Authors: Lynne Hinton
The two women glanced up at their friend. She was right and they knew it.
“Yeah,” Jessie noted. “Margaret may just be going at it a little quicker than the rest of us.”
“So, it's all that,” Beatrice said. “It's Margaret dying and it's us
getting old, and I look back on my life and feel like I've not done anything worthwhile, nothing important or meaningful. I feel like I've not made a difference in anybody's life.”
Louise and Jessie were surprised to hear Beatrice's confession.
“Well, that's just stupid,” Louise noted. The tone of her voice was sharp, and it caused both women to turn quickly to her.
“I mean, really, Beatrice, you've not done anything meaningful?” She shook her head. “You really think that? That's what you really think?” She folded her arms across her chest. “Bea, you had three children!”
“So?” Beatrice asked.
“So?” Louise repeated. “You brought life into this world. There's no greater meaning than that.”
Jessie looked over at Louise and, for the first time, wondered if her friend regretted not having children.
“Help me here, Jess,” she said, not noticing the attention she was getting from her friend.
“She's right, Bea,” Jessie said. “You have a husband who loves you. You've been a good friend to a lot of people.”
Beatrice shrugged. “That doesn't feel very meaningful,” she said.
“Well, I don't know of any more meaningful act in a person's life than to be a friend,” Louise responded. “You share of your heart. You love. That's the only meaning that matters.”
Jessie nodded. “She's right, Bea. Everything else, all the things people call great, none of those are anywhere near as meaningful as having love.”
“Maybe,” Beatrice said.
“Maybe nothing,” Louise shot back.
“So, that's what all this depression and staying in bed and acting
all withdrawn is about?” Jessie asked. “You think you've never done anything meaningful?”
Beatrice nodded. “That and I quit taking the hormones the doctor prescribed.”
Jessie and Louise looked at each other.
“Why did you do that?” It was Jessie who asked the question.
“I just thought I didn't need them anymore,” Bea replied.
“Well, clearly that's a mistake,” Louise said.
“Okay, so, we get you some more estrogen and we find you a purpose, then you'll be better?” Jessie asked.
Beatrice nodded with a smile. “That should do it,” she said, trying to make herself believe that was enough to fix everything.
“That's great,” Louise said, and pushed hard against the back of the chair.
Beatrice and Jessie turned just as she fell back and flipped over.
1 pound butter
2 cups sugar
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 pounds diced cherries
2 pounds diced pineapple
1 pound mixed fruit
8 ounces figs
8 ounces dates
2 cups nuts
Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour and baking powder and add to creamed mixture (reserving small amount for dredging fruit). Combine fruits and nuts, then dredge with flour. Carefully fold fruits into creamed mixture. Grease and line 2 tube pans with wax paper. Spoon mixture evenly into pans. Bake at 250 degrees for 3 to 5 hours.
essie and Beatrice helped Louise up from the floor and placed the chair back in its proper position.
“Still comfortable?” Jessie asked, laughing.
“Very funny,” Louise said as she pulled herself up to the sofa.
“I told you, Lou, the thing is broken,” Beatrice noted again. She had dropped the blanket from around her and was standing in her nightgown.
“Yes, you did tell me that. But what I don't understand is why would a person buy a broken chair?” Louise asked, dusting herself off.
“It matches,” Jessie said, recalling what Bea had told them earlier in the conversation. It seemed to make perfect sense to her as well.
“Let me go put my clothes on,” Beatrice said.
She walked around Jessie and into her bedroom. She yelled from where she was, “Fix yourselves something to drink if you like.”
Jessie and Louise headed into the kitchen and opened the refriger
ator. Jessie took out a pitcher of tea while Louise found three glasses, found ice in the freezer, and filled all three to the top.
“You think this helped?” Jessie asked Louise.
“She's out of bed, isn't she?” Louise responded.
Jessie raised her eyebrows and nodded.
“That has to count for something,” Louise added. She took a sip from her tea. She shook her head. “Imagine Beatrice worried about having a life with no meaning.”
Jessie sat down on one of the kitchen barstools. “I know, it surprised me too.”
“Where does she come up with these crazy notions?” Louise asked.
“Well, I don't think it's a crazy notion,” Jessie replied. “It's a fair question to ask about one's life. I've asked it, haven't you?” She looked over to her friend, who was standing at the sink.
Louise turned to Jessie. “I don't know. I guess I don't think those kind of deep thoughts. I get up in the morning. I do what has to be done. I eat. I sleep. I get up and do it again.”
“Do you wish you had had children?” Jessie asked, remembering what Louise had said to Bea.
Louise leaned against the sink. She placed her glass of tea beside her. “I don't think so,” she replied. “It just never seemed like it was in the cards for me, you know. Like love too, I guess.”
Jessie didn't respond. She thought of Roxie, the woman who lived with Louise in the final months of her life. She had been the love of Louise's life and everyone knew it. Only Roxie had married and had children. It was an unrequited love.
“Oh, you've had love,” Jessie said. “Your friendship is fierce, Louise Fisher. I daresay your love is the strongest of us all.”
Louise smiled. She tilted her head and winked at Jessie. “I do love
my friends,” she noted. “But I wouldn't say that my love was any stronger than yours or Margaret's or Bea's. We're pretty lucky to have each other.”
Immediately they both thought about Margaret, about the conversation they had just shared, the things that had finally surfaced.
“She's not really dying, is she?” Louise asked.
Jessie sighed. “We don't know,” she said. “Not yet, not now.”
“But I think if we're really her friends, then we ought to think about that, figure that out.”
“What's there to figure out?” Bea asked. She had put on a running suit. Her hair had been combed and she looked almost like her old self.
“Well, look at that. I think I'm going to advertise my services as an intervention specialist. We turned a bed-bound, depressed, sad-looking human being into a super jock.” Louise applauded.
“I'm wearing comfortable pants that happen to have a matching jacket. I seriously doubt you can call me a super jock,” Bea responded.
“Well, whatever you call yourself, you look a lot better,” Jessie said.
“That image of you in that sorry old nightgown standing over me is one I hope I can shake,” Louise said as she handed Beatrice a glass of tea.
“That's a fairly new nightgown,” she replied. “It's from Macy's.”
Louise gave a look of surprise. “I'm just saying that image is not your finest moment.”
Beatrice took a drink and sat down next to Jessie. “Whateverâ¦” she said. “Now what are you trying to figure out?” Bea asked.
“Margaret,” Jessie answered.
“What's there to figure out?” Bea asked innocently. “Margaret never seems upset about anything. She looks like she's handling this better than the rest of us.”
“That's the thing about Margaret,” Jessie noted. “She always seems like she's handling everything; but this time she may need some help.”
“You think she knows?” Louise asked.
“Margaret?” Jessie asked. “Margaret knows better than anyone.”
The women thought about their friend. Louise and Beatrice agreed with Jessie. They all three assumed that Margaret understood what was happening in her body.
“Well, I'm going to get back on my estrogen and I'm going to do better with Margaret and with you two,” Beatrice promised.
“You gonna take over the cookbook?” Louise asked.
“Are you having some particular difficulty in collecting the recipes?” Beatrice asked with a smile. Even in her depression, she had found some enjoyment in considering that Louise was running that project.
“Did you get Jan Causey's grandmother's recipe?” Jessie asked. She suddenly remembered the message she had gotten on her phone at home. She had returned the call and given the caller Louise's number.
“Granny Causey's fruitcake?” Louise asked. She nodded, taking a big swig of her tea. “Got it.”
“What kind of fruit does she use?” Beatrice asked. She squinted her eyes at Louise.
“I don't know what kind of fruit she uses,” Louise replied. “I just got it in the mail and typed it with the others.”
“You type the recipes on your computer and you don't read over the ingredients?” Beatrice asked, sounding surprised. “How do you know if they're right?”
“I don't care if they're right or not,” Louise replied. “I just stick them in there the way they come.”
Beatrice blew out a breath, making a kind of whishing noise. “I can't believe that I turned this project over to you and that you aren't checking out these recipes. Suppose something is wrong in one of them?” she asked. The look of exasperation was undeniable. “Help me out here, Jessie.”
Jessie shrugged. “What?” she asked.
“You don't think you should bake the cakes following the directions of the recipes before we publish them in a book with the name of our church on it?”
Louise looked over at Jessie. Clearly, neither of them had thought about this. Louise folded her arms across her chest. “You tried out all of those recipes in the first cookbook before you sent them to the printer?”
“Of course!” Beatrice replied. “How else do you know if they work?”
“I don't care if they work,” Louise responded. “I didn't agree to bake fifty cakes when I said I would help you out on this.”
“Well, if I had known how frivolously you were going to carry out this project, I would certainly never have allowed myself to drop down into the well of sorrow. I thought that at the very least, I could count on you to do a professional job!” Beatrice sounded hurt.
“You made all those recipes from that first book?” Jessie asked, sounding just as surprised as Louise. “Lord, Bea, I'd be depressed too if I thought I was going to have to bake all those cakes.”
“That's not depressing,” Bea said, turning to face Jessie. “That's just part of the job.”
“Well, maybe it's part of the way you do the job, but not me.” Louise shook her head. “Besides, have you managed to take care of your assignment in this project?”
Beatrice's face turned a bright shade of red.
“You haven't, have you?” Louise asked in astonishment.
“What was she supposed to do?” Jessie asked.
“Beatrice, we've got to have a prize in the next couple of weeks. I've promised all these women that you're working on something wonderful. They all think they're going to be featured in some restaurant at Christmas. You haven't gotten anybody to agree to sponsor this thing?”
“I've got something,” Beatrice said innocently.
“What?” Louise asked.
“You could try Lester's Barbecue Shack. They could use a new dessert. The last time James and I ate there, they had some awful store-bought banana pudding.” Jessie was trying to be helpful.
“I tried Lester,” Beatrice responded. She just shook her head and made a kind of face.
“What have you got?” Louise asked again.
“It's something real special,” Beatrice replied with a noticeable bit of hesitation. “I just got a few more phone calls to make and it will be official.”
“Beatrice, you are a terrible liar,” Louise said.
“I am offended by that, Louise Fisher,” Beatrice said. “You take over this cookbook and suddenly you're acting like a little Hitler.”
“Bea, don't try to sweet-talk your way out of this. What's your real special prize for the winning recipe?”
Beatrice raised her chin and turned away from Louise. “I'm getting the winner a chance to be on television.”
“Oh, you are not,” Louise snapped. She turned to Jessie, shaking her head in disbelief. “Jessie, do you think Lester would provide a prize or support us somehow?”
“I don't see why not. He needs more business and I don't see how it could hurt anything for him to advertise that he was serving the winning cake. What would he have to do?”
“Let's see. We could make him the official judge and then he could just add an insert in his menu announcing the cake.” Louise was trying to think of everything that would have to be done.
“He'd have to bake a few of the cakes, though, wouldn't he?” Jessie was considering the dilemma as well.
Beatrice cleared her throat, trying to enter the conversation. She was shocked to hear the two women completely ignoring her work in arranging the contest prize.
“Maybe we could offer to bake the cakes for him?” Jessie asked Louise.
“We could get some of the churchwomen to bake them.”
“I said that I have arranged a prize!” Beatrice interrupted the conversation.
Both of the women looked over to Beatrice. Clearly they didn't believe her.
“You've found some cooking show host to agree to have a person from Hope Springs Community in North Carolina appear on their show to demonstrate how to bake a Christmas cake?” Louise went straight to the heart of the matter.
“Well, I didn't say it was a cooking show,” Beatrice said softly.
“A local morning news program then?” Louise offered.
“Channel Eight?” Jessie asked. “That would be nice. They have a cooking segment at about five-thirty
, I think. That's lovely, Beatrice.”
“You called FOX News?” Louise asked. “In Greensboro?” She sounded as if she didn't believe what she was hearing.
“Well, no, not exactly,” Beatrice replied.
The two women waited for Beatrice to explain. She was silent.
“What then?” Louise asked.
“It's that cable channel, isn't it?” Jessie asked. “That community access channel way up there in the sixties. That's still nice,” she added. “It will be very special to the winner.”
“Is that it?” Louise asked.
Beatrice shook her head.
“Channel Two?” Jessie asked.
Another negative gesture from Beatrice.
“Forty-five over in Winston?” Jessie asked. “But they don't even do local broadcasting anymore, do they?”
“No,” Louise replied.
“It's Twelve, isn't it?” Jessie asked. She was hoping that Beatrice would jump in at some point and explain her plan. “The NBC affiliate, that's perfect, Bea!”
“Is it Twelve?” Louise asked.
“Are you going to tell us?” Louise asked.
“I wrote that young woman who has her own baking show. It comes on in the afternoon, after Oprah.”
Jessie and Louise tried to figure out the show to which Beatrice was referring.
“I thought Dr. Phil came on after Oprah,” Louise noted.
“No, not anymore. It's the news that comes on after her. She's on at four
and then there's the five o'clock news,” Jessie said.
“Not on the same channel,” Beatrice explained. “On that food channel.”
Louise shrugged. It was obvious that she didn't know about the food channel or any of its shows.
“You got the Cake Lady?” Jessie asked, sounding very surprised.
Beatrice made a sort of coughing noise. She clearly didn't want to answer.
“Beatrice, that's incredible. The Cake Lady is going to host the winner of our little contest?”
“Who's the Cake Lady?” Louise wanted to know.
“Who's the Cake Lady?” Jessie repeated the question. “She's the baker to the stars. She's famous! Everybody's heard of the Cake Lady!”
“Well, maybe everybody but me,” Louise announced. “Why is she so famous?”
“She does birthday cakes that have all these elaborate scenes painted in the icing. She makes some that look like animals and dolls. She does all the celebrity wedding cakes. She does one that looks like a castle that has a waterfall in it. She's amazing. How on earth did you get her to agree to judge our little contest, Bea?” Jessie wanted to know. “That's just fantastic,” she added before Beatrice could answer. “I may just have to find a recipe myself. I would love to meet her!”
Beatrice made that coughing noise again.
“Will she come here or will the winner go to her studio?” Jessie asked.
“I just asked her to judge.” Beatrice finally spoke.
“Yeah, that's right. How silly to think she would show the winner
on her television program. But still, this is just unbelievable,” Jessie said. She shook her head and finished drinking her tea. “Think about how proud one of our women would be to know her cake was judged by the Cake Lady?”