My eyes fix upon Mrs Marshall, immaculate in a starched apron, as she prepares to begin the demonstration. Cherries, heaped on the bench before her, gleam in the light from the high windows. Bowls, glasses, and spoons await, pristine and neat. My breathing stills as she wipes her hands and announces the start of the recipe.
I’m sitting at the front having arrived markedly early. “Don’t walk in there late and embarrass yourself, Patricia,” he’d admonished as I’d pinned my hat in front of the hall mirror. I have a clear view of Mrs Marshall as she expertly stones the cherries and drops the kernels in a bowl, marvel at the swiftness of the knife, the speed of her slicing.
On the imposing stove, she heats the cherries and kernels in sugared water. Steam settles above the pan like loaded breath on my neck. “It isn’t necessary for a wife to enjoy dinner parties, but it matters greatly how esteemed people view us.” Using her pestle, Mrs Marshall pounds the warm mixture with ease. Practiced muscles can crush repeatedly without tiring. She adds fresh lemon juice and a few drops of scarlet colouring. I listen to the pleasing slosh of the mixing, can almost taste sweet-sour cherries bursting on my tongue.
She elevates the bowl and tilts it to her audience. The mixture’s homogeneously deep, like wine sipped late in the evening by moustached lips. “And now ladies, it must be thoroughly sieved.” She deftly works the mixture through a tammy-cloth, then places it aside like a bloodstained napkin.
The room remains hushed, her audience apparently enraptured. I sense cramp in my lower back, try to straighten up against the chair. “We’re nearly there, ladies!” Mrs Marshall’s passion exudes, as though her recipe can enthral even her. “You could at least show pride in your culinary efforts. Most respectable wives would.”
She combines the fruit with rich, sweetened cream. As it blends to a smooth sunset pink, she adds a little kirsch. “Decadence is vital since it conveys prosperity. You must know this, Patricia, surely?” And at last, she tells us that this mixture must now be frozen promptly, surrounded by salted ice.
On leaving, my mind is distorted by colours, textures, aromas. The outside air seems fresher and saltier than usual. I should really go and buy the ingredients for Crème de Cerises, but I walk past the stores. “Our next luncheon must impress all of our guests, without exception.”
I wander along the promenade, listen to the circling cormorants, absorb the strength of the wind. Eventually, with my hat blown at a rakish angle, I begin to walk towards the sea. I do not falter as my boots slosh across the wet sand, leaving only imprints to be filled and lost.
Christine Collinson is a Best Microfiction nominee and has been listed several times for her flash fiction. She has had over thirty historical fiction pieces published online and in print. Find her on Twitter @collinson26.