Saint Cookie

by Alexandra Molotkow


When I arrived in New York to sit in on rehearsals [for I Am a Camera], I had first to go to a studio to be photographed, for publicity, with our leading lady, Julie Harris… out of the dressing-room, came a slim sparkling-eyed girl in an absurdly tart-like black satin dress, with a little cap stuck jauntily on her pale flame-colored hair, and a silly naughty giggle. This was Sally Bowles in person. Miss Harris was more essentially Sally Bowles than the Sally of my book, and much more like Sally than the real girl who long ago gave me the idea for my character.

I felt half hypnotized by the strangeness of the situation. “This is terribly sad,” I said to her. “You’ve stayed the same age while I’ve gotten twenty years older.” We exchanged scraps of dialogue from the play, ad-libbed new lines, laughed wildly, hammed and hugged each other, while the photographer’s camera clicked. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I was dumbfounded, infatuated. Who was she? What was she? How much was there in her of Miss Harris, how much of van Druten, how much of the girl I used to know in Berlin, how much of myself? It was no longer possible to say. I only knew that she was lovable in a way that no human could ever quite be, since, being a creature of art, she had been created out of pure love.

— Christopher Isherwood, introduction to The Berlin Stories

All of the pieces here fit together the way weeds and flowers do in an overgrown eclectic garden. The thing is this garden is memories that are now sort of like ashes — the past seen after the flames, after it’s made pure.

— Letter from Cookie Mueller (re: her short story collection, Garden of Ashes) from Chloé Griffin’s Edgewise: A Picture of Cookie Mueller.

[At the aquarium,] we came upon this window people were standing around and we didn’t know what they were seeing. They were going, “Ewww, look at that — isn’t it ugly!” and the kids were like, “Oh, mama! Oh, mama! I’m scared of it!” So after they all left, we went up to the window and it was an octopus, a poor little octopus, all curled up in a ball. [Cookie’s son] Max said, “Those people hurt its feelings,” and Cookie said, “I know, Max.” So we all got up to the window and Cookie was going, “Isn’t it beautiful, Max?” and Max was saying, “This is really pretty, you’re really beautiful.” And then, I swear to God, on the ashes, the octopus straightened out like this and pressed itself against the window and showed itself off, and not only that, but its little baby that it was hiding opened right up, too. They both put their tentacles on the window and were showing themselves off. And Max was touching the window and he and Cookie started crying.

— Sharon Niesp, quoted in Edgewise

I ran into Cookie one day and was like, “What are you up to?” and she said, “I got to go write about this art show on 57th Street — wanna come?” So we smoked a big joint and went uptown. The gallery was in this building on the 5th floor, and when we got off the elevator, nobody was there. I think the opening was supposed to start at 6 p.m. and we got there a little after 5 p.m. So we’re looking at the work, and in a corner of the room was a table all set up with shaved ice and oysters on the half shell. Cookie and I are from Maryland, so we both love seafood — plus, we’re stoned — so we looked at the art and the art was really bad and we just started eating the oysters and talking. The guy who had been preparing the food had gone downstairs to get to his truck or something, and meanwhile we’re talking, we’re eating, and finally I look and I go, “Cookie, there’s no more oysters, we ate all of them!” So then we go toward the elevator and the door opens and here comes the guy with the lemon and the cocktail sauce. We just get in the elevator and he walks over and sets it down and turns around to us, and just at that moment the doors close and Cookie lets out a little burp.

— Bobby Miller, quoted in Edgewise

A weird thing happened after she died. I’m sure it was just a nervous twitch or whatever, but she winked and waved. Her little fingers moved up and down like a little wave. She used to wave to people with the first three little fingers sort of, and then it looked like she winked right after she took her last breath.

— Sharon Niesp, quoted in Edgewise

When we came upon these clothes in her closet, clothes that when she wore them she looked so amazing, but actually they looked like rags. Things were stapled together, held together with safety pins, maybe there’d be a little piece of tape on them, but when she’d put them on it looked like some fabulous fashion!

— Judith Pringle, quoted in Edgewise

She told me that she had lived forever, that she would never die, and since she was all water she must have been the iceberg that sank the Titanic, the heavy water used in making the hydrogen bomb, the basic element used with Kool-Aid in Jonestown, Guyana.

“I feel very guilty,” she said.

Her last words before she left were: “When you see a gushing fountain, I’ll be there. When you sip a glass of ice water, I’ll be there. When there’s a torrential downpour, a cloudburst, a flood, a blizzard, a lawn sprinkler, that’s me.”

“Okay,” I smiled, “I’ll look for you.”

… now whenever I take a bath I see Julie pouring out of the faucet, and I begin to wonder just how many other odd people and complete strangers are in the bathtub floating around with me.

— Cookie Mueller, “The Mystery of Tap Water”