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A blue cookie jar helps Elsie get through her days

Elsie was obsessed with her cookie jar.

It hadn’t started that way. At first, it was practically useless, merely a vehicle for her beloved chocolate chip cookies. But then, even after each cookie had gone, annihilated by the impatient and hungry parents and siblings who shared them, the jar remained. Elsie found it comforting, in a metaphoric sense. In place of a stuffed animal, or something more commonplace to carry around for a girl her age, she even began to bring it around with her, in spite of its excessive weight. She felt that she was sending a clear message to the jar: she appreciated its loyalty, and this was her way of paying it back.

Of course, she couldn’t show it to her friends. First of all, they wouldn’t understand. And second of all, even beyond the realm of being unable to comprehend her immense attachment to this jar of porcelain, they would make fun of her for it. It’s not that they were mean-spirited; they just had a tendency to act without regard for the feelings of the owners of said jars of porcelain.

So, instead of foolishly carrying it around in broad daylight, Elsie kept her jar in her mint-green duffel bag. So as not to arouse suspicion, she put everyday items in there as well: a generously sized water bottle, a keychain to her old house, a keychain to her current house, and the thick cookbook she used to pore over before realizing that the true gift lay not in the cookie but in its jar. For three years—ages eight to eleven— her system had worked seamlessly.

That was, it had worked seamlessly until May 5, 2020.

Stuck at home with her careless, lazy siblings during the quarantine, Elsie never quite realized how much school had offered an escape from home just as much as home had offered an escape from school. But it wasn’t all bad. For one thing, she didn’t even have to worry about being separated from her cookie jar, and for another, she didn’t have to worry about her friends reacting negatively to said cookie jar.

Until May 5, she hadn’t even bothered to go outside. Well, she had gone outside. She’d gone out for walks, and to ride her bicycle. She just hadn’t gone outside with her family, nor had she gone outside to a place that wasn’t her neighborhood. It would have grated on her much more if it hadn’t meant a surplus of time with her cookie jar. It was peculiar, because she had presumed that the endless amount of time with the jar would cause a rift between them. After all, she’d only gone off M&Ms after her mom had bought her an endless supply, and only seemed to get bored of The Office after she’d seen a whole season in a night (thanks to her cookie-jar-judging friends—they could sometimes be cool). It seemed to Elsie that the more accessible something was, the less enticing it subsequently became.

To her luck, though, it never seemed that way with her cookie jar. She found that she contained the capacity to stare at it for hours upon hours, doing nothing other than pondering its unique existence and inherent kindness (in spite of being an inanimate object). Sometimes, she felt herself choking up when she thought about how it just held all kinds of cookies, no matter their size, quality, or type. The cookie jar did not show a preference for the fancily decorated yet tasteless Christmas cookies her brother insisted on making every year, nor the chocolate chip cookies her little sister liked to bake just as the family ran out of chocolate chips (so, really, they were no-chocolate-chip cookies). It regarded them all as the same. The thought made Elsie feel especially grateful for her beautiful, non-judgmental jar.

It seemed to Elsie that the more accessible something was, the less enticing it subsequently became.

Anyway, on May 5, the family had received masks, two months after they had been ordered. Her parents, delighted they had finally come, decided that they should do something exciting to differentiate the day from others. Elsie’s eighth-grade brother, Tom, who was convinced that the coronavirus was simply a conspiracy theory made up by an army of shapeshifting reptiles led by Bill Gates, suggested they forget the masks altogether and go to SkyZone (its closure, he added, was simply propaganda that the reptilian army had promoted). Elsie herself was in favor of staying home and admiring her cookie jar, though her parents quickly vetoed this idea just as it had begun to get traction from her equally apathetic siblings. Her eight-year-old sister, Marsha, had the winning proposal to go to the beach, stating that she thought seashells would make perfectly tasty replacements for chocolate chips.

“Come on now, Elsie. Don’t you think you’ve had enough time with your jar? It’ll still be there when you get back,” her mother insisted.

Elsie frowned. “Every moment without it is a moment wasted. I’ll bring it.” Her mother reluctantly agreed. In another family, Elsie’s compulsive cookie-jar watching would have drawn more attention from her parents, but given the state of her siblings, she was by far the easiest child.

The beach was beautiful, in spite of the lack of people. It struck Elsie as abnormal, even in such an abnormal time, that there should be nobody else at the beach. She supposed she should consider herself lucky, as her parents hadn’t really thought to avoid the crowd; it had just happened that way. But it still felt odd. Beaches weren’t meant to be empty, at least not on gorgeous spring days. They were meant to be full of grumbling parents and their wayward children, who begged them to swim with them in the ocean. They were meant to be full of unthoughtful adults who willingly got sunburnt in hopes of a tan, and lifeguards scanning the water for any sign of trouble, and rude customers trying to cut the line to get their Italian ices first. On the one hand, she understood that it would be downright dangerous for a large group of people to gather together on a beach. But on the other hand, beaches without the suffocating crowd of people didn’t feel like beaches. It was just weird.

Unfortunately, she was interrupted from her deep thought process by Marsha, who seemed to be holding up a seashell of some sorts in one hand and a dead crab in the other.

“Pay attention! I’ll ask you again: which seashell would you prefer to have in the cookies? Tom thinks I should use the beige one,” she said, pointing to the actual seashell, “which makes me think I should probably use the blue.” She tapped the dead crab. “What do you think, Elsie?”

“Oh, definitely the blue one,” Elsie said firmly in the dead crab’s direction. “It will make the cookies so much more complex.” Only in the aftermath did she wonder if that meant she would be forced to consume the cookies full of dead crabs. Hopefully, she decided, her parents would inform Marsha of her mistake before it was too late.

Marsha nodded, taking in the new information. “Do you wanna go into the ocean with me?”

Elsie blinked, taken aback. “I’m not sure if we’re allowed. I mean, if anyone’s been swimming, couldn’t we, like, somehow get germs? And isn’t it freezing?” She racked her brain, wondering if she should follow her sister.

“Um, well, we could just stare at it,” suggested Marsha, who seemed annoyed by Elsie’s objections, “and put our feet in. It’s fine. Whatever. We don’t have to go in if you don’t want to,” she said.

Finally, Elsie decided it would most likely end up fine. “Alright. We’ll go.” She grabbed her mint-green duffel bag and quickly yelled to her parents where she was going.

As the two sisters ran eagerly toward the undoubtedly freezing and unforgiving ocean, Elsie, completely focused on the fact that she was about to be drenched in water, completely failed to notice the peculiar, cookie-jar-shaped hole in her duffel bag.

“It’s not too cold,” noted Marsha, whose feet had almost turned blue. “I mean, it could be colder. In fact, if you think about it, it’s kind of disappointingly warm,” she added earnestly.

Elsie, meanwhile, looked paralyzed. She did not think of the water as disappointingly warm. She felt as though the water was barely melted from its former state as ice, determined to fix her feet in an eternal state of coldness and pain. She didn’t think it was a good idea to be putting her feet in the ocean with COVID-19 on the rise, nor did she think it was ever a good idea to put her feet in the ocean on a non-summer day. How had she gotten there? How had she been so idiotic? Even as she scampered backward, she couldn’t shake the dreadful, penetrating feeling in her feet.

“Hey, Elsie. Is that your jar?” Marsha turned and yelled toward her sister.

Elsie looked where Marsha was pointing, and to her absolute shock, she did see her precious cookie jar. It was rolling in the water, its sky-blue paint meshing with the deep blue ocean to form a swirl that seemed to be simultaneously getting covered in sand. This can’t be happening, she thought, terrified. What would she do without her jar? How would she get through her days?

She knew what her family would say: just get another one. That’s what her parents would say, at least—Tom might suggest rescuing it from the Upside Down by searching via the air vents in their ceiling, as he had when she’d lost her teddy bear at six. But why couldn’t they just understand that this cookie jar was so particular? While Elsie, someone who firmly believed that cookie jars deserved more appreciation, did care for said inanimate objects as a whole, there was something about this cookie jar that put otherwise un-shameful cookie jars to shame. It couldn’t be replaced. And, watching her sister half-heartedly duck down and try to touch it, she realized with a sinking feeling that it could not be rescued.

This can’t be happening, she thought, terrified. What would she do without her jar? How would she get through her days?

Elsie didn’t think she had ever cried so much in her entire life. Maybe as a baby, but babies barely do anything other than cry. She wasn’t such a huge crier, anyway. At least not in terms of actual, physical pain. What bothered Elsie more were the little things, like lost cookie jars, the feeling after somebody else takes the last piece of cake, and of course, the final second day of soccer practice (her teammates had found it odd that she chose that day to cause a scene, but they simply didn’t understand its significance like she did).

So, it probably made quite a lot of sense that her prized cookie jar’s disappearance was such an awful moment for Elsie. She felt helpless because she knew she couldn’t go farther into the ocean and save it. She also felt angry because her stupid little sister barely put any effort into grabbing it when she’d had the chance. And more than anything, she felt guilty because if she’d simply left it at home, it would be safe, and none of this would be happening.

“Elsie! Marsha! What’s going on? Is everyone alright?” Their mother worriedly came over and wrapped her arms around Elsie, who was still bawling.

“I lost it, Mom. I lost it. I can’t believe I lost it. I was never supposed to lose it—”

“Lost what?” Elsie’s mom interrupted her, unable to comprehend what had happened.

Elsie looked up, her bright red face shining even brighter in the sun’s light. “My—I lost my c-cookie jar,” she finally explained, shaking. She felt so embarrassed to have to say it aloud. How could she lose it? It was the singular thing that she paid attention to.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” her mother replied gently, hugging her despondent daughter. “It’s okay,” she murmured again.

To Elsie’s shock, though she kept expecting her mother to mutter about a future replacement, she never did. “Shouldn’t we get, like, another one?” she asked, not quite sure why the words formed in her mouth, given she’d been so opposed to the prospect only minutes ago.

Elsie’s mother sighed. “I think we’re done with cookie jars.”

Elsie had stopped crying, but the sadness did not subside. “D-done with cookie jars?” she repeated dizzily. The thought made her nauseous. Suddenly, she felt like throwing up. What would she even do without her cookie jar? Watch TV? Do extra homework? Start following weird conspiracy theories? Actually make cookies? Even in her head, it sounded stupid. How could she have been so foolish? It seemed that in her attempt to appreciate and preserve her cookie jar, she’d actually made it even easier to lose it.

“It’s just a cookie jar, Elsie,” muttered Marsha, who was still standing rather awkwardly near her sister and mother.

“Don’t say it’s just a cookie jar, as though somehow cookie jars are worthless,” Elsie snarled in reply. She didn’t understand why nobody took her obsession seriously.

Elsie’s mother glared at Marsha pointedly. “Marsha, why don’t you join Tom and your father by the blanket? I’ll just talk a bit more with Elsie.”

Elsie stared out onto the water. She just wanted to erase the day from existence. Not only would she have her beloved cookie jar back, but she’d miss all of the off-putting sights of empty beaches and her sister’s disgusting idea to put a dead crab in a chocolate chip cookie.

“It’s not fair that this happens to me. Tom and Marsha never pay attention to anything, and they never lose anything!” Elsie protested, somewhat childishly for her age.

Her mom nodded thoughtfully. “First of all, Tom and Marsha lose things all the time! Why do you think there are never chocolate chips in the cookies? I always buy them for her, but barely seconds later she loses them.” She paused, almost as though she thought it was impressive. She then added, “They’re just not nearly as attached to inanimate objects. Anyway, don’t you think that it’s good for it to be free? I bet your jar is in a much better place.”

“You mean in the ocean, getting devoured by sharks? I don’t think so, Mom,” muttered Elsie, rolling her eyes.

“Why does it matter so much?”

“It just does!” Elsie insisted. “Everybody else gets to have their silly thing, anyway. Marsha makes weird cookies, and Tom likes weird conspiracies, so it’s only fair that I should have my weird jar.”

Her mom nodded thoughtfully. “I just don’t think it’s healthy to have something like that. If losing a cookie jar makes you this sad, I can’t let you have another one. You’re eleven now, Elsie.”

Elsie looked down. “I know how old I am.”

“Most eleven-year-olds don’t bring cookie jars with them everywhere they go,” noted her mom. Elsie knew she was right, but she still felt the urge to object. That was only because most eleven-year-olds were idiots and assumed that the cookies were somehow more important than the jar. Besides, how could she be expected to give up something that had been the most significant part of her identity?

Still, she could see her mother’s point. She supposed the cookie jar was, after all, an inanimate object. And it was only because of her immense attachment that it had gotten lost in the first place.

After a few minutes of painfully wondering if her days of cookie jars were over, Elsie’s mother sighed. “Alright, Elsie. You know what? I’ll buy you another cookie jar, and as long as you keep it in the kitchen and promise not to remove it, you can keep it. But if you take it to the beach again, or to your room, or anywhere—”

“Okay! I’ll do that!” Elsie burst in eagerly. Any jar was better than no jar, she figured.

She sat down in the sand, throwing it onto her legs until they looked like statues. For the first time in the whole trip, she found that the emptiness of the beach was somewhat special. It was unnerving, yes, but it was unique. And, probably, it would never happen again.

Isabelle Chapman
Isabelle Chapman, 13
Long Branch, NJ

Andralyn Yao
Andralyn Yao, 12
West Lafayette, IN