3LBE #9
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Orach

by Brendan Connell

 

“We writers are the best workmen for doing evil,
As our books may be bottles of poison.”

– Guy de Maupassant

 

The pear tree in the backyard was blossoming and it was a beautiful spring day, with the sky almost cloudless, and the surrounding high desert country peaceful and tainted green. The goat chewed at the new grass as the two men stood near, talking.

“Yes, he is a nice animal,” said Theodore, his eyes shining from his tough, wrinkled face. “Fat around the ribs.”

“You think it will be much trouble?” Peter asked deferentially.

“No… Not for me. You are not used to it — but for me it is alright.”

Peter nodded his head. He knew that the old man had done many such things in his time, and to him it was more or less routine. That was why he had asked him over, to find out what it was all about — from someone who knew.

Erica, Peter’s wife, looked out from the window. It made her queasy to see the two men standing there talking, as the goat calmly grazed. If she had known his intentions, she would not have let Peter buy it. They had moved out to the New Mexico country so that he could have the peace he needed to finish his novel, not for him to play rancher.

“It must just be something male,” she sighed to herself, turning away.

Reading, her eyes took in the words, but her mind did not register them. She still heard the voices; Theodore’s rough, accented; and Peter’s, always interspersed with a nervous little laugh. She wondered if he even remembered all the times she had taken leftovers, and bits of old bread and vegetables out to the goat, and how she always smiled and laughed at his big, round eyes.

There was the bahing — strange how sedate, considering that the old man’s hands must be gripping — and Peter holding it down. The task would be done very quickly, the knife enters, slashes the lovely throat, and the very warm blood, still living, floods and saturates the ground… like a puddle of chocolate syrup… and Peter still laughing nervously… Theodore still calm… the eyes, big and round, still open.

She slammed the book shut and threw it aside. She felt sick to her stomach. Was that the goat crying? It was hard to tell. Being actually distraught, she was unsure of her senses. She ran to the window.

Peter had his arms stretched up to the pear tree, Theodore was crouched on the ground. He held a rag in one hand and was working at something in the other. Peter stepped back and put his arms akimbo and the goat hung from the tree. The rich fluid ran from it, with emission— from the turgescence, from the twitching.

The white blossoms were red, and later Theodore would return to supervise the butchering of the animal, in return for a few choice cuts. The kidneys, heart, tongue, brains and sweetbreads.

• • •

The odor emanating from the kitchen genuinely disgusted Erica.

Peter diced a number of onions and sautéed them in the bottom of a large pot, then he added chunks of the cut up goat. They were a dark, brownish red, and heavily marbled with fat. He braised them and added two cans of whole, peeled tomatoes, then fresh celery, carrots and green chilies, and, later, frozen corn. He let it cook on a high heat for nearly two hours, occasionally adding spices and water to keep it from burning.

Erica opened all the windows in the house, and sat near one, looking out at the overlying hills and the blue, clean sky beyond. She watched as her husband went from his writing desk to the kitchen, where he stirred and tasted, and then back to the writing desk, to resume his literary work.

Later, the table set, Erica sat in grim expectation, a sympathetic smile plastered on her face. She could hear Peter in the kitchen, as he clattered around, whistling.

“Carne de chivo!” he said, setting a steaming bowl in front of Erica, and another at his place.

“It looks wonderful,” she said, in an animated, somewhat low voice.

She lifted a spoonful of the broth to her lips, blew on it, and sipped off a swallow.

“Good?” Peter asked.

“Mmmm hmmm,” she replied. “Tasty.” Trying her best to refrain from gagging.

Peter took in several spoonfuls of broth and vegetables, and then began to pick out chunks of meat with his fingers, gnawing at them and sucking on the bones. It was obvious that he thoroughly relished it, which was utterly obscene to Erica. She found the dish to be the most detestable she had ever encountered.

“Try the meat,” Peter mumbled from greasy lips. “It is totally delicious.”

She fished out a small piece with her spoon, put her lips around it, and then set it between her teeth. The flesh resisted such delicate advances. She tore a few fibers off and chewed them carefully. Peter had already finished his bowl; a small pile of bones and gristle sat on the napkin at his place. He returned to the kitchen for more. She quickly got up from her seat and chucked the contents of her bowl out the open window, then grabbed a few of the bones from Peter’s place and put them on hers.

“Seconds?” he asked when he returned.

“No, thank you… It was very good.”

The emotions she felt were akin to those of an adulterous woman.

After the meal, she watched her husband run his tongue over his gums, and between his teeth, dislodging strands of goat. Later that evening, he was in a particularly erotic mood; which was ironic, because that night of all nights, Erica (who was undoubtedly the more voluptuous of the two) felt in no way moved by his caresses.

• • •

Peas and beans were beginning to climb the string trellis along the fence, and lettuce grew in front of these, some light green and very succulent of appearance, another variety with bronzy, red leaves, forming a row of lovely rosettes. The tomato plants they had bought from a nursery in town and planted with wire cages in the sunniest spot out back. They already had blossoms and very small green tomatoes. Erica worked around them with a trowel, occasionally looking over at Peter, who was busy near the pear tree, where he had planted a fairly large patch of orach. She had told him that it was too shady there to plant anything, but he had just shrugged his shoulders and proceeded to turn the earth. Now the plants, each set fourteen inches apart, were already about a foot tall. The leaves were a vivid maroon, a color Erica once found beautiful.

“It is just like him,” she told herself, “to plant something that I have never even heard of, and have no interest in,. Instead of something nice, like spinach or broccoli… And then, there of all places.”

“Nice tomatoes,” were the hoarse words that made her look up.

Theodore stood leaning over the fence, a hand-rolled cigarette burning between his thick fingers and his face shaded by an old cowboy hat. Even his smile, to Erica, expressed something aside from good will. When they had first met him she thought he was charming, picturesque. Now she felt an aversion to him. She remembered him carrying away the kidneys, heart, tongue, brains and sweetbreads wrapped up in an old newspaper, and what had spilled.

“Already getting some green ones,” he continued.

“Yes, it won’t be long before they are ripe.”

Later, sitting in the bedroom and reading a book, she tried hard not to hear the sound of their voices, as they drank cans of beer in the yard.

• • •

The freezer was full of the meat. Peter seemed to subsist on it. Erica got out of eating the substance by claiming that it did not agree with her digestion. She burned incense by the yard in an attempt to cover an the ominous odor which — reminiscent of what was worst in man — or even schoolboys, who find pleasure in the torture of insects and lower animals.

The orach was the only vegetable Peter touched in the garden. He made salads of it, dressing it with soy sauce, garlic, olive oil and vinegar; and later, when the plants were about two feet tall, he boiled the dark maroon leaves and ate them with just salt, pepper and apple cider vinegar. The skull still hung from a branch of the pear tree, now partly covered by foliage — hidden — but it was there, it could be seen. Even in the dark, a stroke of white.

As for his newfound amorism, Erica could in no way account for it. She had previously thought that he followed her dictates a little too strictly in matters of lovemaking. She had imagined that she wanted him to act in a slightly more dominant fashion. Now however, she did not know quite what stance to adopt. His advances were gaining in regularity. There were now more often times when only a few hours elapsed before he made another grinning approach.

“You eat too much garlic and onions,” she one day counseled. “They say it… does that to you.”

“Grrrr,” he smiled, eyes twinkling, slits.

She laughed falsely. She was scared of this man. Was country life making him vulgar?

• • •

That summer Erica spent a good deal of time wandering in the low hills around where they lived. Peter did not work well when she was around. He would wander from room to room in the adobe house, in a gloomy stupor, his face looking sharp and unpleasant. At other times he was frankly a nuisance, giving unwanted caresses in the morning and early afternoon hours.

She put on a white, peaked cap, took up a water bottle, and retreated into the outlying countryside. When he finished his book they could leave; so she must give him the space he needed. It was apparent that her body, conjoined with the country air, was too much of a distraction for the man.

She walked along the ridge that rose up behind their house. To the south she could see the higher mountains, the summit covered with aspens which were already starting to turn slightly golden. To the north, the hills dropped away into grottos. And further off there were mesas, in the high desert.

As she walked she scanned the ground for arrowheads and thought about how pleasant it would be up in that higher altitude, wandering in the shade of those big trees. She turned and looked down into the valley below. A thick vein of green ran through there. It was the stream — the one that wound by their house — grown thickly with cottonwood trees and Russian olives. She could see the house itself, looking very small, the yard dotted with the lime green of the garden, the pear tree, and that dark red streak. She imagined him inside, at his desk, presumably hard at work.

She walked down the other side of the ridge, past piñon trees, yucca and stands of cholla cactus, then down into the ravine based with pink rock and sand. She usually went up the other side of the ravine, but this time she moved along it, letting it guide her course. A shot echoed out of the hills. She continued, making her way through the dry gulch that rose up around her.

Erica came around a bend and sat down on a rock in a small patch of shade. She opened her water bottle and lifted it to her dry lips. The voices were there, though she could not make out what they said. She noticed, over by a piñon tree on an opposite hill, the two men.

She knew right away that one of them was Theodore, but it was not until a few moments later that she recognized the other as Peter. It was obvious that they did not see her, and she watched as they dealt with the dead jackrabbit. Peter held it by the hind legs while Theodore cut the fur at the joint, and pulled the skin away from the legs, turning it inside out like a glove. He severed the head and threw it aside with the skin. Then he proceeded to gut it, removing the entrails and casting them aside, except one handful — possibly the heart and liver — which he tucked in his shirt pocket.

She remained very still, the water bottle tightly gripped in both hands. Theodore carried the dead animal by the forepaws, and the two men down toward the valley and disappeared from her view. She could hear the sound of their voices and low laughs, and did not move until much later, when the ravens came and pecked at the remains. The buzzards circled overhead.

She could feel the sweat run down her sides.

• • •

“So, did you work good today?” she asked.

“Fine,” he replied, but made no mention of the jackrabbit.

She supposed that he was saving it for some disgusting dinnertime surprise. She had heard that jackrabbit was one of the rudest meats to eat, and in no way looked forward to the event.

Yet when dinnertime came, he merely said, “Why don’t you just fix yourself a salad or something,” and proceeded to steam himself some orach, which he ate together with reheated meat.

She ate boiled rice and a green salad with slices of tomato, which were very good and sweet. The man across from her had sallow cheeks and deep set eyes, and was not in the least bit silent about eating his supper — he slurped up the vegetable, the maroon juice tainting his mouth, and chewed, almost ravenously, at the bones of goat.

She could not determine whether to go to bed before him, or attempt to stay up until after he was snoring. She fell asleep in a chair, a book in her hand. Wounds, superficial, were inflicted with forks, scissors, thorny branches, etc. That they continued to laugh was, of course, no surprise to her. Fastening the eyelids, of the goat, with the eyelashes, around the corona of the glans penis — and the hide, which was rough, even with its soft hair.

She got up and went to the bedroom. He was not there, though the bed was in disorder and his clothes littered the floor. There were sounds from the yard, and she saw, when she went to the window, that the moon was brilliant.

In the orach, beneath the pear tree, which was like an outstretched hand, he — it clawed— naked, quadrupedal, and half obscured by the dark red leaves.

 

 

Brendan Connell has fiction either forthcoming, or already published, in a number of magazines, literary journals and anthologies, including RE:AL, Tabu, Heist, Penny Dreadful, Monas Hieroglyphica, Fishdrum, The Dream Zone, Darkness Rising 3 (Cosmos Books 2001), Redsine (Cosmos Books 2002), The Best of Devil Blossoms (Asterius Press 2002), and Leviathan 3 (Ministry of Whimsy Press 2002). He has had translations published in Literature of Asia, Africa and Latin America (Prentice Hall 1999).


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ISSUE #9

December 2001

FICTION

ART