Hannah’s Mother


Hannah’s hands were warm. Too warm. They were ruining the shortbread dough. “Mom?”

Hannah sighed and smacked her palms in frustration. Flour-covered butter scattered and fell. She plunged her hand into the bowl of ice water, the ice tinkling as it knocked against the glass sides.

Counting to ten in her head, Hannah dropped her gaze to the recipe card in front of her. It was smudged with butter, its grease blurring her mother’s clear handwriting. Hannah’s mother had given her the card, and many others, in a recipe binder a few months ago. The first page read: “The dishes I taught you. Now you can carry on the tradition. Love, your Mother.”


Hannah hadn’t asked for the recipes, but she knew she was getting them. Her Mom had talked about collecting the recipes for a while. The cards were handwritten, copied from her Mother’s own recipe binder onto new cards, and slipped carefully into clear plastic holders to keep them grease free, although Hannah thought that was stupid. How could you use them without taking them out—and then they’d get dirty anyway.

The cards had a small print of red apples in the left corner, before the printed text “From the Kitchen of” after which her mother had written “Hannah M. Peart,” Hannah’s mother’s name. There were many Hannahs in the Peart family. Too many, at times.

Hannah was thankful her mother took to hand-copying all the recipes, but Hannah knew she wouldn’t use them. The binder sat next to the other glamorous no-fuss baking books she also didn’t use. She couldn’t get the details right. Hannah lacked her mother’s intuition and confidence to execute even the simplest recipes. Her mother said it was because Hannah was always in a hurry, “baking needed patience.”

Mother’s Day was coming up, and Hannah wanted to make shortbread. Her mother was expecting it. “Hannah, why don’t you use that book I made for you? I’ll make the meal, you bring dessert.” Fine, thought Hannah. Fine. It’s a pretty easy dough, no eggs. She’d found a tulip-shaped cutter, her mother loved tulips.

“Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!”

Hannah turned her head. What a mess. The counter, the floor, her apron, all covered in flour. There was some on her nose, she could see it out of the corner of her eye.


“What, Hannah? What is it?”

Seated at the kitchen table, curled up on her knees, was her daughter, Hannah.

She was holding a baby-pink marker, lightly dancing it over a piece of paper, making dots and dashes, and occasionally swooping the marker straight down, so it made a loud Pop! when it hit the paper. She had been trying to get her mother’s attention.

“Hannah, are you using a mat? I don’t want you to mark up the table. You press too hard. You’ll leave lines on the table.”

Ten seconds over, Hannah lifted her cold hands from the water and let them drip as she turned to the sink for a towel. Her daughter looked down at her colored paper and smiled.

“Mom! Mom! Guess what I’m going to do! I’m going to color the whole page in color. But the paper is hot! My marker jumps back. I can only do dots. Pop! Pop! Pop!” Hannah switched her grip and squeezed the baby-pink in a fist, stabbing the marker hard and fast, her face smiling in excitement at her imaginary game.

“Why don’t you draw a picture? Draw Grandma Hannah flowers for Mother’s Day?”

Hannah ignored her mother and sang, “The paper is burning! The paper is burning! I have to color fast because—”

“Just a minute, Hannah. I’m trying to make these cookies. I need quiet. I only have minutes before it gets too warm and ruined.” Hannah dried her hands and dipped them into the bowl with loose sugar, flour, and chunks of cold butter. Using her fingertips, she tore up the butter and mixed it in.

Meanwhile, her daughter began humming a made-up tune. She set down the baby-pink marker and picked up red with both hands. She kept stabbing. “Mom! I’m coloring with both hands! Look! It’s red!”

“Just the the flag, isn’t it? Hannah, how many markers would you have if you had two markers in each hand?”

Hannah didn’t answer, she was humming and making dots and dashes. She leaned forward over the table to get a better height and downward thrust. “Now the paper is getting even hotter, so I have to move really fast.” She wielded her weapon with new vengeance, coloring and beating furiously.

Hannah lifted the semi-formed dough out of the bowl and set it on floured counter. She shaped it with her palms, banging it flat and pushing on the edges. She worked fast, a bit furiously. Her hands had become warm again.

“Dammit!” Back into the ice water, curling her fingers into a fist.

She could hear her mother’s voice: “Remember the secret of shortbread is in the coldness of the dough. The dough should be chilled, not frozen. For extra coldness, you must put the flour in the fridge. And put the cutters in ice water before you flour them. Make sure to dip your hands in ice water throughout the process to keep them cold.”

Hannah’s mother had naturally cold hands, she didn’t have to dip them in ice water. Hannah’s hands were always too warm. Her mother used to put her hands in the ice bath to get her used to it. “Hannah, come here,” She would say. And Hannah would get down from the table where she was making pictures with her crayons and go over to her mother. “If you were making this dough, your hands would be too warm. See?” She’d grab Hannah’s little arm and pull it up to the counter, pressing her palm on the dough. “See how it warms up?” But Hannah couldn’t see, she wasn’t tall enough. “That’s no good. Here, put your hands in this.” And she put the bowl on the floor where Hannah could squat and put her hands in it.

The coldness was always a shock. Hannah dipped in her fingers and then her hands before pulling them back. Then plunged them in up to her wrists, usually pretty fast so the water sloshed onto the floor and her shoes. Sometimes her mother’s too.

“Darn it, Hannah! Hold still. Put them in there. You have to be patient. Count to five.”

Hannah began “One- Mississippi… Two-Mississippi…” as her mother waited, then checked her hands.

“No. Not done yet. Still warm. Count to ten.”

Hannah quietly counted to ten.

“Good,” said her mother, squeezing the wet, red fingers. “Now, touch the dough. See? Where you touch, it doesn’t move the dough. Now your hands are cold enough. If you were making these cookies, now they’d be cold enough. Good girl. Go sit down, I’ll finish these now.” Hannah would return to the table to sit and color in her flowers while her mom kept talking.

Hannah continued coloring. The red marker was no match for the thin paper, and it tore. Hannah pressed her left hand flat to keep the seams together and kept stabbing with her right hand. She accidentally hit her left hand in the crossfire. She smiled when she saw her red hand, and after a while, she stopped coloring the page and just colored her hands, starting with the tips.

“Mom. I’m holding the page together with my hand. It’s burning it too! I almost have the whole page colored! Mom! And now my hand, look! My hand is burning, too!”

“Shush. I’m almost done. Then it has to chill. Then I can make you something to eat.”

“It’s burning! It’s burning!” Hannah’s words danced in the air as she waved her hands.

“Do you want some of the applesauce we made yesterday? You liked that.”

“I want cookie dough!”

“You don’t want cookie dough. How about a banana?”

Once when Hannah splashed the water on purpose, her mother brought a bowl of ice water over to the table and made her sit down and put her hands in it. “If you move your hands, you’ll drip all over your nice flowers. You must be patient.” Hannah sat at the table, her hands red and numb, glaring down at the bowl, wanting to throw it all over her mother. Her nose started to tingle and twitch, and there was a Pop! as a tear hit the ice.

Hannah attacked the page faster and faster: Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! “Mother, it huuurts! It’s too hot!”

“Why don’t you draw Grandma a picture? A flower. Draw her a tulip. A bunch of tulips.”

“I don’t want to!”

Keep them in the water. Ten seconds. Count to ten. One – M I S S I S S I P P I…”

“Mother,” Hannah called, sniffing, “Can I have some dough?”

“May you have some dough. And no. You may not. It will make you ill. You can have one cookie with milk once they cool. You like shortbread. Keep your hands in there.”

Hannah stabbed with red and dragged it across the page like she was gutting it.

Hannah put her hands back in the water, knocking the ice from side to side and splashing over the bowl onto the floor. The water was too warm, she needed more ice. More ice.

“Hannah? Hannah?”

“My hands are all red, Mother! All red. All red.”

“Mom! I’m done! I’m done! Look! I got out all the heat!” Hannah lifted her work. It hung, heavy, torn, burdened by color. She held it up, the tear widened and stretched in her hands. Her hands were wet, shiny, and covered in red.

Hannah pulled her hands out of the ice water. She couldn’t feel anything. Her hands were wet, shiny, and red all over.

Hannah!” yelled her mother, “What did you do?!”

“Hannah, good girl,” said her mother.



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