Birthday Cookies

by Greg Larson
Below the grading policies and plagiarism warnings, the syllabus for Dr. Levy’s freshman English course says the following regarding electronics: “If your phone accidentally rings or chimes, you are required to bring snacks for the entire class the next session. So if you hear a ringtone, loudly cheer and point at the guilty party, for he or she is now the bringer of snacks.”
Brenda sits in the front row taking notes as Dr. Levy scribbles on the whiteboard. He looks young for a professor and wears a skinny suit and jeans, slender. Someone in the back of class yawns. Brenda’s stomach growls loud enough for several students to eye her.
Dr. Levy, with his back turned to the class, twists his head to his left and looks down, right hand still raised to the board. He pauses and Brenda holds her breath. He goes back to writing.
“This class will focus on the tenets of good writing,” he says. “How do you formulate a sentence?” He scribbles a sentence diagram.
Brenda’s eyes are down and her right hand is looping cursive notes from the board. Suddenly, her phone rings, cracking the quiet class in half with one of those default rings that sounds like an old rotary phone.
She panics to her bag, but it is too late. Several students point and yell, others clap. Dr. Levy turns to the class and smiles. “I guess we have our first offender.”
“I am so sorry,” she says.
She flips her phone open to turn the volume off. She sees it’s a text from her mom: “Happy birthday, sweetie!”
“What’s your name?” Dr. Levy says, pointing at her.
She puts the phone back into her bag. “Brenda. I’m so sorry. Brenda Garruck.”
“Brenda,” Dr. Levy says to the class, “will be providing snacks for our next meeting.” He turns his back again.
Students smile. Brenda shifts in the seat, her red ears pumping the heat of embarrassment.
She hands a yellow card to the campus post office clerk.
“This was in my mailbox,” she says.
The girl at the counter looks at it and goes into the back room. Brenda peeks to the students behind her, sure to avoid eye contact, gazes hidden behind her brown curtain of hair. She pulls out her phone. 4:16. Only 46 minutes until the cafeteria opens for dinner. She’s already missed breakfast and lunch.
The girl returns with a package from Brenda’s mother. Brenda cradles it against her belly, bracing tightly as she walks.
She sits down at a table in the lobby of the student center. In the foyer, two boys holler over a Ping-Pong game. Four students sit in recliners around a coffee table littered with paper and conversation. A couple exits holding hands, the boy pushing the door open in front of his girlfriend.
Brenda sets the package down on the table and pokes the tape with a pen. Before ripping the seams, she catches the shipping price in the top right corner: $9.65. Her chin tightens, and she pulls her lips tight as if she has just uttered a sentence she can never take back. She does the math in her head: sending this package cost almost one hour of work for her mom. She re-approaches it with care.
Inside there’s a plastic grocery bag tied tight. She undoes the knot and opens the crinkling bag, almost looking over her shoulder as she does so. There are squares of paper towel folded for shipping protection. Brenda takes each one and flattens them by hand before placing them neatly into her backpack.
Under the paper towels are 36 chocolate chip cookies that Brenda knows her mother made herself. There is a note written on a recipe card at the top.
“Happy birthday, Brenda! I made these with a little extra salt, just how you like them. I’m so proud of you, and I miss you.
Love, Mom”
She picks one up. They are lumpy and real. She takes a small bite and closes her eyes as she chews slowly and exhales. She opens her eyes, sparkling green with something almost like happiness.
Brenda clutches the Tupperware container against her chest as she walks into class. Inside are 35 chocolate chip cookies from her mother. The class barks at her entrance, and she clutches it tighter.
“That’s right,” says Dr. Levy. “We had a first offender. What did you bring for us today?”
Brenda sets down the container. “Cookies,” she says, opening the top.
The class rushes forward, bumping past her and knocking her back. Most of them eat their cookies before they can even sit, others set them on their desk, taking smaller bites that crumble onto their blank notebooks, leaving tiny specks of darkness on the page.
Dr. Levy takes one bite and sets it down before approaching the board. “Mmm,” he says while chewing. “Did you make these?”
Brenda nods.
“Mmm,” he says, smacking his tongue and lips, swallowing in satisfaction. “You should leave your ringer on more often.” He smirks to the class. They laugh around Brenda.
Behind the downturned shield of her hair, two large drops of darkness fall onto the white of Brenda’s blank notebook page. She pretends to write notes, but only scribbles. Dr. Levy sets the rest of the cookie next to his computer and turns his back to the class as he writes on the board.
Brenda replaces the top of the container, only crumbs left, and places it into her backpack.
The students walk out at the end of class speaking to each other loudly. Brenda slowly collects her things.
“Wanna get lunch?” one says to another as they walk out the door.
“Sure, but let’s go out. I’m so sick of the cafeteria.”
Two boys speak to each other about the cookies. “It was pretty good. Too much salt though.”
Dr. Levy walks out behind the groups of chatting students. “Thanks again for the cookies, Belinda.”
Brenda winces.
They all walk out, leaving her alone in the room. She hauls her backpack over her shoulder, and as she turns to walk out the door, her eye catches on something. On the teacher’s desk at the front of class sits Dr. Levy’s half-eaten cookie. Brenda looks out the door. Students stream past straight ahead. She looks back to the half cookie.

She walks like she has glass shards in her shoes. She picks up the cookie, a half bite of saliva still on the edges of the missing crescent. She holds it lightly in her right hand and glances through the door. Students still chat as they walk along, paying no attention to the room that is empty except for the hungry girl with a half-eaten cookie in her hand. She looks back down to it and quickly sneaks a nibble with her head down, chewing lightly, crying.

Greg Larson was born in Elk River, Minnesota. He graduated from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina in 2011 and is currently getting his MFA in Creative Writing-Nonfiction at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. He writes mostly humorist memoir, but he also writes poetry and fiction in his spare time. 

Greg recently won a humor writing contest through the Sandler Center of the Arts in Virginia Beach
​he also ​published his college memoir, Learn How to Not Suck, through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Service. 


  1. Thank you for your gift to me on this early, early morning, this story of love and depth of love..My own mother, beloved and beleaguered, overworked and underappreciated, sent me a similar gift when I was in college. She had never received such a gift of love in her own school days.
    I was stunned, surprised, overjoyed when I entered the basement of MSCW's first and oldest dormitory where the post office was located, for I seldom received mail. I grinned at our elderly postmaster, Mr. Barbee, who gave me his usual smile and "'morning!" before grinning as
    he handed me a package wrapped in what had earlier been a brown grocery sack. .A package! Gosh! I'd never received a package. When I recognized my mother's beautiful handwriting, I felt tears forming. I missed my mother so much. My gift, too, was chocolate chip cookies, a delicacy I'd never known her to make. Thank you again for your gift of allowing me to remember mine and to relive those precious moments once again.


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