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Mother’s Chocolate Chip Brownies

by Ron Van Sweringen

“Good luck will smile upon you soon.” That was the message on the little slip of paper in Bill Brogan’s fortune cookie. I’ll believe it when I see it, he thought, finishing his cup of tea.

The wind was icy outside the dingy Chinese restaurant near Howard Street in Baltimore. The place didn’t look like much, but the food was good and, even better, it was cheap. A pot of tea and a spring roll for lunch cost a dollar and a half.

Cheap was important when you were broke and out of work in the dead of winter. Bill’s wallet contained two neatly folded one-dollar bills. Of course, there was always the house he was born in on Washington, Street, and the warm bed he had slept in when he was young. It had springs that squeaked and made a hell of a racket.

The only problem was his mother and her chocolate chip brownies. Bill Brogan disliked his mother almost as much as the chocolate chip brownies she baked. No matter what day of the year it was, he knew there would be a chocolate chip brownie for dessert after dinner. Now he detested chocolate, and even the smell of it caused him to heave.

After walking the freezing and nearly deserted streets for hours, Bill decided to ring the bell at the large brownstone house on Washington Street. He told himself he could stay for a day or two, to get warm and clean up; and then he would move on. The wait seemed interminable before the heavy oak door was opened a crack.

“Hello, mother. It’s me, William.” The door slowly opened wider, enough to make out a small figure in the dim hallway. It was her: he didn’t have to see her to know it; his churning stomach told him. The thought crossed his mind that he might run away, but the icy steps under his feet precluded that; he would probably slip and break a leg.

“It’s you.” A thin voice slid out at him like a polished sword. “I wondered how long it would take you to come to your senses. Wipe your feet good before you step on my rugs.”

The house was the same as Bill remembered it from five years earlier, when his father died. His death had been the catalyst that sent Bill out into the world on his own at the age of forty. His father had always been the buffer, making excuses for him and taking his side in every argument in order to protect the small boy from his domineering mother. Now Bill had to defend himself instead of suffering her insults and, worst of all, eating her brownies.

A few hours later after a bath and change of clean clothes, the little silver bell tinkled loudly in the dining room. Bill made his way down a wide curving stairway. His mother didn’t tolerate tardiness at the dinner table. A hard rap across the knuckles with her brass-tipped cane had always been her rebuke. A moment after he took his seat at the dining room table, she raised the cane with an admonishment: “You’re late!”

Bill waited until she started to bring the weapon down before quickly moving his hand. The cane crashed on to his dinner plate and wine glass, sending shards of porcelain and crystal across the table. His mother’s face turned purple with rage as she glared at him with bulging eyes.

“Now look what you’ve done,” she hissed, her voice trailing off as her head suddenly lurched forward, sending her lifeless face into a bowl of clam chowder.

Bill sat quietly for a few moments, thinking about what the little piece of paper in the fortune cookie had told him. Then he smiled and helped himself to a generous portion of roast beef and mashed potatoes.

Copyright © 2014 by Ron Van Sweringen

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