portion of the artwork for Patricia Parkinson's stories

Marmalade and a Biscuit
Patricia Parkinson

On Sunday afternoons Esme eats a lightly toasted cheese biscuit with marmalade and real butter. She likes the shape of the butter knife—the authoritative stainless-steel tail at the end.

When she dips the knife in the marmalade, she thinks of her death. She hopes she doesn’t die in a car accident. She imagines failed attempts at being rescued by the jaws of life. She could be maimed, disfigured! She hopes she knows she’s going to die before she actually does. One must be prepared, but how will she know? Is there a sign from God?

She ponders what the sign could be. She’s heard people who’ve been bought back from death talk about a light. Yet she’s also heard what survivors say about victims: “They never knew what hit them.” Esme wants to know what hit her.

More than anything, Esme hopes that when her time comes, she’s wearing a nice outfit and doesn’t lose control of her bladder—or worse, her bowels. How does anyone know what happens to us after we die? If there is a heaven, why hasn’t it been discovered? So many questions. Esme feels her mind edge toward the pit hole that sucks her in at night when she asks herself, Cremation or burial? She wishes she had someone to give her the answers.

One day, I won’t wake up, she thinks. I won’t be here. Where will I be? Maybe I’ll travel. I’ll be an angel! I don’t want to look down at my family—or maybe I do. She hopes she can decide these things later, after, when she has more information.

She dips the knife into the jar, makes a full sweep, and scoops. Orange rind hangs from the tail. The butter’s probably giving me clogged arteries and high cholesterol. The biscuit—all carbs—no fiber and more fat. She wonders how much a heart attack hurts. Perhaps not at all. Would she quietly fold over in the chair, or would she thud to the floor in a heap?

She brightens. The marmalade isn’t bad for me. It’s fruit. Fruit is good! Esme opens her mouth and sticks out her tongue. Her mouth waters for the bittersweet taste, the smooth jelly and the chewy citrus rind. She runs her tongue across the blade, and in doing so, cuts her lingual artery with the edge of the knife. She tastes orange and rust. Rust? She dabs a napkin to her mouth and holds it out to look. Bright splotches of blood soak the white linen.

I’m bleeding, Esme thinks. Am I dying? Maybe this is it!

She looks down at her sweater. It’s one of her favorites, tawny-brown wool with toggle buttons, and her slacks, not her favorite, but passable to be found in. She does not want to waste whatever precious time she has left changing clothes. She went to the bathroom before sitting down, her hair is combed, she’s green for go.

“I’m ready,” Esme says aloud.

Her mouth fills with saliva and blood. She surveys the room for a sign. A flash of sunlight paving her way, maybe jingling bells. So far, nothing.

She looks at the biscuit, at the rich butter slathered on top. It’s a shame to waste it, and now that I’m bleeding to death, who cares what I eat? Esme picks up the biscuit, holds the napkin to her mouth to catch the blood, and takes a bite.

The swirling array of flavor, the warm, delicate flake of the biscuit combined with the melted, yet perfectly crusted, cheese and the creamy texture of the butter transport her away from the bitter taste in her mouth. Esme sits herself in the chair in a way she knows, after many nights of falling asleep in different positions, will keep her upright, and waits to see what happens next.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 59 | Spring/Summer 2022