Hospital and Old Lace

 

People from nearby towns felt it was their own secret treasure, the bakery at the hospital. The sweet old Sisters of Mercy all wore white cardigans with angel pins attached. Their carefully coiffed hair seemed to be tinged a hue only slightly lighter than their matching blue dresses. They reminded people of their aunt, grandmother, Miss Marple, or the strange cat lady who lived down the street. Only the mildly retarded gurney attendant thought of Aggie, Cleo, and Truvie as Macbeth’s three witches. Most people would have never guessed he read or understood Shakespeare. They would have been correct. He just looked at the pictures and read the captions of the graphic novel version of Macbeth, not knowing the story was centuries old.

The three crones always arrived at their bakery cart in the hospital lobby promptly at 7am. They offered lemonade in summer and hot cocoa in winter. They always seemed to have batches of cookies baking or cooling throughout the day until they closed up shop at 4pm. You could smell the delicious allure of macadamia nut, chocolate chip, oatmeal, peanut butter, and sugar cookies from the parking lot.

Aggie, Cleo, and Truvie had a system for differentiating their batches. They used various color ties to close the bags, sort of like bakers tabbing loaves of bread with different colors to mark the days of the week. Except instead of tabbing for weekday identification, they used the ties to mark which poison had been added to the dough.

For instance, most children, several nurses, and some doctors were sold cookies with white-tie bags. These were clear of any drug or poison. If there were terminal pediatric cases, orange ties were given, along with a healthy (actually the opposite of healthy) amount of a drug that would encourage swift and painless death. The biddies saw nothing wrong with this scenario; on the contrary, they saw their toxic cookie sales as their gift to those needing to be relieved of troubles, pain, and sometimes their lives.

Salespeople – pharmaceutical reps and Girl Scouts horning in on their territory – were given green ties. Somehow, the Sisters had stumbled upon a perfect mixture of medicine and cookie dough to illicit severe stomach flu symptoms, not lethal but certainly annoying. Blue ties were for the most serious cases. The cookies in these batches contained enough life-ending drugs to do their work in a matter of days for those who were in real physical turmoil without any hope of recovery.

Nobody ever guessed at the three Sister’s real objective of Mercy with their cookie sales. They were very careful to rotate affected batches with those clear of any drugs every couple of months or so. They did not do this because it was morally reprehensible but rather so they could keep their recipes secret from any copycat cooks. They long ago lost track of the number of “gifts” they had bestowed on the suffering over the years. Since they had come up with the idea of baking “with a little something extra,” twelve years and possibly hundreds of the afflicted had been affected by their generosity.

The little bakery cart turned a good profit for the hospital’s auxiliary club. People ordered dozens of the biddies’ creations for events and parties. When business seemed slow at the hospital, the ladies introduced bags of snickerdoodles bound with yellow ties to the mix. People who were sold snickerdoodles would eat them and not be able to think of anything but when they could eat them again. With crumbs still adorning the corners of their mouths, they would be jonesing for their next fix. You could say, correctly, that they were addicted to snickerdoodles. The Three Sisters were especially pleased with these “yellows” as they called them for they had come up with their own secret recipe, combining chocolate, nuts, and drugs in such a fashion that they became almost famous in their community.

To help spread the good word about their wares, Aggie, Cleo, and Truvie came up with cookie coupons that were distributed to incoming patients and visitors alike. Hardly anyone could resist a “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” deal, especially with freshly baked cookies. Business was soon booming. The witches added an oven to their cart. The hospital added nurses to their floors. The hospital grew as a teaching hospital, with a large influx of residents to help take up the glut of patients that soon became the norm.

Cleo was the only one of the three ladies who occasionally thought twice about the direction their bakery business had taken over the years. She worried that too much mixing of dough and drugs hurt the integrity of their baking. They weren’t really scientists after all. She had heard of euthanasia and Dr. Kervorkian and did not agree with either tenet. She liked the fact that those who were suffering did not have to suffer further by making agonizing decisions of whether to live or die. She and Aggie and Truvie took that burden away and helped them. Yes. That was it. She really saw them as Sisters of Mercy.

And a gooey, fresh, scrumptious cookie is as good a way to go as any.

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