Grabbing hold of the packet of cookies the way a monkey in a zoo might snatch a bag of peanuts from the hand of a child, Gretchen shimmies back along the counter the way she came. The drop to the floor wasn’t huge, but one wrong step and she might land face-first, smashing her teeth out of her gums causing her to resemble the Irish singer her father liked; the one who sang the Christmas song about a fairy tale in New York, wherever that was. Carefully lowering herself down, she puts both feet onto the chair and then plonks herself onto the cream-coloured linoleum that was once a vibrant shade of white. Now, not even her mother’s intense scrubbing regime could erase the stains that had accumulated on it. It reminded Gretchen of the rings in the trunk of a tree, and how they showed you the passages of time that had elapsed since the tree had blossomed from the seed that it had once been. Dragging the chair back to the kitchen table, she shuffles across the carpet and then sits before the heater in the corner of the living room. The heater is an old electric one in the shape of two wooden logs. When switched on, they glow a comforting reddish-pink. With no other lights shining in the apartment, the glow illuminates the entire room, washing over Gretchen the same way the TV usually does her father when he’s sleeping on the settee. Looking over her shoulder, she again wonders where he could be, but the cookies in her hand draw her attention away. Running her fingers over the brown paper packaging, she gently unfolds the top flap. The rich, chocolatey smell that reaches her nose captivates her in a way nothing else can, and without noticing, saliva begins to dribble from the corners of her mouth.