by Steve Carr
I never thought that very much could be said about a biscuit.
I hear-tell that in England and maybe other places, a cookie is what they call a biscuit. I ain’t personally never met anyone from those parts of the world, so I can’t say if it’s true or not. But I ain’t ever seen a biscuit that looked like a cookie, unless the biscuit dough didn’t rise when it was being baked.
Angie Sweeny, who everyone in the town of Chosen Wells called Miss Sweeny, made biscuits she baked in her own oven, in her own home, and sold them from her front porch. I had heard of Miss Sweeny’s biscuits, of course. Chosen Wells wasn’t very big, but biscuits just didn’t interest me and Ma made her own biscuits.
The first biscuit of Miss Sweeny’s that I ate was one given to me by Todd Hummings, my best friend, at the beginning of Summer vacation while we were hanging out at our favorite place, the old poultry processing plant. I was sixteen.
The empty, crumblin’ factory that had been the Lytle Poultry Plant sat on the edge of town, awaitin’ to be torn down whenever the town amassed the funds to do it. Closed down and abandoned by it’s owners years before, the parents in town thought it to be as dangerous as an old coal mine. Every teen in town hung out there where most of us felt free to smoke, cuss, fight and sexually experiment away from the prying eyes of the adults. The floor of the plant was coated with dried bird shit and feathers that stuck to it. Rain that had fallen through holes in the roof had formed small pools of rancid water in parts of the plant where bullfrogs and armies of insects took up residence. The conveyor belts and metal tables where the birds were killed and chopped into pieces were rusted. In the darkness it resembled the set for a horror movie.
To enter the Lytle Poultry Plant the first time and undergo the hazing ritual, was what I learned is called a right-of-passage. Boys bared their butts and walked along the line of the hierarchy (I had to look that word up) – the most important to the least important – to be swatted with ping-pong paddles. Girls had to make out with five of the boys for three minutes while everyone watched, hootin’ and howlin’. No one was ever hurt, yet the procceedin’s were kept secret from the grown-ups as if we were torturin’ one another.
The Chosen Wells River, which was more like a fast moving stream, ran alongside the land that the plant sat on. It was a good place to swim on hot days or just to get the sweaty stench of summer off us. It had some big trees on both sides that we tied ropes to from the largest low hanging branches that allowed us to swing from one bank to the other, or swing out and drop from the rope into the river. We sometimes fished trout out of it. A week or so into summer, the middle hierarchy of us – those age 16 – were swimmin’ and horsin’ about on the river bank.
Todd and I climbed out of the water and lay in the thick grass to let the sun dry us off. He pulled a small paper bag from under his clothes, opened it and took out a biscuit.
‘What ya go there, Todd?’ I asked.
‘One of Miss Sweeny’s biscuits.’ He took a bite into it, swallowed, and let out a satisfied sigh.
‘I heard about them from my Pa. He said they were the best biscuits he’d ever eaten,’ I said. ‘They really that good?’
He took out another biscuit and tossed it to me. It floated through the air like a feather and landed in my hand, light as a butterfly landing on a ball of cotton. It looked like Ma’s biscuits; puffed up, golden brown top, white mid-section. I lifted it to my nose and took a whiff. There was a hint of honey and butter. I took a bite and immediately a sensation I never experienced before flooded my mouth. It went down my throat dissolving like cotton candy, buttery and sweet, yet full of the weighty texture I was accustomed to in a biscuit.
‘Damn, that’s the best thing I ever tasted,’ I said. And I meant it!
The next day at the plant, I ran out of the building while the others were smoking cigarettes and playing some weird version of charades that I couldn’t concentrate on. Earlier, Todd had given me another of Miss Sweeny’s biscuits that left me addle-brained.
‘Where ya off to in such a hurry?’ Todd asked as he trailed behind me across the plant’s old parking lot like a faithful hound dog.
‘There was something I forgot to do at home.’ I got into the old Ford junk heap that my Pa bought me for my sixteenth birthday and sped off – sped being an exaggeration – and looked in the rearview mirror to see Todd staring after me, a confused expression on his face.
The muffler banged and coughed all the way down Fairlawn Street where Miss Sweeny lived. It was late in the day and my shirt stuck to my skin and my hair lay plastered to my skull, both results of being unable to shower after swimming all that morning and then hanging out inside the hot plant.
I slowed as I passed Miss Sweeny’s house. There was a plywood sign nailed to the porch with the words ‘Fresh, hot biscuits. $1.00 each. 6 AM to 2 PM’ painted on it.
It was 3:30.
I started to drive on when she came out her front door. I thought she was going to be much older, but she looked Ma’s age. She was wearing a pair of blue jeans and a white blouse. There was an apron tied around her waist. Her hair was piled onto the top of her head, held there by a bright red ribbon. She wasn’t what anyone would call slim, but she wasn’t fat either.
She saw me, and maybe thinkin’ I was someone she knew, or just being friendly, she waved at me. I stomped on the gas pedal and as soon as the muffler stopped making noise and spitting out fumes, I tore off down the street. My face burned red from embarrassment, but it weren’t like any embarrassment I had ever felt before.
That night before going up to bed, when Ma was in the kitchen, I asked Pa about Miss Sweeny, as if I was sharin’ somethin’ with him that Ma couldn’t hear.
‘Your Ma and I went to school with her,’ he said. ‘We weren’t ever what ya’d call friends, but seein’ how Chosen Wells is is small you can’t help but to bump into the same person you barely know quite often.’
I had seen her around but had never paid much attention to her. This day was different. ‘Why isn’t she married?’
‘She’s only called a miss because that’s what she uses for her biscuit business, but she was married up until a couple of years ago. Her husband ran off and no one has heard from or seen him since.’
I floated up to my bedroom, carried on the scent of her honey-flavored biscuits. I undressed, got into bed, and drifted off to sleep thinking about them and her.
Four new fifteen year-olds were being hazed. The sixteen other teenagers who were already part of the gang, which was about every teenager that attended the Chosen Wells High School, were in line holding paddles awaiting the three new boys. My heart wasn’t into it. Swatting naked butts just didn’t interest me. I had driven by Miss Sweeny’s that morning with enough money in my pocket to buy a dozen of her biscuits, but I drove past her house when I saw a line of men standing on her porch steps. I hoped to get back there before she stopped selling biscuits for the day. I was jittery and couldn’t focus on the first boy that walked by me, his pants down, his hands hiding his genitals.
‘Swat him,’ Todd told me, nudging me with his elbow.
I did, but it was barely a tap.
‘What’s wrong with you today?” Todd grumbled.
“I got other things on my mind,’ I snapped back.
To my shock I had been chosen as one of the boys to initiate the girl, Carly Hewitt, who lived down the street from me. I had never wanted to kiss her, even under normal circumstances, but the idea of sharing spit with her on a day when I couldn’t get Miss Sweeny and her biscuits off my mind made me want to puke.
‘Take my place kissin’ Carly,’ I told Todd, and then dashed out of the plant and to my car. I got to Miss Sweeny’s house just a few minutes after 2 PM. She had an empty tray in her hands and was about to go into her house when I jumped out of my car and ran up her walkway, and leapt up her stairs, three at a time. She turned around, a surprised look on her face.
‘Please, Miss Sweeny,’ I said breathlessly, ‘Can we talk?’
‘You’re Ron and Molly’s boy, aren’t you?’ she said, eyeing me somewhat warily.
‘Yes, I am.” My throat was dry and my knees were wobbly. “Can we talk?” I repeated.
“Okay, come in the house,’ she said as she opened the door and held it open for me. I passed by her, smelling the fragrance of baking soda and flour that clung to her clothes.”
In her living room she nodded toward an overstuffed chair. ‘Have a seat. I’ll be back in a jiff.’
I sat down, shifted about forming a nest in the cushion with my butt, and placed my elbows on the arms of the chair. I held my sweaty hands slightly above the upholstery, fearin’ I’d stain it.
She came back without her apron on and sat on the sofa across from me. “So, young man, what’s on your mind?”
‘Please Miss Sweeny, I know I shouldn’t be askin’ you this, but I had one of your biscuits . . .’ I began to stutter. ‘And well, do you believe that sayin’ about the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?’
She smiled, good humoredly. ‘But you’re just a boy,’ she said, softly.
‘I own my own car,’ I said.
She blurted out a laugh that she tried to hide behind her hand.
I was up and outta there faster than a duck on fire. I ran to my car, jumped in, and sat behind the wheel shakin’ like a pom pom for a few minutes before I turned the key in the ignition. The muffler banged and I drove off.
That night Ma came into my bedroom twice, worried about why I was in bed before bedtime and put her hand on my forehead. You’re white as a sheet of paper but you don’t feel hot,” she said.
‘I’m fine, Ma, just tired already of being sixteen.’
‘You just got your driver’s license and a car,’ she said, pushing my hair back from my forehead.
The next morning I drove out to the plant and joined the gang at the stream. Carly Hewitt was there. I still didn’t want to kiss her, but it was nice to know I probably could if I wanted to.
About the author
Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 500 short stories
published internationally in print and online magazines, literary
journals, reviews and anthologies since June, 2016. He has had seven
collections of his short stories published. He has been nominated for a
Pushcart Prize twice.