When I was younger, I lived by a wide canal. In the mornings, the sun rose like a long gold ball on the water. The drawbridge was next to my house and when the bridge went up, the cars lined down the road waiting for the bridge to close. When the bridge went down, the boats lined up waiting for the bridge to open.
Every morning, I made two hundred biscuits. That’s all the pans that would fit in my stove. At six o’clock, I opened my kitchen window and started selling.
I had sausage biscuits, bacon biscuits with cheese, fried eggs with ham biscuits, potatoes with onions biscuits. You name it.
When the bridge was up, they left their cars and ran to my window. When the bridge was down, the tug boats sat behind the long sand barges and the men would hold up a sign, “Fourteen sausage.” By the time they rowed over on their inflatable rafts, I had their order ready. When the drawbridge hinged open, they revved up their engines. “Marry me, Sophie,” they hollered.
I shook my head at them. Can you make me a better biscuit?
When I sold out of biscuits, I closed my window and pulled down the shade. “Please, Sophie,” they pleaded. “I was just late today.”
“Come back tomorrow. I’m open everyday but Christmas.”
When I got a free minute, I ran a bacon biscuit to the bridge man. He watched out for me and I watched out for him.
There was a huge spreading tree by that canal bank. I often sat there in the evenings. When the sun went down, it shone on all the boats that were moored there over night. Some were sleek yachts, enormous sail boats, wooden planks nailed on top of oil cans. At dusk, the geese would fly in a honking V and swoop down under my tree for the broken biscuits. Then they’d waddle to the reeds and sleep on the water.
The first time Charlie held up a sign on his old red tug boat, it said, “Eighteen sausage.”
I shook my head at him. That late in the day I only had cheese.
“Whatever you got!” Came the next sign and by then the bridge was hinging open and I was flying to get his order. By the time Charlie rowed over for his biscuits, the cars on the road had to wait. Still, he kissed my hand through the open window before he rowed back.
That weekend Charlie installed a tiny crane outside my window. “You put the biscuits in here,” he showed me the little basket. “You crank this lever.” Which I did, and the whole thing craned out over the water.
Charlie’s eyes got excited, “I made this by myself.” And the next morning he steered his tug boat into the crank spot extra early. “Eighteen sausage,” he held up the sign. So, I put them into the little basket, turned the crank, and amid great cheers, they whisked overtop all the other boats and Charlie reached from his deck and grabbed them.”
“Marry me, Sophie,” he hollered.
Can you make me a better biscuit?
The first day after the hurricane flooded, the canal swelled to the top of its banks. On the second day, the water was up to the boat dock as Charlie maneuvered his tug to the edge of the ramp. He hefted out my enormous lard cans, my sacks of flour, my kitchen table and chairs. “You have to marry me now,” he grinned as the water lapped over my porch. I stood on the bow of his tug boat as the water crept into my house.
But by the next day, it was all back down again. Charlie set up the bilge pumps and sucked out my house. “I thought I had you,” he laughed.
I tossed my head at him, “Can you make me a better biscuit?”
Charlie folded his arms across his chest and studied me, “Yes, Sophie, I can.”
In late December, the great big pleasure boats went into the marina for winter storage. On cold, dark mornings, I saw my breath in the open window. Charlie strung colored lights around his tug boat. In the barest dawn, he held a flashlight onto his sign, “All your cinnamons.”
I cranked out forty-eight cinnamons with warm honey butter. Those men ate them whole, licking their fingers, before I cranked my money back.
On Christmas Day the canal was extra quiet. The street by my house was completely empty. I made the coffee as the sun rose shining from the water. Then someone tapped on my window.
“You know I’m closed today.”
“I’ve made you something,” Charlie said and when I opened the door, he gave me a brown paper bag. Inside it was the most lopsided, pathetic biscuit you might imagine.
“I made that by myself,” he beamed. “Pinch off a piece of it.”
It tasted like egg shells.
“Break it open.”
There was an engagement ring inside it. The inscription said, “I love you.”
“What do you think,” he grinned, but his eyes looked frightened.
I held that ring to the morning sun. All down the canal, there was a wide and happy glow. I slipped the ring on my finger and kissed him.
He’d made me a better biscuit.
A Better Biscuit is written by Suzanne Mays.
Suzanne Mays is a novelist and short story writer. Her stories are about women in search of land, family, and peace in themselves. Usually set in the mountains, they possess a quiet humor. Her novel, The Man Inside the Mountain is the story of Essie Bell, a woman who believes her son has survived the Civil War and is hiding in the mountain behind her farm.