, my parents. I’m sorry, I think, praying they could hear me.
That day, I ate the entire tray.
Moo, the winner of Writervana's May 2021 writing contest, is a fiction and poetry writer.