The Marshmallow Diaries, by Howard Mittelmark
Day one: Brought to the Stanford campus with other four-year-olds for “tests” starting tomorrow. All very mysterious. Something about marshmallows. Nobody will say what, exactly. Maybe new kind of marshmallow? Even yummier? I resisted the urge to cry when parents left, but some of the other children did not.
Day two: Wild speculation in dorm last night; all of it wrong. Some predicted there would be ponies made of marshmallows, others thought we would live in a marshmallow house. Then one boy, Brad, began laughing and shouting, “Pee marshmallows! Poo marshmallows!” until the discussion fell apart.
This morning, teacher ladies explained. If we do not eat one marshmallow for fifteen minutes, we will be given three marshmallows. Easy counting problem. Three is more than one. They have underestimated me; not sure about others. After first test, received three marshmallows, as promised. Teacher ladies were very proud. I am probably the best four-year-old in the world.
Day three: Repeated test of previous day. Maybe not counting problem? Maybe time-telling problem? Could be trouble; cannot tell time.
Had some difficulty today. Hard not to think about yummy marshmallow, sitting on plate in front of me. Sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider” over and over. Beginning to think this might be about more than the marshmallows.
Later, in dorm, there was much joking about who ate first marshmallow and who held out for three, but I detected some unease. Some shame attaches to the one-marshmallowers. Joking ended when Brad wet himself.
Day four: Single marshmallow has begun to take on strange allure. Must resist. They will not break me.
In dorm, we have begun to separate into groups, the strong and the weak. Some sniveling among the excluded.
Day five: Disappointed with myself. Ate marshmallow. Told teacher lady a burglar took it, but she seemed unconvinced. Suspect they are watching somehow, even when they leave the room. Creepy.
In dorm, pretended I had received three marshmallows. Maybe went too far about how full I was. Started cagily discussing strategies. Others sing, too. Exchanged song possibilities. Oddly, we all know same three or four songs, though we’ve never met. Part of test? Some sit on hands. Must try that. Brad says that today he hit himself in head for distraction.
Day six: They took Brad away this morning.
Harder again today. Sang, sat on hands. Siren-song of marshmallow became impossible to resist. Grew dizzy, head spinning. Came to myself with marshmallow in hand, inches from mouth, when I had startling insight, exciting enough to carry me through end of test. Was rewarded with three marshmallows. In such a hurry to tell others, I stuffed them in my mouth rapidly, barely tasting them. Still, yummy.
In dorm, shared my realization: teacher ladies must have whole bag of marshmallows hidden somewhere! Others saw this immediately. Jaws dropped; differences were forgotten. We quickly made our plans. In the morning, we placed ourselves strategically about the room and waited for teacher ladies to open the door…
Looking back now, from the age of six, I can see that our revolt was always doomed to fail. We were four years old, and outnumbered, and quickly overpowered. We were all put in a timeout until our parents came for us. But I will never forget the heady feeling that seized us that last night, and knit us together into a small, proud band of one mind, with one goal. Whatever it was the teacher ladies were seeking to learn—and I still don’t know what it was—I know what I learned. If we all agree that we should get all the marshmallows now, someday we can change the world.
Howard Mittelmark is the co-author of How Not to Write a Novel, a very funny book that was a bestseller in the U.K. His work as appeared on The Awl, the New York Times, The Times of London, and the Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter.
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