Saturday, 21 June 2014

The Smoke of Autumn by Cath Barton

I love markets. Especially when the first flat white peaches appear, full of summer promise. We feast on those peaches for months, juice running down our chins, and we push back the pain which never quite goes away. In the sun, on our blue balcony, we are in a different world, a world where it never happened.

We wake each day to certain sunshine, the fig tree casting its shadow on the bedroom wall. We watch the rounding of the fruit, go out onto the balcony to observe them closely as they swell and develop their bloom. The process, like all of nature, a miracle. By mid-August the buzz of the bees tells us they are ready. We pick the luscious fruit, spread them on wide, shallow trays and take them to the cellar. Where over the next two months they will, we trust, dry to an intense sweetness to sustain us through the winter. We trust, as we trusted before. This is a different place.

But nature has its order. One which we cannot determine, cannot control. We can put the fruit to ripen, as we brought the child to term. But after that there are other factors.

And so it is with the figs as it was with the child. The watchfulness of months cannot protect when our backs are turned. It was an autumn day. There was smoke from bonfires. A smell forever, now, associated with a sudden shiver, a presentiment. And then the dull thud.

And so it is again. Smoke from a bonfire. A different place, a different smell, the lavender stalks. I go down the steps to the cellar and there is a scurrying. And little else.

There are, however, dried figs in the market, protected in jars. I will buy these figs, we will keep them in a jar, safe. We will suck on their sweetness in the winter. It will get us through and next year we will try again.

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