Image from The Pride of the Household, 1900, flickr
She had come late to making biscuits. Divorce. Cancer. A child left for college. She had come late to keeping flour on hand. Buttermilk. Cold butter. She had cooked a lot of gourmet in her married years, and been on too many fad diets. And now it was just her and the dog. And later this weekend a stranger who wants to meet her, sleep with her, the last of his kind, she imagines.
She turns on youtube music starting with her midlife music crush John Prine singing with Kacey Musgraves on a cruise ship. “Mind your own biscuits,” is the heart of the song. She smiles at Kacey and John singing and strumming and gives her dog a treat she keeps in the crystal biscuit barrel, a very expensive gift from her marriage.
She doesn’t make the biscuits fancy, cutting butter through the flour, rolling the dough out and creating a round with a cutter. She melts the butter into the buttermilk, mixes this all in with the dry ingredients and plops a spoonful of dough onto the parchment.
She doesn’t know how it happened to her, her life like this. She couldn’t even afford to fix her oven. She baked her biscuits in a small oven on the counter. What had happened to her dreams of hosting her family around dinner tables. She wasn’t sure. She didn’t even clean her house anymore, a place not even associated with her former life except for the occasional visitation of her son.
She slept with the strange men for free. She wasn’t even sure why. It occurred to her one day she was cheating herself, risking herself, and for what. Not even for a little compensation. All so she could pretend to feel better, pretend to forget. She should have charged them. For that she would put grape jelly on her biscuits when they were done. To take an edge off. Pretend she was special, she was love.
She knew how to take the pictures so she looked better, thinner. She would send the pictures to them to satisfy them, entice them, and hear them say they were interested. There had been a time she didn’t have to pretend and she wanted that feeling back, of having power. One of them had become so convinced she had tricked him into her beauty, he had brought a gun to the hotel where they met.
She had once polished her silver. Brought her whole silver tea seat and dishes passed down from gradmothers to a tea party at her son’s school. There had been enough silver to hold all the cookies and biscuits and scones.
What was she doing now, she didn’t know. Ruined, said Mama. Indeed, her younger self knew so many things. Thought she knew love which now she realized was only approval.
The biscuits looked done. She pulled them out, put a couple on a plate, a chipped plate with palm trees from a set she had purchased from a department store one Christmas to decorate her Mama’s table handed down to her, the antique purchased in Texas before she was born. How much perfection there was then, and the Murano glass candle holders containing the white tea lights.
Only briefly she had earned a living before she married and that not too much higher than the minimum needed to get by in her town. Now no work experience, and her looks faded, her age telling. What was there but biscuits. And on good days chili with good meat. On other good days, casseroles.
She holds a chunk of biscuit down for her little white dog who sits on the floor beneath the little makeshift oven. She feels her little mouth grabbing for the bread. There is just this, then. And she marvels she is still alive. Her dog’s little tongue, licking up the butter, feels good on her skin.
She had taken to calling her dog Biscuit, which was not her name. It didn’t seem to matter.