By Mitzi Szereto
Derbyshire. So many years since I was among the rolling green hills and sheep-dotted valleys, the stone walls lining the roads and crisscrossing the pastures. So many years since I walked the village streets of Bakewell. Ate a Bakewell Pudding. Licked the last jammy traces from my buttery fingers. Nostalgia is a powerful tool. It makes people return to their pasts.
To Bakewell. A place where you might expect to see Colin Firth decked out as Mr. Darcy alighting from a horse-drawn carriage. Where in the nineteenth century a cook at the Rutland Arms misunderstood instructions while making a strawberry jam tart, inventing the confection that put Bakewell on the map. The one that lured me back here on this first day of spring.
The last remnants of snow like cake icing in the shadows. A crisp cold day. A perfect Derbyshire day. The daffodils are enthusiastically in bloom thanks to global warming, despite the sudden cold snap that whipped through the region last week. England will soon have the same climate as the Mediterranean. Or so everyone keeps saying. Of course I’ll be dead by then and won’t need to worry about how much SPF is in the sun cream I bought at Boots.
Before heading down into the village, I take a drive along the winding road above Chatsworth House. A spectacular edifice. Surreal to think that people actually live there. Far below me the visitors’ car park is already jammed full of shiny metal rectangles. Easter break. I offer a regal wave from my car window at the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, who are nowhere to be seen. The sheep grazing on the hill seem to appreciate my greeting, making me wonder whether they might be the same sheep I saw there in my youth. Doubtful, considering all the culling that went on in the countryside.
I leave my vintage Mini Cooper in a pay-and-display lot in the center of Bakewell. It’s too early to get a pint even by bibulous British standards, so I take a stroll along the bank of the River Wye, thinking about the past and those who inhabited it. A few pensioners loiter at the water’s edge, tossing hunks of bread to the mallards and the swans, which stretch their elegant white necks to receive them. The rejected bits and pieces float sluggishly along the river’s surface until finally sinking. Raucous laughter comes from the ducks and I turn to see who cracked the joke. Hell, maybe the joke’s on me for being here. Even with the chill in the air the ice cream van is already ensconced at the edge of the park, waiting for the punters to line up. The tourists. The locals. The children just off school. Award Winning Ice Cream it says on the side. Award winning. How can there possibly be so many awards for ice cream in a small country that’s always cold?
Bored watching bread being masticated by rubbery bills, I return to the village proper, passing by the shops with their local handicrafts and their racks of postcards outside on the sidewalk. Fifteen pencea real bargain. I know exactly where I’m going; my taste buds have been telling me all week. The old parish church stands guard on the hill before me, its bell tolling the noon hour. I’ve been up there countless times. Not to worship, mind you, but to daydream in the watery light among generations of leaning headstones. Daydream of things that were never to be as I ate the Marmite sandwiches my mum had made me although I was old enough to do it myself. I was old enough to do a lot of things by then, given the chance. But the one thing I most wanted to do I never did. Fear of rejection, I suppose. Of being laughed at.
I liked to walk up to the church via the steep roads lined with terraced cottages, each competing for attention with their hanging baskets and window boxes exploding with red and orange and purple. Sometimes she came with me. Sometimes. Then I’d bring along a Bakewell Pudding with the Marmite sandwiches, which we shared. She would lick her fingers afterward and once, as a lark, she even licked mine. Our special feast left her lips gleaming with butter and speckled with bits of eggy pastry flake. I wanted to lean forward to clean them away with my tongue. Only I didn’t dare.
Monday. A dull day by village standards, but not in Bakewell. It’s market day. I could buy a heifer if I wanted to, or a bunch of leeks. Neither tempts me. I’m more interested in my reveries of what might have been had I been more daring. Fantasy and drink go well together, so I nip into the first pub I see, the pub of my youth and the youth of so many generations who came before. Although the crowds haven’t yet arrived to fill it with their clamor and their stink of cigarettes, I take a table over in the corner by the window, wanting to be left alone with my thoughts of the past. My thoughts of her.
Time passes quickly when you’ve got a warm pint in your grip. I order a second to draw things out. I don’t want to leave, since I’ve only just got here. Not that there’s that much to see, but I did drive all this way for my Holy Grail. Besides, my pay-and-display sticker is valid for another two hours. After I exhaust every memory I have as well as some that are more illusion than memoryof parted thighs and tiny gasps with my name imprinted on themI am left with the conclusion that nothing much has changed in Bakewell, except me. But then, I’m not a part of Bakewell anymore.
With the approach of lunchtime, the pub gets busier. I glance up from the muddy depths of my stout and notice a woman standing at the bar while the publican pulls a pint for another customer. Her fingers drum the aged woodthe only indication that she might be impatient for the man to get on with it and serve her. She’s dressed in typical country fare: brown corduroy jeans, beige Fair Isle sweater, earth-caked hiking boots. Probably one of those hale and hearty types on a walking excursion, although I see no evidence of the requisite rucksack and walking sticks. She shrugs her heavy brown coat from her shoulders and whips off her plaid scarf, whichsurprise, surprisehas brown woven into it.
Wild waves of chestnut hair. Creamy skin. A rosy blush on the cheek turned toward me. I stop breathing.
It can’t be. It can’t.
But it is.
Drink in hand, she turns around, apparently searching for a suitable place to drop her over-garments and partake of her half pint of what looks to be cider. A ray of sun from the window by my head catches on the contents of her glass, turning it to liquid gold. She spies me at my lone table and her eyes widen. "Um, aren’t you"
Without waiting for an invite, she settles into the chair adjacent to mine. The chair with the wooden seat made shiny by generations of pub-crawling bottoms is now being made shiny by hers. The thought causes a fluttering that begins in my abdomen and spreads lower and lower until I have to cross my legs within the confined space to quash it.
"You all right? It’s been so long " Mundane words, but nevertheless exciting. Her accent still has the north in itthat curious Derbyshire-Yorkshire crosshatching with the dropped thes, and the sommats in place of the somethings. But then, she probably never left here.
I nod. I don’t need to be reminded of how long it has been. The evidence shows in my face. My eyes. Not hers though. She’s still beautiful. Still young. Even after two decades I can taste my desire for her. It’s as strong as it was when we picnicked among the dead of Bakewell. I watch her lips move as she offers me small talk. I feel a dampening as they form the vowels and consonants that make up speech. A trickling in my armpits and groin, followed by a stirring. A pulsing. A staccato beating. "Do you still live here in Derbyshire?" I manage to ask.
"Never left," she says with a smack of her lips, which have the delicate tincture of Belgian strawberries. "Why leave heaven?"
Heaven. Yes, it might be to some. It never was to me though. Not as long as my desire for her remained frozen on my fingers and tongue. Frozen in my genitals.
She shakes her head and sighs. "Market day."
"Suppose I shouldn’t complain. Did fairly well in morning, considering."
"Competition. Gets worse every year."
A two-foot expanse of weathered pine separates us. I want to kick the table away. To grab her up in my arms and have her right there on the gritty pub floor. To do all those things I’ve wanted to do since I was old enough to think them. Instead my right hand begins to close up the gap between us under the table, a thief in the night as it seeks out a corduroy-clad knee. Contact is made. A slight widening of eyes. An intake of breath. She dips her lips back into her cider, taking a long draw from the glass. I am imagining that she’s taking a long draw from me.
The warmth of her knee scalds my fingers. My heart. "I heard you got married," I say, not wanting to talk about the market, but about her. About what she’s been doing with her life since I last saw her.
"He paid more mind to footie than he did me."
I can’t help but laugh. "Blokes!"
We grin at one another conspiratorially and her knee presses closer, killing me. Does she know?
"What’s in bag?" she asks with one of those mischievous twinkles I remember from years past. She was very skilled at those mischievous twinkles, even when she was still running about in pigtails. Problem was, I never knew if they meant anything.
"Actually, it’s a Bakewell Pudding."
She smiles with what I take to be a remembered fondness. After all, she liked them as much as I did. Maybe more. Her teeth are so white and perfect. She could have been a toothpaste model. A shining exponent among a nation of dingy gray. "Reliving your past?"
"Yes. I mean, no. There really isn’t anything from the past I want to relive."
The smile turns to a frown. I can tell that my offhanded remark puzzles her.
The strong stout I’m drinking makes me reckless and my fingertips trickle light as summer raindrops up her thigh. Does she notice? Yes, she notices. "Bad memories then?"
"No, not bad. Just not particularly memorable. Or not as memorable as I would have liked them to be."
I want to tell her that my memories are all of her and how much I wanted her. Of all those times I dreamed of her silky skin beneath my fingertips, playing it like the strings of a harp. A melodious cascade of notes that reach a crescendo as I pluck the string of her womanhood. As I think this, my hand moves higher, toward the warmth held safely between her corduroy-encased thighs. Toward the humid place that haunted so many of my youthful nights and the nights leading to my middle years. She doesn’t flinch from my touch. Surely she can feel it beneath those cast-iron jeans of hers?
"You mentioned the market. What exactly do you do?" I say, hoping to divert her attention from my meandering fingers. Just a little while longer let me touch you. Just a while longer. Let me feel the wetness through the corduroy. I know there’s wetness. There must be.
"I run me nan’s farm."
"Farm? Somehow I never envisioned you in the role of lady farmer."
"She died five years ago. No one else but me. It’s not a bad life, really."
I find it. That sweet core of moisture. That hint of female desire. I press my fingertips to it, as if they can pass through the fabric and into her. I smell the butter from the Bakewell Pudding. It has soaked through the bag, forming a dark spot on the white paper. It probably matches the dark spot soaking the crotch of her jeans if only I could steal a peek beneath the table to see it. I would like to taste her with the rich butter of a Bakewell Pudding. Taste her with fingers glistening with it, glistening with her. A heady pudding, indeed.
"Any problems with foot and mouth?" I ask inanely.
"No. Keep mostly hens. For eggs. Free range. Also grow organic veg. I don’t go in for this killing of animals for profit." Her words are coming quicker, as do her breaths.
"That’s very admirable." I press my fingers harder into her. Her mouth opens like a pink flower bursting into bloom in time-lapsed photography. "So I take it you’re a vegetarian?"
She nods. Her left eye has begun to twitch. As I stare at it, she reaches up and rubs at the corner with her knuckles.
They say you taste like what you eat. I’ve never tasted a vegetarian before. I would like to. "Do you eat any animal products at all? Like butter, for instance?"
"I’m not vegan, if that’s what you mean."
Good. Then she won’t mind my buttery fingers dipping inside her. But not without first rubbing her outside. Rubbing that slippery little node of fleshthat sentient string on a harpthat I know is getting stiffer with need for my touch, maybe for my tongue. "I hope you don’t mind my asking, but can you actually make a living from a farm like this?"
"I get by."
Is that a gasp I hear? A slight catch in the voice? Her cheeks, already rosy with the brisk Derbyshire air, are now even rosier.
"Well, I envy you."
"Envy me? Why?"
"Because it’s an honest way to live. True to the land. It beats climbing all over each other to see who can grab the most dosh."
"Suppose that’s one way of looking at it."
My fingers begin to move in a circular motion in the place where I imagine her clitoris to be. I must have estimated correctly, because she catches her lower lip between her teeth, biting the strawberry color out of it. "Are you enjoying it?"
"What?" she says breathlessly.
"The farming life."
"Yes, yes. I enjoy it."
Now that I’m in the correct location, my fingers move faster, push harder. The legs of my chair scrape the floor as I urge myself sideways, closer to her. So close there’s hardly any space separating us. Her booted right foot has hitched itself up onto the brace of her chair, which causes her legs to part. She is opening herself to me. I look down at her lap and see that she has undone the zip on her jeans. When did she manage to do that? She takes another sip of cider. Should I? Should I do it?
The locals have gone over to the darts board with their pints, thankfully moving farther away from our table. Not that their presences would have made much difference at this point. I am too far gone, as is she. I abruptly remove my hand from between her thighs and she deflates. "Would you like some Bakewell Pudding?" I dip my blessed right hand inside the butter-soaked bag to tear off a piece.
"N-no. No thank you."
"Are you sure? There’s more than enough here for both of us."
"Remember how we used to share it? That and my mum’s Marmite sandwiches."
She doesn’t answer.
I eat what I have taken, enjoying the flavor of my youth. The slippery butter coats my fingers, but I don’t lick them clean. Instead I plunge them down the unzipped front of her jeans. Down to the rich oleaginous pudding that awaits me there. She cries out from the shock and parts her legs even more, her head lolling backward into space, chestnut hair billowing behind her. Her clitoris is stiff and greedy, as I knew it would be. I purposely neglect it, running circles around it, torturing it, before taking that heart-stopping plunge. Her own butter drips onto my fingers, and I am able to easily fit three inside her.
I worry about that lower lip of hers. It has been absent of blood for too long from the biting of her teeth. Her perfect white teeth. "It’s funny, but I’d forgotten how truly lovely it is here," I say.
"Bakewell. I shouldn’t have stayed away for so long."
"Why did you then?"
"I guess I didn’t think I had anything to come back to." My fingers slide back out of her melting butter and hone in where they are most needed. She mewls as I stroke her. As I fondle the upstanding bit of flesh that so identifies her as a womanthe woman I have long dreamed of having. Touching. Tasting. Why did I wait so many years to return to Bakewell? So many wasted years!
Her hips begin to gyrate on the seat of her chair as my strokes turn into more concentrated circular motions, which I intersperse with teasing little tweaks between thumb and forefinger. She likes those; I can tell by the quivering of her eyelids. I know what a woman likes. Of course I do. I lean in close, smelling the wild waves of her hair and smelling the wild waves of her desire. She is a hot flame beneath my fingertips. The sound of darts hitting their target reaches my ears, as do the moans being manufactured beside me. She’s close. I can feel it. I speed up and that’s it: I push her over. She cries out her pleasure, which gets lost beneath the dart players’ excited shouts. Someone has scored a bull’s-eye.
As she suffers her last shudders, I raise my fingers to my lips to lick off the buttery remnants of my Bakewell Pudding.
I’ve come home. At last.