All Stories, General Fiction

Clémentine Season by Karen Schauber

Undulating pistachio-green hills cover the valley like fondant in the small peaceful hamlet of Parisot. Horace, the hamlet’s lumbering menace, has been thrown down the oubliette. The dungeon’s musty stink jolts, and Horace lets out a wail for Pétunia, his zaftig sow. The pig, the runt of a litter of nine farrowed in June, is pregnant, and left without breakfast in her muddy pen. The last time the Elders consigned Horace to stew, this time they are intent on teaching him a lesson.

***

It is the season of Clémentines, within six days of the harvest. Katydids and crickets chirring. Horace is on the prowl bent on snatching the plump ripe fruit to tempt his precious pig. A single remaining Clémentine tree stands tall on the secluded hilltop, nestled among juniper haircap moss and wild pink phlox. The solitary tree is prized and cared for by the valley folk as if it was the last of its kind. Garnet-red flesh encased in glossy orange skin, fringed with dark green velvety tapered leaves, flavour irresistible, is coveted like crown jewels. In the murk of night, its colour beacons like fireflies. Horace trembles with excitement. The delectable syrupy Clémentine confiture infused with hibiscus honey, zest of bergamot and pinch of cardamon, already titillates lips and tongue in anticipation.

But they are watching. Under the sheen of the blue wolf moon, Horace is clumsy and obvious. A stinging arrow stops him in his tracks.

***

When they release Horace after the treasured crop has been harvested, he makes a beeline for his farm and directly to Pétunia’s pen. It is empty. He scours the winter barn, the one held for the two Valais Blacknose sheep during the frigid season. It too is empty. He wails loudly calling to her through hurried incoherent yodels. Blubbering, he takes off in the direction of his neighbour’s backwoods farm. She is sure to be there. His neighbour would have tended to her, of course. Pétunia, the runt of the litter squeezed out of the feeding line from her mother who had eight teats for nine piglets, was bottle-fed and slept under layers of linen coverlets like the princess and the pea in her first few weeks, in bed next to Horace. When he held the feeding bottle for her to suckle, the soft contented grunts and dainty blush-pink Pétunia-shaped birth mark on the piglet’s snout, made him swoon.

He takes the long route trekking through woodland trails to the creek expecting to find his precious ensnared in the underbelly of tree knots, whorls, and exposed braided roots. The pig would look for dark muddy cool spots and shade, some berries, duckweed to munch, wild purple yam. He uncovers bits of dried scat, ungulate hair, and bone fragments, but none recent. The neighbour does not have Pétunia. Horace gallops back home on thick brutish thighs, unhinged leather galluses flapping at his sides. He throws open the latch and door to the summer kitchen. An enormous salver of whole roast ham garnished with sprigs of rosemary and thyme, soupçon of black prune and red currant, occupies the middle of the harvest table. Potbelly stove stone cold. — She was the last of her kind.

Bereft, Horace drinks himself into a stupor, slobbering in a fit of rage and despair. In the morning he wakes to the sound of snuffling and grunts on the front porch. The hefty Pétunia bumbling around the slat-boards. The Elders take their disciplining far too seriously.

Karen Schauber

Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay 

6 thoughts on “Clémentine Season by Karen Schauber”

  1. Takes “Animal Farm” to a whole different level. The descriptions of Clementine and Ham harvest feast made me hungry!

    Like

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