Buttercream and Biscuits by Britta Benson

A white-haired old lady holding a dumbbell weight in one curled arm
Image Source: Canva Pro

I’ll chap her door. What else can I do? That woman must know something that I don’t.

Hettie died on Friday. The family didn’t hang around. No wake, no cake. Her son clearly adopting the less is less approach. ‘She wouldn’t have wanted a fuss’, he said on the phone, like he knew her. Trust me, she would have organized fireworks, a brass band, the whole shebang, or, at the very least, a fine smorgasbord of delicatessen, a gluttonous feast. Oh, I do enjoy those little nibbles. But no. Nothing. No mourners welcome, not even flowers, just get her into the ground, quick as you can. Goodbye.

I’m quite annoyed at her. She’d promised… Pinkie promised back then, in the school yard, three days into our first term at St Helen’s Primary. ‘Friends, forever.’

Forever. Life is littered with the stale leftover crumbs of ‘forevers’.

My friend Nell didn’t even make it to the end of kindergarten, had to run in front of a bus. What was she thinking? Carla, my high school bestie, was simply unfortunate. Her dad had all sorts of notions. Took flying lessons. We all know how that ended. Fliss and Rose, my college buddies, chose the cancer route. Statistically, only one of them should have done so.

What happened to progress? Costly research, experimental therapies, what good are they if after all the torture, you still die? Suddenly, in Fliss’s case, at least she had that. Rose, however, got the full monty. Hung, drawn and quartered by breast cancer, then a brief victory. They called it remission, but it wouldn’t last. Nothing ever lasts. Eventually, life seeped out of her, drop by drop. No rush. Left her hanging neither here nor there for months. The poor soul. Had Rose been a dog, they would have put an end to her suffering much, much sooner.

I’m 72. All my friends have died. Is that it now?

That old hag on the fifth floor, ninety four! Would you believe it! She was in the local newspaper with her knowing smile. Still fit as a fiddle and gets visits from friends every week. They’re quite the little club of ninety odds. Tiny wee ladies. Always laughing. Almost toothless. Eating cake. Cake! Double layer buttercream, gummed to death. I’ve seen them from my balcony, listened to their giggles, their pointless chat and chomp. Half a dozen of them, squeezing into far too small plastic chairs. It’s an accident waiting to happen. Some of them, substantial women! That purple rinse brigade, and their shameless display of happy longevity. I suppose decency goes out the window with old age.

Is it my touch? Come to think of it, I seem to be going through a rather unusual amount of friends, kettles and cookers. Anything that can break, will do so in my care. My husband’s heart didn’t last beyond year six of our marriage. I learned my lesson. Never made that mistake twice. Men cheat on you, one way or the other. Last month, my television set gave up the ghost. Only had it for two years. Mind you, it’s easy enough to replace appliances and I wasn’t too fussed about Richard. Everyone knows, men are the weakest link. When it comes to friends, televisions and kettles, though, I feel the need to replace what’s broken and gone, for comfort.

I thought I’d played it safe. I always look for quality. Only ever befriended the healthy ones. Wouldn’t even chat to Betsy, the nice girl who lived next door when I was ten and all she had was a squint. There are algorithms for safety. Insurance companies use this knowledge all the time to work out the cost of a premium. Numbers don’t lie, do they? All of my friends should have lived until their late eighties at the very least. My own personal goal goes well beyond that. A hundred sounds good to me. I may need a new friend and some pointers. So yes, I guess, I’ll have to chap her door, have a chat with that woman on the fifth floor. Ninety four! Still stuffing cake in her face.

You coming? Here goes.

‘Good afternoon, Mrs Jenkins.’ I say. I’m making an effort. ‘Just here to see if you need anything. I’m off to the shops.’

She isn’t fooled. Her right eyebrow shoots up to an alarming angle. ‘Come in, dear’, she says eventually, softly, softly. She’s a witch. ‘I knew you’d come. One day.’ The cheek of her! She sounds and looks like a mix between a long in the tooth fortune teller and a deranged serial killer. I don’t have a choice. I need to know her secret. I’m going in. Her home, a cacophony of mismatched soft furnishings and conflicting colour schemes. Not even the cups match. Her tea, delicious, and I already hate her for that. Cream. She serves it with cream.

‘So, I read that you’ve just turned ninety four’, I begin. I’ve got no time to lose. ‘Congratulations. That’s quite an achievement’.

‘Is it?’, she replies, as she fiddles with the sugar tongues. She takes three. Three lumps. You couldn’t make this up. Has she never even heard about diabetes?

‘Well, I guess, you want to live to 100, don’t you?’ I want to be out of here. I’ll just gather the relevant information and then…

‘Why would you guess that?’, she asks, as though it’s a silly question.

‘Well, 100! That’s quite something.’ I insist and put my cup down. This is like pulling teeth.

‘Is it?’ She opens a packet of biscuits. Viennese whirls. All butter. ‘These are nice’, she says, ‘help yourself, dear.’

She’s not making this easy for me. I’m determined to give this one more go.

‘Are you not afraid?’ I try, for the very last time.

‘Of what, dear?’, she asks in mock surprise, ‘the biscuits?’

‘Of dying, of course.’ Blunt, I know. But in the face of cholesterol, sugar and sheer stubbornness, I don’t really know what else I could possibly do.

‘Dear, dear… what’s there to be afraid of?’ She leaves this hanging in the air as though it’s self-explanatory. Waits. Savours her moment. Scoffs an entire Viennese whirl with two confident bites. Then says: ‘Dying is just another word for returning.’

What? It takes me a while to realize I haven’t actually said anything out loud. I see her smile, crumbs of whirl stuck on her far too red lipstick. ‘Returning to where?’ I ask and I’m losing my patience here.

‘Wherever I was before I started living.’ She pauses. ‘Home, I guess.’ With this she lifts the teapot, refills her empty cup, and reaches for the sugar bowl. Three. Three lumps. And she’s not done. ‘Try one of these’, she says, pushing the packet of biscuits right in front of me. ‘It’ll help.’

I don’t like her. She invited me round for tea and cake on Friday to meet her friends. I might go. Out of idle curiosity. There’s two ways this new ‘friendship’ could develop. Either I’ll break her and the whole lot of the great granny mob, like everything and everyone else I touch. They might be dead by Christmas. Or, I’ll pick up a few tricks of the trade from these future centenarians. Could the secret to it all really lie in buttercream and biscuits?

Wish me luck.

-BRITTA BENSON

Britta Benson is a happiness & poetry blogging, circus skills instructing & common butterfly following German, a writer, performer & linguist thriving in Scotland, her chosen habitat since the year 2000. Read more of Britta’s work atBritta’s Blog – Letters from Scotland and Odds & Ends.

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Terveen Gill says:

    Britta’s delightful story is a whirlwind of life, death, and that slick edge of humor. Buttercream and biscuits could be the secret of longevity or maybe appearances can be deceptive. What’s really going on behind that closed door? There’s a strong sense of sorrow in this story, watching one’s near and dear depart while contemplating the whys and why nots. There’s a larger power at play here and it’s definitely not asking for suggestions. Maybe I’ll have that biscuit that I’ve been avoiding.
    Congratulations Britta!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. brittabenson says:

      Thank you so much, Terveen. And I absolutely love the picture you chose to go along with my story! Perfect! As always, it’s a pleasure to be featured on MasticadoresIndia. I appreciate all the time and effort you put into this platform. Your continued support makes such a lovely difference! Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. haoyando says:

    “the stale leftover crumbs of ‘forevers’.” Haha. I have to say people are living longer and longer, but with inflation and everything, it seems that the quality of life is not improving. I guess that is life’s dilemma or something–one doesn’t know if one is blessed or cursed if one lives to be 100.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. brittabenson says:

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. We all want to live a long life, yet the practicalities and the realities of old age are not always pleasant. This story was inspired by a friend of my family, a 94 year old lady, who is still reasonably fit and healthy, but whose friends have all died long before her. Not that easy, making new friends, in your nineties…

      Like

  3. sg11953 says:

    Thank goodness this story was shared, it’s wonderful. You paint very clear pictures with your storytelling Britta and I love this one, had me hooked immediately.

    p.s. When is your book due to be finished?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. brittabenson says:

      Thanks, Gail. Much appreciated. I’m working on my project. I really hope I can use NaNoWriMo as motivation to keep going. You’ll be one of the first to know!!!

      Like

  4. Hi Britta, this is really a very good piece of writing. You draw the character of the speaker brilliantly. Need to see more of this quality. Very well done!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. brittabenson says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Tony. Much appreciated!

      Like

  5. So glad to see you here on MasticadoresIndia, and I love this story. The “who will be the next one to go?” scenario is familiar to me through my work with older people, but there is always that exception who defies the odds, despite a total disregard for living well and healthily! Well done!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. brittabenson says:

      Thanks, Peter. Glad you enjoyed the story. Much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. jonicaggiano says:

    This is funny and I can see the whole group hanging out. Nicely done Britta. Have a blessed rest of your week. Joni

    Liked by 2 people

    1. brittabenson says:

      Thanks so much, Joni. Wouldn’t it be fun to hang out with those ladies in their nineties? And there would always be lovely cake… and biscuits!!! Count me in!

      Like

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