Jill’s Cinnamon Raisin Buttermilk Scones
8oz self-rising flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1oz caster sugar
5fl oz buttermilk
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 cup of dried sultanas/raisins
1 free-range egg, beaten, to glaze (alternatively use a little milk)
Sift flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder into a large bowl. Work cold butter through until the mixture resembles damp sand. Slowly add buttermilk, mixing as you go. The final product should have the consistency of a woman’s breast - firm but spongy (natural ones, not those silicone imitations). Add sultanas/raisin, mixing thoroughly. Knead for a couple of minutes on a lightly floured surface then roll flat with a rolling pin. Cut into circles (or whatever shape you fancy…there are some really naughty cookie cutters out there). Place on a greased baking sheet and brush lightly with egg. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until risen and lightly brown. Serve with fresh whipped cream, butter, or your favorite jam.
Jill Smith stared out the kitchen window of her North London flat as the radio blasted ‘Only the Lonely.’ Its sad melody wrapped about her like an old worn jumper. It was going to be another rainy day, as she pulled a coffee cup from the cabinet. She turned on the kettle and spooned instant coffee and sugar into the cup. The weather matched her mood today. It was Sunday, so she did not even have work to distract her from this melancholy. But then again, not even that was working these days. Too many memories, good and bad.
Lost in thought, she poured the boiling water into the cup and stirred long past the point when the crystals dissolved. She knew that she needed to do something. Anything. She had to make a change. This was not good for her. The job that held so many painful memories. This flat, with its empty bedrooms, was just another reminder that her real job was done. Her sons were grown men; soldiers, with lives of their own.
Trouble was – Jill did not have a life of her own. She had work, empty rooms, and memories of a man and boys that were not here anymore. Sure, it was a common plight for widows, but she was barely forty-five. There was plenty of life left to live before she sat down in a rocker with her photo albums, although most of those had been replaced by USB sticks when her second son Declan decided to digitize everything for her Christmas present a couple of years ago.
She grabbed a scone that she had brought home from work, from the container on the table. She was not hungry, but the sweet British version of a homemade biscuit had become comfort food. She sighed as she looked down at her full figure. The thin cotton nightgown did little to hide the bulges of her tummy, thighs, and hips. Badges of motherhood that seemed more noticeable with each passing year. She bit her tongue as the sing-song litany of self-deprecation played through her mind. She swallowed back the metallic taste as she put the pastry back.
Instead, she reached for her laptop. Perhaps it would bring momentary distraction. Jill tapped her finger on the table as the older model hissed and came slowly to life. She opened the internet browser to check her email. Would her very British sons remember that this was Mother’s Day in the country of their mother’s birth?
America. It had been so long since she had even been there. It seemed more like a distant memory sometimes than the place where she had lived for a large portion of her life. But then again, these days lots of things were feeling like distant dreams: the man that she had loved for almost twenty years. Hell, the man she still loved in some sick, morbid way. The empty flat, full of laughter and fighting, with four loud and boisterous sons.
She had to stop thinking like this, as she focused upon her inbox. She frowned in disappointment that there were just two new ones. Opening the files, she smiled that one of them was from her youngest son Darren. At twenty-one, he was training to become a pilot in the Royal Air Force. He was the only one of her four sons that had not followed directly in their father’s footsteps and become a Royal Marine. Then again, her baby was the most like her. She doubted that he would have it in him to manage that kind of hand to hand combat, seeing the enemy that you killed face-to-face. No, Darren definitely belonged above it all.
She fought back disappointment that there was nothing from her other three sons. Her eldest D.J., David Junior, named after his father, and her third son Damien probably did not even have access to computers if they were in the field. Even in this modern, connected world, she could go months without hearing from either of them. She understood, their lives, careers, and friends consumed their time. As it should. But she had hoped that Dec would remember and drop her a quick email. Then again, just because he had taken the higher road and trained in computers, becoming an officer, did not mean that his career in Intel was any less dangerous.
She should be used to this by now. After almost twenty years married to a Bootneck, she should understand that Operational Security meant prolonged periods without communication., even now. Still, it was different when it was her babies.
Of course, their father’s death in a ‘friendly fire’ drone accident did little to alleviate her worries. David had promised her it would be his last deployment. With barely two years left before he could retire with full benefits, he assured her that their dream house on the sunny Costa del Sol of Spain was just around the corner.
It had been their favorite family vacation spot and reminded them of Cancun, Mexico, where they had met while he was on leave from his posting in nearby Belize. Jill had been traveling the world. Not that she had ever made it any further than Cancun. Then England, as she happily followed her first love. She would not want it any other way. Jill would not have traded the happy years they had together for anything, especially those last few as they explored their darkest fantasies together. She forced her mind back from even those pleasant memories. That woman was no more.
Concentrating on the computer screen once more, she frowned at the other email address. It was the dating site that her best friend Ubah had convinced her to try, just a couple of months before her death. The woman had been the only friend that she had managed to make in all her years in London.
Perhaps the decision to move her family from the small town, where their father had been stationed, and they had grown up, had not been the best. It certainly had not been an easy one. Being surrounded with military families, who did not know what to say or do around you, had been difficult on them all. She knew that was because she and the boys were a dark reminder of what could happen to any of them. But that did not lessen the pain when you ran into someone you had known for a decade at the store, and they simply turned their back and walked away.
But London had not worked out any better. The people here were not friendly, everyone seemed in such a rush, and even typical British politeness was hard to come by. She shook her head; maybe the move had been a bad idea. The past couple of years would seem to attest to that.
While she had managed to get training and find a job as a chef at a mental health center near them, she had not made many friends. Her neighbors, those who spoke English anyway, were older and considered any teenagers bad news. So, she and the boys were not especially welcome. At work, she had made more acquaintances than friends, but even those had been more distant since she broke off her engagement with one of the counselors there. In this mood, she certainly did not want to go down that road…again.
Only one good thing had come out of her first and only attempt at dating, her friendship with Ubah. As Jill retreated further and further inside herself with the pain of the break-up, the woman had reached out to her. Between the group sessions where Ubah taught music therapy, she would sneak into the kitchen for chats as Jill cooked.
The two women could not have been more different. Jill was the stereotypical loud-mouthed American, who had followed her heart and man across the ocean to begin a new life. And Ubah, the traditional Somali bride, her marriage was the product of an arrangement between their families. But despite their differences, the women became close. Close enough to carry Jill through the painful break-up of a relationship that was a mistake from the beginning and sufficient to comfort Ubah through her long battle with breast cancer. A fight that she was destined to lose.
Now Jill found herself totally, completely, and utterly alone in a city of over eight million people. She smiled through the tears as she looked at the email. Her fingers hovered over the delete button. What good could come of it? It had been a stupid idea, something she had agreed only to comfort her dying friend. Hadn’t she learned anything from the train wreck that was her engagement? But instead of hitting the delete button, she accidentally opened the email.
I know this is crazy and as wonderful as you sound I am sure that some other lucky guy has already snapped you up, but if by some chance they haven’t I’d like the opportunity to get to know you better. You sound just like what my girls and I need.
Commander Daniel Monroe, United States Navy
Curiosity goaded her on. Jill could not stop herself from opening the attached picture. The laughing man, with the faint lines about his eyes, had dark chocolate hair that was anything but regulation cut. It curled about his face that was covered mostly with a beard. His mouth was smiling, but it did not seem to reach the piercing eyes, whose color she could not quite make out in the grainy photograph. Like her David, he was tall and well-built, but this man showed none of the slight softening around the middle that her husband had battled after he turned forty.
If the man had not been enough to capture her attention, the young blond girls around him would have. Four of them. It seemed ironic or perhaps prophetic somehow: his four girls to her four sons. The oldest looked to be in her early teens with short hair and slight pout. Another girl, much younger, perhaps five or six, clung to the man’s leg like it was a buoy, and her life depended upon it. But the two babies that he held in his arms were what did it. They could not even be a year old. Their light blond curls made them look like little angels, identical little cherubim.
Her heart flooded instantly with a mother’s love. It seemed too good to be true. This email, when she had received less than a handful of responses to the unique profile that her friend had almost insisted she create at the site that catered to military singles. It had been months since she had even thought about it. And now this? On Mother’s Day? At that moment, it seemed as if her friend was looking over her somehow.
Commander Daniel Monroe observed as his oldest daughter, Jess, brushed the dirt from the bronze headstone. The dark shadows and moisture in her eyes ate like acid at his gut. It was yet another load of guilt to heap upon the pile that, at moments like these, felt too heavy for any man to bear.
He patted the blond curls of his six-year-old daughter Bel as he gave her sister time to say her good-byes once again to their mother. “Do you want to go over there with Jess, baby? Talk to your Mom?”
Even with the months of grief counseling that the military provided, he was still uncertain how to act around his daughters, how much to tell them, or how hard to push them. He was only thankful that he had gotten home before the school bus arrived that day. The last thing he would have wanted was for his daughters to discover their mother, dead from an overdose of anti-depressants and sleeping pills, he had not even known she was taking.
The way that his daughter shook her head and clung tighter to his leg only deepened the pain of loss. Even if his marriage had not been all that he wanted or anything like the loving partnership that his parents had shared for over forty years, he would have never wished Rachel ill. Despite their differences and her sometimes spoiled, selfish behavior, she was his wife and the mother of his children. For that reason alone, she deserved better than this. Better than him.
He fought back the tightness in his throat and blamed the bright, early May sun for the moisture that clouded his vision as Jess placed the bouquet in the pot. Some way for a twelve-year-old girl to spend Mother’s Day. Visiting the graveside of what just seven months before had been a vibrant, if increasingly sullen, woman. But that too was his fault. Her words were etched into his brain, just as her name was engraved on the tombstone.
There are no words to describe how much I hate you, hate the Navy, hate this life of poverty that the two of you have sentenced me and my girls to. I have begged and pleaded with you over and over again to take Clay’s offer, but you won’t listen to me. Now there are two more screaming kids for me to care for, without even a housekeeper, an au pair, a nanny, or something. Four children are too much for any one woman to care for alone. But you will not accept the job offer or allow my family to help. I can’t go on living like this. I always come last with you. Your country, the Navy, and your daughters leave no room for me. You are a lousy husband, and I hate you.
He sighed as the weight of it all settled on his shoulders, the muscles there, tightening in knots. He felt the single tear spill from the corner of his eye, but even that was not for the woman that had made his life hell for over thirteen years, but for the beautiful daughters she had given him. The fact that he could not manage even a single tear for the woman only deepened the guilt. Rachel had been right. He was a lousy husband, but she did not have to worry about that anymore, and he swore neither would any other hapless woman. Women were off-limits from now on. Other than his girls, of course.
He watched as his mother sat Britney and Ashley down on the grass next to the car. She had been a lifesaver, arriving only a couple of days after Rachel died. He was not sure what he would have done without her. She had shooed off Rachel’s family, the Thomas brood had never been among his favorite people, but they had arrived just hours after he called them. Not that they had been much help or comfort during those dark hours.
No, it was his mother and his best friend’s wife, Simone, who had held him and the girls together. They had cooked and cleaned the house, cared for him and his daughters. Hell, his mother had even managed to get a brush through Bel’s tangle of curls somehow. But then again, she always had been a remarkable woman, the one against whom he measured all others. A standard against which Rachel had fallen woefully short, but then again, so would most women.
It was yet another reason to keep the vow he had made as he stood here over that open hole in the ground all those months ago. No, he simply was not cut out to be a husband. Anyone’s husband, he thought as he laughed with glee and watched his mother film the twins’ first steps on her phone. Rachel should have been here to see that, but it was just a lifetime of firsts that his wife would miss, because of him.
“Happy Mother’s Day wherever you are. I’m truly sorry I wasn’t a better husband, more of the man you needed me to be,” he whispered as he watched Jess walk towards him with her shoulders slumped and head down.