The Cookie Exchange


Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.

It’s not every day a person finds themselves in a police station, sitting across from a detective with such a sensational story to report.  But this is what happened, from the beginning, and let me start off by saying, I know you’re going to think I’m crazy.  But I’m not. You can believe every word I say.

The trouble began about five years ago.  Lucas, our son, graduated from college and took a job in California.  Of course, we’re proud of him.  Don’t get me wrong. We’re excited for his future.  But I’m sad for me. I spend too much time by myself now.  Even my husband, Travis, would tell you that.

It’s been lonely.  I’ve been lonely.

I’m one of those moms that stayed home to raise the child and when that contract expired on that gig, I didn’t have anything else to do.

That’s a cop out.  I had to take the bull by the horns and find new activities.  I needed to join a club or find a group of likeminded women to spend time with.  A book club maybe, or volunteer work.

Travis and I have fallen into a routine that one might say is uneventful.  Mostly we watch television and read.  Neither activity requires much talking.

Needless to say, I did find something to occupy my time.  our neighbors.  They all appeared to be living interesting lives. Certainly, more interesting than mine.  And I had a perfect view of their comings and goings through the peephole on our front door.  We have a perfect viewpoint, being the last apartment down the hallway.  I can see every single door.

At first, I told myself I was the neighborhood watch lady, and I was keeping an eye out for their safety and well-being. I took the job seriously and spent hours a day monitoring the hallway.  Maybe I got a little obsessed with them.  But it was only for their own good.

I know what you’re thinking detective. But I’m not a stalker.  I’m a run-of-the-mill busy body.  What I tell you about them is the absolute truth.

Here are some of the things you need to know about them. Sanjay Bashar, apartment four.  Sanjay enjoys the company of many women.  Over time, I’ve observed that he has a “type” and it’s female. There’s a constant stream of visitors.  Many of them leave in the early morning hours.

I can tell you that the girls in number three drink too much and stay up too late.  I’m not really surprised, that’s what young adults do, but it doesn’t lead to good decisions.

Chloe and Jess have a large dog and they don’t always pick up the dog’s poop.  I’ve seen them through my window, and they only pick it up if someone is around to see them.  They look around to see if anyone’s watching, and if there isn’t, they leave the poop in the grass. The lawn we all share! Someone could step in it.  Someone eventually has to pick it up and it’s not going to be me.  Or so I thought.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, detective. This next one may be of particular interest to you.  Make sure you get this in your notes.

Apartment five.  To the left of ours.  Helena and Darius Graves.

An enviably good-looking couple. If I’m being honest, and I am, I’m kind of enamored with them.  They’re sophisticated, stylish and I think they have money. They have a busy social life, so they probably don’t want children.  They would just slow them down.

I would kill for a reason to shave my legs, let alone put a dress on. I don’t know where they go, but I want to go with them.

Helena is a little more social than Darius.  She has a special friend that comes for a sleepover when Darius is out of town on business.  Sleeping is an exaggeration.  I can hear them all hours of the night and they’re definitely not sleeping.

I think you should look into that man.  Clearly, he has loose morals.

Now, in apartment two, there’s Mrs. Emily, a gentle woman in her late seventies.  She’s so quiet, you almost don’t know she’s there.  I thought she was a hoarder because I would see a lot of things go in but not much come out.  I know better now.  Hoarding is not her problem.  But you could see why I would think so, especially since she won’t let anyone come into her apartment and opens the door only a few inches when answering it. I know because I’ve tried.

The neighbor I worry about the most, is Brenda in number one.  The way she’s always yelling at her kids.  I have to give her some grace.  She’s a single mom with a ton of kids.  I think there’s five of them.  The youngest is still in diapers. I have no idea where the dad is.  Never seen the kids leave with a man.  That’s why I let it slide when she leaves a bag of trash outside her door.

Then there’s apartment number six.  I suppose someone lives there, but I’ve never seen them.  Or heard them.  We share a common wall, so I would expect to occasionally hear some moving around in there, but I never have.  Once I heard keys rattle outside our door and I raced to the peep hole to see who was going in, but I was too late.  I only saw the door closing.

Now that you know who the players are it will make more sense what I’m going to tell you next.  Every Christmas the apartment complex does a cookie exchange.  You only exchange with the people on your floor.  We’ve been doing it as long as we’ve lived here, which has been a very long time.  I’m kind of the cookie exchange monitor.  I make sure everyone is reminded two weeks, then one week before Christmas.

Art by Luisa Rojas

Everyone puts a basket outside their apartment door on Christmas eve.  Mine is tastefully decorated with a red plaid ribbon, tiny pinecones, and a sprig of holly.  Not real holly, of course.  It’s plastic.  If I can be so bold, it is the prettiest basket of all of them, but Mrs. Emily has a respectable one as well.

I’m not sure if the others put their hearts into it. Sanjay and

Brenda don’t decorate them at all.  Which I don’t appreciate, but I try not to be judgmental.  I suppose it’s too much to ask of a bachelor and a single mom.

Anyway, we leave the cookies wrapped in cellophane or in little gift bags with a tag with our apartment number on it, so you know whose giving them to you.  I wouldn’t say I don’t see it as a bit of a competition, because I am rating the cookies from best to worst, with categories for most creative, difficulty level and quality.  It’s a fun little game I like to play and I’m sure others are doing the same thing, so I put a lot of thought into my cookies.  This year I made pecan sandies.  Delicious.  If it was a contest, I would have won.

It’s a nice tradition if I do say so myself.  I must confess; I am a bit of a cookie monster.  I’ve a sweet tooth.

Here’s where things get interesting.

Christmas morning came and I was greeted with a bounty of holiday joy.  I went straight for the rice crispy treats.  They’re always best when fresh.  Travis loves them.  He goes at them like it’s a drug.  Like cocaine.  I don’t know why I used that phrase.  We’ve never done cocaine.  Not even in college.

Brenda’s go to cookie is the rice crispy treat and it makes a lot of sense.  Four inexpensive ingredients, ten minutes of kitchen time and poof, it’s like magic.  Everyone loves them.

Tell me, have you met even one person that doesn’t like a rice crispy treat?  My point exactly. Brenda gets the award for crowd favorite.

After I ate two, something strange happened.  I felt hungry.  Like

I hadn’t just eaten a full Christmas brunch.  I was stuffed before I ate the cookies, but immediately after, I was ravenous.  So hungry I wnted another meal and I went to the kitchen and started whipping up more food.

We eat pretty healthy, but I wasn’t craving baked chicken breast and spinach salad. What I really wanted was macaroni and cheese with hot dogs and fruit punch!

I obviously don’t have hot dogs and fruit punch, but I substituted with vegetarian sausage and light cranberry juice.  It wasn’t very good, but I ate every last bite.  I almost made myself sick.

The next night, I decided to dress up.  I don’t know why.  We weren’t going out. But, I couldn’t help myself.  I wanted to wear pearls.

You don’t wear pearls with sweatpants and a stained tee shirt, so I put on a little black dress.  I found it in the back of the closet.  I didn’t remember that I had one.  A little black dress and a string of pearls go together like ice and water.  They were made for each other.

Then, I put on heels.  Then, I curled my hair.  Then, I put on a full face of make-up, including red lipstick.  I was all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Travis was shocked.  He didn’t know what he was supposed to do with me.  He asked me if I wanted to go for ice cream.  Isn’t that sweet.  Travis has always been a sweet man. But I had already eaten the peanut butter blossoms Helena and Darius put in the cookie exchange basket.

I sat at the kitchen table and did a crossword puzzle.  Don’t you think that’s weird, detective?

The next day, I was feeling out of sorts about my unexplained behavior. I comforted myself with Mrs. Emily’s shortbread.  I could die a happy woman eating Mrs. Emily’s shortbread.  It’s buttery and flakey and it practically melts in your mouth.  I admit I ate all of it.  Travis was at work and once you start eating it, you must finish it.  It couldn’t be helped.

No sooner did I swallow my last bite, than I was on my feet and moving around the apartment, somewhat manically, dusting. Dusting!  The worst chore of all the chores.  And I was moving all our things around.  Not so much redecorating as relocating.

I moved one lamp to three different spots in the apartment and then brought it right back to where it started. I rearranged the framed photos on the piano over and over again. I lined up magazines on the coffee table.

It was my stuff, but it didn’t feel like my stuff.  It felt like I was cleaning and organizing someone else’s apartment.  Maybe Mrs. Emily’s.

I wondered if I had it all wrong about Mrs. Emily.  I thought she was a hoarder because she wouldn’t let me into her apartment.  But maybe it’s the opposite.  Maybe she didn’t want me in

there because she was worried that I would upset the order or make a mess?  I’m going with obsessive compulsive disorder now.  I bet if you check out her apartment, you’ll find it in pristine condition.  I bet she even has plastic on her furniture.

It was after I ate the cookies from Chloe and Jess in number three that I suspected something nefarious was going on.  They made snickerdoodles. I give them credit for the most creative cookie because they own a goldendoodle and it was clearly inspired by their love for the dog.

At first, I didn’t think anything was going to happen, and the other experiences could be chalked up to mild depression and a little delusional thinking.  But I was wrong.

We had a typical night of watching television.  We’ve been binging true crime on Netflix.  After a while, you get a little paranoid, so probably that played a role in my thought process.

I fell asleep on the sofa and Travis left me there.  I hate it when he does that, but he says I’m too hard to wake me up, so he just covers me with a blanket now.  It’s shocking to wake up on the sofa, but it’s even more shocking to wake up on the sofa and leave the apartment.  Which is what I did.

I woke with a start and immediately put my boots and jacket on.  I walked down the hall, took the elevator to the main floor, and left the building in the middle of the night.  I could have been sleepwalking, but I don’t have a history of doing that and I remember everything that happened.

Oddly enough, I kept my arm out stretched in front of me while I walked.  I walked around the entire building that way, stopping in the parking lot and just standing next to a car.  It wasn’t our car, and I didn’t know whose car it was, but I felt like I needed to stand next to the back end for a good five minutes doing nothing but keeping my one arm straight out, pointing at the tire.

Eventually, I left the parking lot and headed towards the mailboxes.  There’s a nice patch of lawn around the covered wall of small metal doors with apartment numbers on them.  I stopped in the middle of the lawn and waited for something to happen. After a few moments, I looked down and saw a pile of dog poop by my feet.  I almost stepped in it.

I don’t know why, but I reached down for it and picked it up with my bare hand.  Can you believe that?  How disgusting!  I carried it to the trashcan next to the mailboxes meant for junk mail and tossed it in.  It wasn’t really until that moment that I realized what I had just done.  I can’t describe my horror.  I raced right back to the apartment and scrubbed my hands with dish soap.

I’d concluded that the cookies were somehow giving me a front row seat in my neighbor’s real lives.  You’re probably thinking I should have left well enough alone if this was the case.  I should have been disturbed by this.  But I wasn’t.  I was curious. Very curious. Some of my conclusions were wrong, but some had been correct, and I felt validated.

I wasn’t going to eat the chocolate chip cookies.  They were the premade dough divided into perfect, uniform cubes that only needed to be separated and dropped on a cookie sheet and baked for eight minutes. No love was put into it.  Just what I expected from Sanjay.

If I had gotten a sneak peak into the other neighbor’s habits by eating their cookies, then it should be the same for Sanjay.  I suspected Sanjay was up to no good and this was my opportunity to confirm it.

I ate his cookies.  Nothing to write home about.  Only children appreciate a store-bought cookie dough cookie.  They have low standards.

The results were interesting.

Detective, I’m a modest woman, so I think it’s enough to say that Travis was pleasantly surprised with my actions that night.  And the next morning.  I don’t think I need to get into the details.

There was only one package of cookies left and they were from the mysterious residents in apartment number six.  The ones I have never seen.

Can you imagine how incredible it is that I could simply eat a cookie, a tasty looking one at that, and I would find out who lived in that apartment and what kind of shenanigans he, she or they were up to? You’ve spent enough time with me now to know that nothing short of a natural disaster could stop me from eating those fluffy sugar cookies with red frosting and green sprinkles.

They may have been six days old, but they tasted like they had just come from the oven.

I waited for the revelation.  Nothing happened.  I ate another one and waited.  Still nothing.  I ate the last one and waited.  My revelation was as empty as I suspected apartment number six was.  I hate to admit it, but I was disappointed.

I even went out in the hallway and put my ear to number six’s door hoping to hear some movement inside.  It was quiet.  No signs of life at all.  I had no choice but to shrug it off.

That night Travis and I did our usual nothing and went to bed around ten O’clock. He fell asleep right away, but I couldn’t stop thinking.  There had to be someone living in that apartment, or there wouldn’t be any cookies at all.  Perhaps they did exactly what we did.  Nothing exciting.

I listened to Travis breathing and the rhythm lulled me and I almost fell asleep but then I sat up abruptly.  Now, I’m telling you, someone or something was directing my every move.  I was compelled to go to the kitchen and find my largest knife in the butcher block.

I was compelled to take it back to the bedroom, straddle my husband’s sleeping body and stab him.

Mostly, I stabbed him in the chest, but some in his arms and neck as well.  I don’t know how many times I stabbed him.  I think ten to fifteen times.  I wasn’t counting.

I was compelled to take the knife back to the kitchen and call you.

You can see that it wasn’t my fault.  It was the cookies that made me do it.