The Gingerbread Woman

            There was once a woman who had been badly used.  She was not young, nor had she enough years to be called old—though she had the face for it.  And as if life couldn’t keep from being cruel, she discovered that she was about to die.
            Her time left was very short; there was a week left of it, at most.  And there was something about this surety of death that made her do something she had never before had the luxury to do: it made her stop and think.  Such little time… And what to do with it?  She had enough money for a month of living, and what had before felt like nothing more than scraping by felt suddenly like a small fortune.
            The longer she thought the more her brain spun.  There were many small things she could buy, even a big thing.  Some things to enjoy in her last week of living.  But what was the use in that?  There was one thing, however, that she had once loved.  One skill that had not been dulled, though it had been a long time since it had been well-sharpened.  And it had been learned at the hands of one who had done her a small kindness.  Thus, the memory of it had stuck fast.  If there were little time, and the money could be spent, perhaps it could be dusted off again and put to use.
            The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea.  And when she could summon the strength, filled with purpose, the woman took her small savings and spent it.
            Flour and eggs, butter and brown sugar, molasses so dark it looked like night.  And last, but the most important of all, she bought the spices.  As soon as she arrived home with her goods, she stuck her nose in the cinnamon.  And then the ginger.  And then the cinnamon again.  The smell of home and warmth and love wrapped its scent all the way around her fragile, tired, lonely body.  It felt like magic.  And then… she began to bake.
            The scent of fresh gingerbread wafted through the heating ducts of her apartment home, swirling through the vents and winding its way out into the street.
            It was as the little men cooled that the first knock came at her door.  A little girl with wide eyes stood before the woman.  She was too scared to say a word, but the woman knew the cookies had worked their magic.  She pressed a warm little gingerbread man into the little girl’s hands, and as she did, the little girl’s face lit with excitement, stepping inside to take her first bite and hoping there’d be more.  Another knock came at the door, and then another.  And that was only the first day.
            She baked the next day and the next and the next, until her home was filled with neighbors and passersby, laughing in the warmth of a room oven-heated that smelled of cinnamon and ginger, filled with cheer.  And when the last of the ingredients had been transformed into gingerbread, and the woman finally sat down to rest, no one noticed that she had slipped beyond the reach of time.  But it didn’t matter.  For the last thought the woman had before she went away, was that she was content.

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