Agnese was the name of the baker, who had a generous figure and an almost perfectly round face. Her cider-blonde hair was gathered in a white handkerchief and her immaculate teeth shone when she smiled. And she used to smile very often. In her blue eyes you could see a curious glimpse of loving nostalgia, or maybe it was just a sign of attention – an attention able to contemplate this world and a farther one at the same time, a world lying beyond the borders of wakefulness. An exquisite whiteness – maybe it was flour – covered her fleshy forearms and her strong hands worked water and oat into dough with prodigious movements. Agnese made special flat breads that looked like small loaves but she added to them some spices whose flavour people could not recognize. They said she had her own seeds, exotic and unobtainable, of a shape similar to that of fennel seeds, but covered with a brown integument that tasted like caraway. Rumours had it that these seeds, kneaded into her breads, had prodigious effects on libido. The well-educated compared them to the notorious Spanish flies that – dried and crushed – were added to the dough for the chocolate cookies that libertines used to eat during their orgies.
The circulation of the rumours was astonishingly widespread and everybody seemed to be crazy for this humble and plump baker. Maybe it was because of her hands, that she forcibly dipped in the dough as if it was the simulacrum of a body at her mercy; maybe it was the whiteness of her skin covered with wheat powder and promising a velvety feel; maybe it was because of her generous figure, her tapered and proud breasts; whatever the reason, there was no doubt that the men of the village were particularly eager to go to the bakery after the Mass. But a sort of awe or reverence dictated them an unusual moderation and none of those males dared cross the immaterial border of courtly demeanour: they seemed to ask nothing more than to enjoy the simple proximity of the girl and never dared do anything indecent, leaving their whims to the evening fancies when – the kids in bed – they would devote themselves to the worn out and well-known Sunday copulation with their wives.
They said that Jonah, the miller’s boy that every day carried the sacks of flour from the millstone to the bakery, was the only man to lie with Agnese. He didn’t boast about it but people got to know it all the same. There were rumours of a furious copulation among baskets and hampers, a sexual intercourse that, time after time and story after story, became more and more rich in details until it reached terrific proportions: Agnese’s floating flesh among the puffs of flour steaming from the baskets, her hair finally loose whipping the air at every start, her white breasts describing circular orbits that flogged Jonah’s chest until he was finally lost in the whale’s belly; the smell of bread, which is the smell of life, impregnated the baker’s flesh, as if she was an enormous loaf ready to be bitten, an earthy aroma that didn’t endanger the grace of her divine abundance. Exhausted, at the height of the loss of self and radiant with the phosphor of pleasure, Jonah the miller’s boy had released his juices on the small French loaf opened up in halves that the girl handed him laughing: they said the bread was so soaked in the joy of flesh that any woman who tasted it unavoidably got pregnant.
While the snow was blowing outside in violent whirls over the dark and desert fields, I stopped at the inn to spend the night there, I ate my meal (a poor portion of chickpea soup seasoned with celery and laurel) in the bare and unpretentious room that functioned as dining room. After dinner, I lit my pipe in front of the fireplace and spoke with the Hunter.
“I saw her one night in March, the moon was cold and shined like a bone thrown into the air. I saw her. Of this, at least, I am sure. She was standing there, in the black and thick foliage, and she was naked. She had a child’s body and the eyes of a wild beast – the perfect prey, everything a man could long for. Her tawny hair fell down on her sharp breasts like a cloak, the spell of her trembling thighs ready to spring heated up my blood. Her immature sex, slightly marked with an unripe and paler fur, had, I could swear it, a pungent odour of spicy meat, and her glance knew the movements of nature and was intimately consistent with them. That glance, of a prodigious green, remained fixed on my eyes for a long time, then she vanished in the bush before my hand could reach the flask with the powder. I can’t say what happened, which barrier broke inside me, which flood submerged my mind. The only thing I know is that, ever since I met her, other trophies lost any appeal to me. Because, you know, this prey is not a prey. She was the one who caught me, not vice versa. Since then I have been wandering through the wood, prisoner of that memory, and I know I will be free only if I kill her. What secrets will she be able to teach me the moment when the carnage happens? Will her thin skin bestow scents of cardamom and orange and juniper, will her lips quiver like a rhododendron in the wind when I am about to perform the sacrifice? Will she give me again that electric glance, now that the blade is falling fast and any illusion is about to come undone?
And at the same time, should I ever reach her, I would sacrifice what I love most, the reason that keeps me alive, my ultimate goal. For thirty years I have been following her tracks, my dear traveller, in the depths of the wood. Thirty years. Sometimes I discern her fleeting ankle through the shrubs, or a small sparkle of her dark skin through the leaves, but when my punt-gun has shot, and the smoke rises up, she is no longer there. I can’t see anything but her, everywhere, and yet her face escapes me, her concreteness is unknown to me. Maybe one day my cartridges will stop her. I will find her there, lying on the ground, wounded and defenceless, I will find her burning and frightful eyes while her chest rises and falls with the gasp of the hunted beast with no escape: as soon as I have inflicted the stab wound, the entire forest will scream in pain. And even if it doesn’t scream, in her freezing body falling fast and relentlessly I will be annihilated. No more quest but pain and peace”.
The Hunter fell silent in the end, drank his brandy and fell asleep in his armchair. The fire died out, I lingered there for a short time; the innkeeper came and cleaned our dining table with a rag, then pointed at the half-asleep man. “There it is, the obsession; do you understand me? The addiction. He can’t do without it. All his life spent in the pursuit of a nymph to adore, and then to kill. A nymph that does not even exist”. The innkeeper spat out on the table to remove a stain, I turned my face toward the window.
I seemed to perceive the glare of two emerald-green eyes, behind the glass, through the frost. Then I withdrew to my room.
With every lash, her beautiful ass revived and went red, although, strange as it may seem, it looked brighter. I am going to whip it until it reflects me as a mirror, he thought, and he couldn’t imagine that he was being defeated, because a woman’s weakness is indeed her force. Women are mirrors, and we flatter ourselves that the secret lies hidden inside them. But their mystery lies inside us and we perceive our own face in the reflection – while the mirror remains untouchable, hidden, unattainable. We want to cross it, break it, discover what is on the other side. He couldn’t know it, but this was the desire that guided his hand.
Tied by wrists and ankles to the wall, upright, the Callypige offered her reddened buttocks to his whip. And yet she smiled, with every lash she smiled, because a woman who is whipped is aware she is becoming a goddess. And this same smile, this mysterious alchemy capable of changing pain into pleasure, condemned him to impotence.
Although there was something sensual about that game at the beginning, now the flesh had given way to a metaphysical, ancestral duel. In his eyes, the perfection of that figure deserved to be punished, it was an outrage, an insult; on the contrary, everything about her showed that she knew she couldn’t be violated. Do torment me, beat me, deploy your rods, again, carve my white flesh with vermilion marks, the stigma of a mortal being can be stamped on this inaccessible body! Split, open, rip, and rummage among my entrails searching for the secret! And yet you won’t possess me.
All of a sudden every illusion was shattered, the man’s hand came down and, crying, he surrendered and drew his damp cheek to the rosy gluteus made precious by a few drops of blood; he drank those sprightly beads with short licks, like a baby. The hands of the goddess, that by magic broke free of the strings on their own, caressed his head compassionately. In the end she pressed her golden pubis against his face, and dried his tears.