Quince, Part III

    He wore his favorite cowboy hat, with the brim wreathing his features in shadows. He had an air of severity about him, seen in the thin, firm line of his lips as he stood, concentrating on the task at hand. Next to him, working side by side, were his four sons. Benjamin, Julian and Mauricio chose to stay home and work the land and animals with their father. They were joined by Antonio, and all together they made progress on the pibil. Two whole pigs had been buried underground, wrapped in layers and layers of plantain leaves. The deliciously spiced pork was being slowly pulled out of the hole where it had lain slowly roasting over its underground furnace. Using the metal hooks that came in handy for just such occasions, they pulled out the entire grate, slowly and methodically, ensuring the precious cargo would eventually land safely in the waiting containers.

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    Sara held back, choosing to watch as her father and brothers worked together, bringing out the charred, smoking bundles. She knew that the burnt leaves were only on the outside, and that with so many layers wrapped around the pork, there would be a superbly steamed, delicious pibil with the added bonus of smoky flavors. Once the grating was set on the ground, singeing the green grass underfoot, Sara walked up to her beloved family. Her papa welcomed her with open arms, kissing the top of her head, just as he did every morning.

    Her brothers quickly worked with their knives, slicing away at the flaking, burnt leaves. Slowly, they cleared a path to the steaming hot, fatty meat. Using the tip of their knives, each brother stabbed a small piece of meat, blowing hard at it to cool, before taking that first bite. Mauricio held out his knife to Sara, and she nibbled at the delicious roast pig. Fat, seasoning, heat - all came together in one perfect bundle – the villagers would be happy indeed. She loved her small bite, but could imagine how much better it would be when she wrapped up chunks of it in hot corn tortillas, possibly topping it with some tomatoes and onions. Still full from her bowl of k’ol earlier, she gave back the knife so Mauricio could enjoy a bite too, before the meat was placed in the plastic containers to take inside. All around them, puffs of wind blew the papery black bits of leaves. The smell was divine.

    Benjamin and Julian quickly finished their bites, and without being asked, began carrying the first container to the main house. Antonio headed out where a few horses were hitched to the orange trees at the edge of the north fence. Mauricio and Papa placed more meat into the plastic tubs, grunting under its weight as they hurriedly carried it off where the previous two had headed. Sara stayed on to watch the remaining pork, waiting for her other brothers. Around her, the sound of men working quickly and diligently filled the air.

    Some of the younger men worked on digging small holes for the posts that would hold up tents where everyone would gather. The men she saw earlier when she awoke were alternating between stooping and walking around as slabs of beef lay roasting over the low fire. She recognized Fabian’s father, and her face brightened under the now glowering sun. Her friends were close by; perhaps Fabian was even around helping. He would be her escort for the ceremony later that evening, and she wanted to see him before. To her relief, Julian ran out with his container, ready to carry the remaining pork. He rejected her offer to help, bracing himself and picking up the heavy plastic with ease. He too went back to the house, and Sara was free to seek Fabian. Maybe Luciola had come over as well.

    As far as friends went, those two were her favorite people. How many times had they played in the sprawling grass and shrub covered yard, climbed orange trees and mango trees, falling and catching each other. They had nearly sliced off Fabian’s fingers once. Using the “Y” shaped yoke that Mama used to hold up the laundry line on Saturdays, they decided one late afternoon to bring down some golden plums. Neither of her brothers were around and with no reason other than they could, they clumsily tied a sharp kitchen knife to the tip of the pole. Luci had been nervous, but Fabian, pleased to spend time with his favorite people, decided that he was safe, and went first. The sharp knife sliced through the first bunch of plums, falling with a soft thump on the ground. Sara and Luci scrabbled with each other, laughing as they fought over the sweet-tart fruit. Fabian pushed the pole one more time at a particularly laden branch, and either force, or poor tying skills, predictably loosened the knife. He looked up and saw the knife coming straight at the girls below. His decision was easy, and he let go of the pole, throwing himself in the path of the falling knife, hands outstretched above his head like he hoped to deflect it completely. The knife landed blade first on the tips of his middle and index fingers, slicing deep.

    He landed directly on top of Luci, one foot smacking Sara, and when he got up, adrenaline still pumping, found both his best friends shaking themselves to their feet, pale and scared. He looked down at his injured hand, and the sight of his pouring blood made him dizzy. Sara was the first to break the shocked silence after their undignified tumble. Her scream scared the other two into action. Grabbing Fabian’s sliced fingers in a near death clutch, Luci hurriedly dragged him to the kitchen where Vilma, having heard her daughter’s scream, came running out.

    Between levelheaded Luci and the expertise of a mother used to dealing with four boys, Fabian was patched up quickly. When the blood finally stopped flowing, Sara sheepishly held his hand, staring at the bandaged limb, realizing that he had tried to save them both. That day, all three bonded over his heroics, Sara’s hysteria, and Luci’s levelheadedness. Their bond fasted like a knot around them, much stronger than their knife tying incident, and its hold had certainly lasted longer.

    Sara smiled as she remembered their shenanigans, with a soft spot warming in her heart as they both jockeyed for equal love. Ahead, she saw her slightly plump best friend Luci, holding what appeared to be a nice hunk of the roast pork. She was with a cowboy hat-wearing Fabian. He seemed torn between helping his father grill, and keeping company with the girl who Sara felt should be his wife someday. They caught sight of her and his decision was made for him. The two girls squealed at each other, almost as if they hadn’t seen each other mere hours before. Shaking his covered head, Fabian left them to their ceaseless chatter. Holding Luci’s greasy hand, Sara pulled her into the house where the volume had increased, and toddling children had been added to the mix. The party was gearing up to be a big one.

    Together, they walked to Sara’s bedroom, to once again, sigh and admire the dress of her dreams.

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