Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: AS EASY AS PIE (12/01/16)
TITLE: The Flavour of Freedom
By Ann Grover
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Yet, it is weighty, pressing into me, till my blood labours ponderously through my heart, throbbing around the dull ache in my belly, my bruised arms, and my swelled and cracked lips.
My hands are never still. Drawing water, scrubbing floors, splitting firewood, darning and mending, candle making. Dutiful, dedicated. In all ways.
Even now, I caress lard and flour between my fingers, stroking and blending until the cool creaminess of the lard has been absorbed by the flour. Mingled, yet not too much.
I have been making pies since I was eleven years old. It was an unexpected gift, the effortless ability to create feathery crusts with but a few turns of my childish hands. By the time I was twelve, my father was adamant that I make every pie. Or rather, he was insistent that my mother did not, for her pastries were often leathery and scorched.
I crack an egg into a bowl, admire the golden yolk, then froth it with cold water freshly drawn from the well. I pour the liquid into the flour and lard and stir, tenderly, slowly, until the mass is just melded. I turn it onto the cupboard and knead for but a moment. Kindly, for rough handling only begets toughness. I set it to rest.
I slice onions and potatoes and rutabagas and carrots, all harvested from our scrap of land, and add them to the stringy cockerel simmering in the pot. He’d been an insolent bird, malicious and peevish, and the cooking pot was better than he deserved for his viciousness.
Yet, the cruel rooster was a good-natured gentleman compared to Will. Will, with his callused hands and heavy, but swift, boots. In fifteen years of marriage, I’d not learned how to evade his mallet-like fists. Or how to sweet-talk him into docility. Not even drink soothes his wrath. Every word he’s spoken to me has pierced my soul like an arrow. Deeply, mortally.
And what of the babe resting beneath the apple tree, slipped too early from my belly, never to draw breath?
I can take no more.
I step out into the garden to pluck some early parsley for the chicken pie. Behind the garden, on the edge of the forest, a chokecherry tree catches my eye; it is wreathed with snowy sprays of blossoms.
Like petals opening to the sun, the beguiling thought blooms. So simple, so very simple.
My gardening shears are in the cottage, so I retrieve them, setting the parsley on the cutting board. The pot bubbles merrily on the fire.
I gather a bouquet of the chokecherry blossoms, breathing in their honeyed, intoxicating perfume. It is a marvel, that a tree may bear both good and bad fruit. For the cherries make sweet jewel-toned syrup and wine, yet the leaves ... oh, the leaves ... especially in the springtime.
Back in the cottage, I chop the parsley, adding dried sage, thyme, and rosemary gathered from clusters strung along the cottage’s smoke-stained rafters. My knife glints determinedly, unfalteringly.
Afterwards, I place the chokecherry blossoms in a pitcher of water and set them in the middle of our crude table. A deceptive air of innocence.
Flinging flour over the cupboard in a snowy drift, I take up the rolling pin. The pastry is obliging; I gently persuade it to satiny smoothness, a sheet of malleable marble. I fit it into the pan, fill it with the savoury chicken stew, and crown it with another blanket of pastry. Deftly, I flute the edges. After I etch vents in the top, I brush it with egg, then set the pie in the oven.
Carefully, thoroughly, I clean my hands, the cutting board, the rolling pin, the knife, the cooking pot.
How is it a man may batter your spirit and pummel your flesh without consequence to himself? Are his hands truly emissaries of God, delivering God’s own chastisement?
The pie bakes to glorious perfection. Tendrils of fragrant steam coil from the golden crust. I set it on the table.
There is yet time to hurl the pie down the outhouse. Which do I choose? The gallows and God’s judgment? Or relentless wounding, until I am crushed and broken?
Through the trees, beyond the hedgerow, I see Will coming along the path to the cottage.
With a thrill of fear, I make my decision.
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