In the House of
Beatrice Potter
Because he was back for a while, he decided we should take a trip together. So one weekend, when the British sun was still surfacing each morning, stuck now and surprising itself, I left the bag of finest grade rodent feed, and some tuille cookies, with Squeaky's owner, locked the bedsit door, and met Marcus at the big townhouse in Chelsea where he lived with a rich man I never met named Mr. Wooster. I went into one of their bathrooms and sprayed myself with berry cologne.

"I wanted to smell fruity for the trip," I said, waving my hands and limping to the car, which was also owned by the rich man, but Marcus grimaced when he sniffed. "That's the room deodorizer," he said. "Best to avoid the urinal cakes, as tempting as they may seem, when we stop for a piss."

"Tee hee," I said. I didn't care where we went but Marcus said Yorkshire so we got in the shiny car and drove north. Marcus packed a wooden suitcase, so quaint it looked like chickens would come flying out, and he wore a straw hat that sat poetically on the back of his dark head.

"Is that what you wear when you go travel writing?" I asked.

"Writers," he said, "have to be photogenic these days."

In Whitby there was an old ruined abbey. "This," a guide told us, "is where Bram Stoker's own Dracula first went stalking." The guide had one of those wrecked Celtic faces, all piano-key teeth, and it was easy to see why people offered up their necks, to the whitest fangs they had ever seen. But it was hard to guess what drew Dracula to shore. Most of the people crowding the streets were pink-skinned Brits who seemed gorged on a pedestrian kind of blood, chips, and curry, nothing a count would find interesting, because he always seemed to choose the anorexic, at least in his movies. Maybe he felt, charitably, that the job of sucking was already half finished.

Then we drove across the Dales, past a manor house where Byron got married, and then to Hilltop, where Beatrix Potter lived. In the photos that hung in the hallway she looked blousy and pie-faced, her padded body as soft as one of her groundhogs, but her husband was surprisingly handsome, his hair slicked down. Marcus only poked a head inside and then left for a smoke. "Will you be alright?" he asked, oddly solicitous.

"It's Beatrix Potters cottage," I noted. "Just me, Squirrel Nutkin, and Jemima Puddle-Duck. Though Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle could be trouble." From the window of the other bedroom --- did she and her husband sleep together in that narrow bed? --- I could see Marcus throwing butts and then a plastic baggie into the garden. Dilly Duck, if she waddled through, would end up with a beak full of speed. In the gift shop I bought a little figurine of Mrs. Rabbit and Peter. Mrs. Rabbit's right ear flopped but the other one was cocked and her black eyes were intent; she was tying a scarf around Peter's neck and her little hands were working, nuzzling her bunny as she wrapped him up. The inside of Peter's ears were painted a soft pink and he was alert too, a rabbit intent on remembering the moment.

"It looks sort of like Mr. Wooster with one of his proteges," Marcus laughed. Mr. Wooster was an uncertain thing. I pictured a fleshy queen in pastel sweaters, flapping his wrists, singing along to opera tapes. Maybe I limped a little now but my pupils were dilated all the time and I could bang my hips like a drum.

In Thirsk there was a big, open, market square and a hotel called the Golden Fleece, where we took a room. A statue of a gilded lamb dangling from a loose harness hung outside, though it was hard to tell if it was being dragged up dead, after some muttony lynching, or if it was being gently lowered to safety.

"All seasoned travelers know this," Marcus said. "When selecting a hotel for the night, look for the corpse suspended over the front door."

The town, I thought, seemed familiar and then I remembered why. It was where James Herriot lived, laying hands on animals. "I'll wait in the bar," Marcus said, because he hadn't read the books, or because the bartender serving afternoon tea was a boy with long, furry sideburns, and I went to the Herriot house, off the market square, that they had turned into a museum. I paid five pounds for the audio guide.

--- From Big Trips
"At Home with James Herriot"
©2008, Raphael Kadushin
Terrace Books
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