I walk down from the church where my grandparents got married. Past the thousand year old tombstones, eroded beyond legibility, clothed in moss. On my left, the Vicar's house, on a true cobblestone road. A hanging sign, 'Ye Olde Eight Bells Shoppe.' Door rings a jingle, doesn't catch on the latch. Postcards of the Christchurch Priory, expensive scale models, knick-knacks and collectors' items (Thelwell ponies) in the back. Quaint cups here and there, a tea towel for dad's mum. The real candy's in the front. Toffee, fudge—whatever your parents can feed you that'll glue your teeth together for a while.
The cashier's a child of the weathered streets, grown to care for her town in turn. She waits patiently for my order, watching me stare slack-jawed at my options. Welsh Mint Humbugs, Rhubarb and Custard, Treacle Toffee Sherbert Lemons, jars full of no-names and stuff I'd think was for grannies. I ask for one chocolate caramel fudge and one vanilla swirl, please, as the bell chimes, a little blonde ringleted girl and her mum come in. There's an exchange of names—Marian, the cashier, Sara, the girl—the words 'mummy', and 'could I have some black liquorice, please' in her little British accent.
Marian calls for Nicola, teenager in the back who hadn't made a peep. Her brown hair loose like the hem at the base of her sleeve, bookish. They all know each other. Marian and Sara's mum are cool, calm and collected. Nicola runs an uncertain hand across the labels 'Cola Cubes,' 'Butter Scotch,' 'Blackcurrant Gummies,' searching for Sara's treat. Marian adds my purchases, weighs them a few times, Nicola keeps going to enter Sara's purchase in. My dad and I silently finding the whole exchange endearing, sweet. As I exit the shop, candy in mouth, eyes on thatch roofs, I say, "Now this is what I thought
England would be like."