27 Jun The Mrs. Biddelspatch Special
“The Mrs. Biddelspatch Special”Written by N.M. Brown Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 13 minutes
Flashes of lightning illuminated torrents of rain as they ran down our bedroom window like tiny waterfalls, lulling my wife Meryl and I into a contented slumber. We always seemed to sleep our best during the muffled maelstrom of a Florida storm. But no amount of sleep, however deep, could block out my wife’s anxieties, a sort of ESP I called it.
She shot up in bed, a severed spider web of drool clinging to the corner of her mouth and chin. “What is it?” I murmured groggily, startled by her sudden departure from her usual resting place across my chest. My wife looked toward her cell phone on the bedside table just as it started to ring.
“Meryl? Oh my god, I am losing my fucking mind!” My sister-in-law Debbie sobbed through the telephone speaker. The intensity of her voice cut through my sleep-addled brain like a circular saw. It always fascinated me how much she and my wife sounded alike on the telephone. “Derrick won’t sleep! The bumps are worse than ever now. They started out as small patches on his shoulders, and within eight months, they’ve spread to his entire upper torso, front and back.”
“Oh my God, that’s horrible!” My wife said sympathetically. “What do the doctors say?”
“I’ve asked them to test him for a gluten allergy a dozen times. They won’t take it seriously! His doctor said she doesn’t want to subject him to tests unless she absolutely has to because he’s so young. Meanwhile, my sweet baby boy is turning into a goddamned prickly pear. And what’s worse is, the stress is affecting my health. I’ve been tired all the time, not to mention sick to my stomach. I’ve woken up with anxiety sickness almost every day for the past three weeks. I don’t know what the hell I’m gonna do, Meryl. Between Derrick’s condition and my body’s bullshit, I feel like we’re both just falling apart.”
I ran my hand over my shoulders, letting their conversation fade into the inaudible as a floodgate’s worth of memories hit me from my own childhood. I remembered my mother working her nerves up over a skin problem I had that sounded very similar to Derrick’s, along with… the Mrs. Biddelspatch special.
Mrs. Biddelspatch was slightly before my time, a legend born during the youth of my parents. She lived in a small, cottage-style house at the corner of town that was closest to the river. It sat at the end of a winding dirt road. Almost as if God had thrown it there, the trajectory forging a path through the trees, debris and brush that stood in the way. The lot that it sat on was overgrown with bushes, weeds and vines, but she seemed happy just the same. Mrs. Biddelspatch had always been the friendliest person I’d ever come across in our backward, one-horse town.
She kept a clean home and crafted beautiful things, full of love and soul. She kept house just as a mother or homemaker would, though she had neither husband nor children. God knows she sure would have made a fine example of either of those titles, but I assumed it just wasn’t in the cards for her. For all I knew at the time, she may not have even wanted to be in love or motherhood. Not all people who seem ‘alone’ are lonely, after all.
Anyway, the point is, the way that she came to be a figure included in my family growing up, for a time at least, was through her handmade soap. These days they have almost everything that you can imagine: hemp soap, olive oil, goat milk, black soap that lathers red, soap made with flowers, soap made with tea herbs, mango soap, soap that smells like bacon, you name it.
But back when I was a kid, you didn’t usually see any of that stuff. You had your standard dish, laundry and body soap. You got three of four colors with even fewer scent options. You wouldn’t find any blueberry almond-scented Dawn with aromatherapy benefits on the corners of our sinks. You got the yellowy-orange shit, and you liked it. Once in a while, on occasion, you’d see the green stuff, but most of it was Neutrogena-amber colored. You get my point.
Well, Mrs. Biddelspatch’s soap was different. It was a gorgeous, crisp white with crimson red swirls. It held all the allure of tie-dye before the boom of the 1970s brought it forth in technicolor. And the smell… Oh, the smell was wonderful. It didn’t smell like a field of flowers or a dance club rapist. It was…earthy and robust. It had the underlying scent of cleaner, so you know it did the job. But it left you smelling… wholesome if that makes sense. No two people that bathed with it smelled the same. It was like it brought out a sweetness to the natural essence one already contained. Do you know how sometimes when people die, their loved ones will smell their clothes long after they’re gone? Some even go as far as to seal them in airtight bags or sealed containers to keep it from fading over time. It wasn’t their perfume or cologne… it was them. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.
Those weren’t the only distinguishable benefits either. It also, and I swear to God this is true, cured most any dermatological ailment that a young child could develop. Mothers across the majority of the entire town swore by its use, with testimonials ranging from laundry soap and pet dander allergies to the most extreme cases of diaper rash to eczema and beyond.
My epidermal demon appeared when I was only a few months old. A smattering of strawberry-colored marks ran across my cheeks, mouth and chin. My parents initially thought it was wind rash due to me being born weeks before one of the most brutal winters the state of West Virginia had seen during my parents’ lifetimes. However, it soon presented itself on the bottom of my neck as well as the tops of my shoulders, only now it had evolved into tiny, braille-like dots. The pediatrician my mother took me to couldn’t figure out what was wrong exactly, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t try.
Children absorb more than most people realize. A parent, teacher or doctor’s body language, mannerisms and tone can be read by a child almost effortlessly long before any schoolbook. So when the doctor and my mother loomed over me with worried expressions asking if my tummy hurt, I nodded. To regain some semblance of personal space and control back in the situation, if nothing else. That one little nod subjected me to several weeks of torture that I’m thankful to hardly be able to remember now.
The doctor sat across the table from my mother as she wrung her hands with fretful obsession, making the tension in the air that much more tangible as she waited for a diagnosis. She looked my mother straight in the eyes and said, “Celiac Disease.” I spent the next twenty-three days doing ‘blood trials,’ and my mother called them. They placed me on a variety of diets, with each change in menu item resulting in another round of bloodwork. I had been stuck more times than a spinster’s pincushion by the time that summer was through. And what’s worse, my parent’s insurance company was beginning to give her and my father a hard time. All the while, the bumps continued to spread. By the time I turned four years old, they had stopped mere inches above my elbows and covered most of my upper back. In the end, it didn’t matter what the hell I ate.
One day in line at the pharmacy, while picking up one of my many prescriptions that didn’t do a damn thing, mom ran into one of her old coworkers she said she hadn’t seen in ages. I had certainly never seen him before. Well, the fellow told her about the soap, called it the ‘Mrs. Biddelspatch special’. He performed quite a spiel, so effective in fact that my mother got right out of that line and headed over to the address the man had given her.
Her eyes were wild driving over the hills and dips of that old, dirt road. At the time, I thought they were burning with the flames of hope, but thinking back on it, it very well may have been fear that placed that look there. I remember her saying in later years that she almost turned back. I’m forever thankful that she didn’t.
From that point on, from that very first bar of soap, my skin was as smooth as a (normal) baby’s ass. There were no more needles or doctor visits, no more being forced to dress in high collared and long-sleeved shirts. My mother bought tank tops for me for the first memorable time in my life. Things took a turn for the better, and it gave my mother the confidence to overcome great things, including my father’s suicide.
With all the good she was doing for the children of these families, I often wondered why she didn’t sell her product to stores, pharmacies and pediatrician’s offices. And I certainly wasn’t the only one. Young parents and nurses in training must have asked her at least thrice a month. Whenever asked, she would simply say that the best kind of love came in small batches and how industrialization and consumerism ruined everything.
I’d been so wrapped up in nostalgia that I hadn’t realized Meryl had gotten off the phone. Her right hand was at her mouth, frantically chewing on any scrap of nail she could get ahold of on her already bitten-down fingertips. I recognized this as something she did in extreme times of stress. Oh boy, I thought to myself. Here we go…
“What now?” I asked, a bit more aggressive than I had meant to. It was the middle of the night. I was tired! Ya know?
“Debbie’s, uh… Debbie is pregnant again. She just found out yesterday, almost ten weeks along.”
“Ahhh, christ Meryl! That’s the last thing she needs! Does she even want the baby? I swear I’ve never seen a grown woman make so many childi–” I stopped upon seeing the look of hurt on my wife’s face. “My apologies,” I muttered. “Please continue.”
“Well fuck, Jerry! No, she doesn’t want the baby. You know carrying it to term will destroy her back and spine,” she replied fretfully. She then raised a hand and began ticking off statements on her fingers as if it were a grocery list. “So now… she’s alone because her husband took off. God knows who this new baby belongs to.” She drew a finger down into the center of her palm, leaving four remaining.
“She barely makes enough to support one kid, rent, gas and everything else it takes to live.” A second finger dropped to join the first. “The kid living out of utero is turning into a living reptile.” A third finger fell. “She can’t work because of her back. The list goes on and on.”
My mind drifted back to Mrs. Biddelspatch and the day she disappeared from our lives.
I remember walking in the front door after getting off the school bus during my fourth-grade year. Our house, which usually held the smell of a cooked dinner in the air, was empty and cold that day. My mother sat at our kitchen table, bleary-eyed over a half-empty bottle of gin.
“Jerry, listen to me. You are not to see or talk to your Mrs. Biddelspatch anymore. Do you understand me?” Her tone wavered with the threat of oncoming tears but somehow still managed to hold firm. At the time, my young mind couldn’t grasp any comprehension of why she would want to keep me away from this sweet old lady, one that had helped our family so much over the years.
I could hear my mother and stepfather discussing it later on that evening, long after she had already put me to bed. “She’s lucky I haven’t called the fucking cops!” My mother hissed in a hushed tone. Her angered breaths quickly melted to sobs before she continued on. “Poor Jerry. My poor, sweet baby boy.”
My stepfather David’s boots made booming sounds, clanking across the kitchen floor as he walked to my mother’s side. I pictured him placing a hand on her shoulder, something he was well known to do, as he spoke. “Jerry will be just fine, Leigh,” he soothed. “This really is none of our business. We were just fine before we found out, and we will be just fine after.” He paused a moment, letting my mother’s sobs consume the kitchen. “Jesus Christ, sweetheart. What in God’s name did you see over there anyway?” Her wails grew louder, and I heard her stifle a gag. “Damnitt, baby girl, why won’t you tell me?!”
I knew that if my mother wanted me to stop doing something, nothing could get in her way, not even my own sheer willpower and defiance. I kept thinking of her at home, sitting all alone in the empty house. She’d never had children, and to my knowledge, I was the closest thing that fit the bill. Pain bloomed in my chest to imagine her thinking she had done something wrong to make me abandon her. I’d always felt a closeness to the woman, but I never understood why. Not until later on, at least.
Life moved faster than I’d have liked it to, and before long, I was living on my own. I’d lost several of my memories of Mrs. Biddelspatch and childhood comforts, replacing them with things more appropriate for my age, such as smoking pot, gaming and getting girls. I’d almost forgotten her completely; I’m ashamed to admit.
That all changed one Thursday afternoon. I was sitting on my futon, stoned out of my gourd, when my phone began to ring. An involuntary groan escaped my lips as I recognized my mother’s number on the caller ID. I cleared the rattled bits of phlegm that had settled in my chest after a morning’s worth of smoking before picking up the phone.
“Hey, Mom,” I grumbled. “You doin’ alright?”
“Hi Jer, listen. You will never guess what I heard today,” she chattered. The manner in which she said it left me wondering if she was concerned or excited.
“Well, I don’t know, Ma. If it was about me, I assure you it isn’t true.” I joked, holding my free hand up in defense despite the fact that she wasn’t able to see it.
“Ha-Ha. Very funny,” she quipped. “No. My friend Martha told me that poor Mrs. Biddelspatch had a bad fall last week. They housed her in a rehab center until she’s well enough to go home again. Can you believe it? She’s hardly ten years older than I am!” My mother exclaimed woefully.
“Biddelspatch?” I murmured. “Hmmm… that sounds familiar. Biddelspatch… Biddel– wait. She was the lady that made the soap!”
“That’s right!” She confirmed.
“Whatever happened to make you so mad at her anyway? She hit on David or something?” I joked, though carefully. David had become sick earlier in life than he should have. We had no idea how much longer he’d be around. It worried me at times so much that I did my best to avoid thinking about it. I kept it folded up and tucked away tight in a pocket that lay deep down in the part of my stomach where dread was born.
My joke was met with silence on the other end of the line. “Hello? Mom… did I lose you?”
She drew in a long breath, signaling that she was mentally preparing for whatever it was she was about to say. “No… I’m here, sweetie. I’m here,” she trailed off.
“Okay, good, I thought we got disconnected. Anyway, as I was saying, I used to go over there all the time, even on holidays most years. Then suddenly, one day, it all just stopped.” I pressed on, hoping for a better answer than the heavy sighs I was currently receiving. That’s when she finally broke down, telling me everything that I thought I wanted to know.
According to my mom, after a few years of faithful use, she began to notice a problem pattern with the soap. Some of the batches she made held more of a pink tint than anything else, almost as if they came from the leftovers… the scrapings from the bottom of a forgotten batch. The smell wasn’t as strong, and the effects seemed even less so. The redder, the better, she’d always say.
Well, she said that one day she dropped by Mrs. Biddelspatch’s house unexpectedly, just a random thought that popped in her head on the way home from work. There was no answer from within the house. However, the front door was unlocked. She could have sworn she heard muffled, agonized whimpers coming from somewhere towards the back of the house, so she let herself inside. She followed the sound, gasping upon opening the door to the room it was coming from. I remember my mother shuddering in horror as she explained the scene she came across.
My mother found Mrs. Biddelspatch writhing in pain on her bathroom floor. The entire interior of the woman’s master bedroom and bathroom was bathed in a pristine white, everything from the paint to the fixtures and accessories. Half of the floor, tub and bottom of the toilet was speckled with heavy ribbons of crimson, reminding her of the very soap she likely made there.
Mrs. Biddelspatch clutched at her stomach while rolling into a ball. The entire hem of her nightdress was drenched in shades of sickly browns and reds. She had pulled it up past her knees as she lay there, exposing mottled chunks of red that had collected in a metal tray between her knees. It had all the makings of a miscarriage or at-home abortion gone wrong, but my mother had never seen any men enter or leave the house in all the times she’d been there. There were no smiling pictures of her in a gentleman’s arms on the walls. The title of Mrs. indicated that at one point there was a Mr., but she’d never mentioned him, and we certainly never asked. It didn’t feel right to bring up a subject that could possibly cause pain or discomfort to someone that had brought so much peace to our lives. The largest of miracles can come from the smallest of things, like a simple bar of soap.
My mother ran to her side, offering to call an ambulance, a gesture that Mrs. Biddelspatch vehemently refused. She told my mother her discomfort was almost at an end and that it was perfectly normal for what she was going through. The woman did, however, allow her to stay until she felt strong enough to make it safely into her own bed. And that’s exactly what my mother did.
According to Mom, once Mrs. Biddelspatch was safely tucked in bed, she began to clean the bathroom. Mrs. Biddelspatch screamed in terror when she saw my mother walking towards the trash bin with the metal tray. My mother apologized immediately, assuming the woman she’d come to love so much had planned to bury the remains. But just as Mom was leaving the room, Mrs. Biddelspatch, in and out of pain, said something very unusual. She told my mother to ‘put it in the side room with the others’.
To this day, she’s never told me or anyone else exactly what she saw inside that room. All I know is my mother ran out of there screaming, came home, sat at the kitchen table and began to drink. She said that Mrs. Biddelspatch confided in her through bouts of pain and consciousness that she had been cured with a unicornuate uterus, making full-term pregnancy almost impossible. For a woman with her condition to have a pregnancy last longer than four months was a divine miracle. Mom said Mrs. Biddelspatch kept muttering about ‘giving back to the community’ and ‘the healing power of stem cells.’
One week later, after several more distraught phone calls from Debbie, I decided to listen to what my gut had been screaming all along. I sat Meryl down and told her everything, all the details that I knew of at least.
Mrs. Biddelspatch certainly couldn’t produce her own erm.. ingredients to make the soap. No, she was far too old for that now. However, what she could do was teach me how to make it, and as horrifying as it is, I believe I know just where to get everything I need to make it.
I looked to Meryl, consumed with dread and horror as my fingers willed themselves to dial the numbers one by one. I knew that once I completed this call, there would be no going back. “Call your sister and tell her to come over,” I instructed my wife. I let out a shaky breath as the line began to ring, setting wheels of fate into motion that I’d worked hard to keep immobilized for decades.
A cheerful voice answered almost immediately, much to my annoyance and dismay. “Thank you for calling the Sunrise Meadows Retirement Community Center. My name is Ronald. How may I help you today?” His tone of voice was akin to a preschool teacher. Which, I guess in some ways, made perfect sense.
“I’d like to speak to Greta Biddelspatch, please, if she’s available.”
“Not a problem sir, I’ll connect you to the personal line in her room. May I ask who’s calling?” Ronald chirped.
I swallowed hard before answering. “Yes… This is her nephew, Gerald,” I lied. “She’ll remember me.”
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableN.M. Brown Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A