Dark brown, piping hot, laced with configurations of its main ingredient, floated upon by bites of toasted French bread and with a soupçon of secrecy as to its other ingredients, Amy’s deep platefuls of onion soup (so-called) were dished out noisily to those beaming faces around the trestle-table in Amy’s old-fashioned kitchen. Onion soup, in the particular guise of Amy’s homely and indelicate delicacy, was renowned from county to county. The accoutrements of lunchtime – involving a social affair in most rural communities – were copied between households and, then, between townships themselves, as the less-than-secret fame of Amy’s secret recipe took hold on the culinary imagination. But nobody knew for absolute whether their own versions of the onion soup were anything like the version that was Amy’s. One drawback of secrecy was that misunderstandings and confusions followed in the wake of concealment, as night followed day.
Baron Charles was a case in point. He was – on the face of it – a common township owner with no axe to grind other than to collect his due tithes from those who spent all day over lunch. He felt obliged to attend social functions (to keep his face known) and when Amy’s onion soup was on the menu, he wished that two of him could go, even more of him like four or five versions of himself, as there was always too much to eat of the scrumptious fare.
When he heard that Amy had travelled from her old-fashioned kitchen towards his township to supply catering for such an all-day lunch, he shrugged off his own common sense of his own position in life and found himself involved in all manner of crossed intention as to why he wanted to meet this lady. He guessed she was after onion soup rights in his township, to the point of tinning and labelling for barter. So with quite a complicated sense of himself, he lurched towards the makeshift misroofed barn dedicated to lunchers, his stern purpose ready both to gulp as well as savour the hot dark brown portions that Amy’s men hefted in wagons as not only culinary belly-fillings but also as toning and lubrication for the skin or unguent for the soul in the form of spas or jacuzzis or christening-fonts, some scouring, some scalding, some vichyssoise.
He unhasped the plank-door, expecting to see several pleasant peasant faces turned towards him in glee at the arrival of the township’s Baron, all craning to show him their brimming spoons or ladles as they fished the dark brown wells sunk into the very wood of the long and deep trestle diner: with Amy in the shadows, a figure of secrecy as well as of mother nature.
“Welcome dear Baron Charles, thanks for coming,” said the lady in a dark brown apron to conceal stains, staring straight past his face through the shadows from which she eventually emerged, casting into the background any mindless gabble of the diners.
Had he come, indeed? He turned round and found himself followed by another. He was a ghost and so he stepped aside to allow the real Baron Charles to stride past him into the barn to shake the lady’s ladle.
He was not yet convinced this was Amy herself. Secrecy meant that identities remained uncertain, but he was damn sure that the likely looking country characters stuck into the table were the larger-than-life tenant farmers who owed him tithes-in-arrears galore. He’d soon complete the full social circle and make them feel guilty rather than accuse them of guilt itself: always the best way in the mechanics of debt recovery. Side-on, not head-on… Glancing blows rather than fists-in-the-face…
His ruminations were diverted by a sudden rage at realisation that the lady (Amy?) had seen fit to welcome him to his own barn and, even if it were an unwelcoming barn-in-disrepair, she had no right to welcome him to it.
He eyed a huge steaming cauldron of what he assumed to be Amy’s onion soup in the corner with a large corn-dolly sitting beside it looking quizzically, if inanimatedly, at him. A clownish face. A face with no life, yet acting the goat by the merest permanent glance from its tantalising features. He shuddered at the thought of the secrets involved, more secrecy than salt or seasoning.
Floating, as ever, as on any worthy onion soup, clear or clouded, were barques of toasted crouton, a whole fleet of them upon its hot inland tides.
“Do help yourself, Baron,” said the lady. She held out her ladle, this time not for shaking but for dipping. “Or would you prefer to use your own hand cupped…?”
Remembering the rather strange idea that had earlier crossed his mind of spa or jacuzzi or christening-font, he wondered whether the Earth’s springs took the same colour from the earth they travelled through or were encased by. A dirty onion plucked from good old mother nature was a wholesome bulb from which to cultivate taste-buds as well as a steady growth towards death. The mixed metaphors were simply an unwelcome spin-off. He just wanted his lunch and good company. Tithes or not.
“I’ll use myself,” he replied at last. “At least I know I’m clean.”
He reached out his hand towards the bubbling soup, fingertips-first. Slanting hesitation rather than a premature plumping.
Meanwhile, the other diners guffawed over their repast. They watched the two figures in the shadow enfolding gradually within each other in a moment of love so rare these days between man and woman, that they all felt good inside. Amy’s onion soup had reached parts other soups could never have reached.
They always liked to see the Baron diverted from pursuance of tithes. But they were pleased for him, too, as they heard the gentle bubbling noise and the scrape of crouton on crouton. They were all heart. Lunch was not just for lunch, but for life. A free lunch. They clattered their spoons and kneed the undersides of the trestle, as they wantonly basked in a memory of death that they had forgotten forever.
Till they heard the hasp of the plank-door opened yet again. No secret who that might be.