Sunday, August 29, 2010

MAGPIE TALE: Spice Interrupted

Our contribution to this week's Magpie Tale.

When Gaetan moved into the little cottage on the edge of the Laurentian Mountains, he welcomed it as a welcome -- and likely permanent -- respite from the excesses and decadence of Montreal that had seduced and grounded him 25 years earlier. Today he took solace in sipping Lung Ching Dragonwell, sketching the local butterflies and birds, and watching the tip of Mount Raoul Blanchard emerge as the morning sun burned off the fog while he worked on his latest article for the Spice Scholar Quarterly.

The spring issue featured his 2,000 word "The Quest for Libyan saffron in the 8th Century" as its lead article, and he was now under pressure to top it with a piece on the stealth trade Melegueta Pepper and Calamus between Marakesh and Timbuktu during the heyday of Taureg cattle cults. Typically hidden beneath camel blankets, there were horrid stories of families selling their children for just a few ounces of these prized spices. Gaetan had employed a small studio of illustrators in Brunei for the accompanying graphics and was toying with the idea of a trip to Bamako to do more extensive research and expand the article to a book.

Just as Gaetan was close completely what he felt was a very effective sentence describing the gait of camels, he spotted a figure in the garden, startling him from his contented morning of productivity. Gaetan let out a disturbed sigh as he spotted his cousin Cedric, who always had a habit of appearing unannounced after months or years of absence and no communication, bring a sense of tension and disarray to the household. He turned off the desk lamp and closed his eyes, taking in a few slow, quiet breaths to summon the calm strength to confront his cousin.

"The persimmons were rounder last year," Cedric said, munching on the remainder of the fruit, juice slithering from his hand and mouth.

"How do you know they haven't been sprayed? Wouldn't you be putting yourself at risk?" Gaetan asked.

"I've put myself at much more risk than a few pesticides, and I know you'd never use them anyway. I think the whole scare about pesticides is overblown."

Gaetan took another breath and regarded his cousin's consistently disheveled appearance -- the mismatched boots, one gray and one brown; his beard that seemed a full inch longer on the left than it was on the right; the cap that seemed to be coming apart at the brim. The order he had worked so hard to restore to his life was about to be blown to shreds.

"There are wild blackberries along the creek," Cedric said.

"I don't remember seeing them. Are you sure." Just as soon as Gaetan said this, he realized that there were never greetings when Cedric returned, just as there were never any farewells. Five years might pass, and it seemed they were picking up their last conversation just where they left it, as if it were a cup of tea Gaetan had kept warm in case Cedric returned.

"Well, maybe they weren't blackberries. But from a few feet away they sure looked like it. I may go back down there this afternoon." With that, Cedric opened the kitchen door, and Gaetan saw him make his way down the hall, to the guest room where he had stayed five years ago, without asking, without explanation.

Gaetan strolled back to his desk, not a word coming from down the hall from Cedric. For a moment he thought about calling his sister Sabine to see if she might take in Cedric this visit, but she always managed to have a way to shield her life of order no matter what hit her. For the moment silence had returned to house besides the muted sound of Cedric unzipping his bag from behind the closed guest room door. With that comfort, Gaetan returned to his article and began working on a lengthy description of the sands of Mali.

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At 10:46 PM, Blogger kathew said...

oh my....uninvited and assuming...what a combo! I loved your description of the disheveled cousin!

At 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathew - There is one (or two or three...) in every family.

At 6:31 AM, Blogger willow said...

Another wonderful piece, Mr. Thief. I especially enjoyed that evocative unzipping of the bag at the end.

At 1:05 PM, Blogger Tumblewords: said...

juice slithering from his hand and mouth - is a visual and vivid image - wonderful tale!

At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Teresa O said...

Loved this Magpie! Unwanted and uninvited, yet engaging enough to elicit comfort. Cedric is quite a fascinating character.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Willow - Thanks for such a great prompt. I would like to live there, write and drink tea.

Tumblewords - I have a couple of cousins (who will remain unnamed) who might do that.

Teresa - Again, not exactly autobiography, but I've been in similar situations.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger ~T~ said...

What interesting characters!

At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wowww!! This was such a delightful piece.. Reminded me of a friend (just like Cedric).. and our relationship is just like Gaetan and Cedric's too! :) No explanations needed, no greetings, sudden disappearances, equally sudden reappearances :) It's lovely to have such a friend! :)
Thanks for sharing this piece here.. it was fascinating!

At 9:28 AM, Blogger PattyF said...

Wonderful piece!

I think my favorite part is: "... he realized that there were never greetings when Cedric returned ... it seemed they were picking up their last conversation just where they left it, as if it were a cup of tea Gaetan had kept warm in case Cedric returned." How incredibly true-to-life that is! There are some people whom you've known, or feel like you've known, all your life and it's as if the two of you are engaged in one continuous conversation.

Thanks for sharing!


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