Secret Snippet! A Chapter Excerpt from an Emerging Fiction Author
Updated: Feb 15, 2019
Chapter 2 Excerpt from "The Pomegranate Thief", a novel by Genevieve Morrison
James Peters’s lot was a narrow acreage sandwiched in between two working family farms: The McRaes and the Belvederes, two dairy farmers with a history of competitive childishness that was endlessly perpetuated by each generation for as long as anyone could remember. The joke of the situation was that all the Jersey girls out to pasture were related in some way or another, and so the success or failure of each family’s production was essentially a reflection of the very neighbour one was forever trying to outdo.
James pulled into the driveway that had initially caused him so much grief that he paved over the damn thing and forgot about it. While he was assured by not only the realtor representing the previous owner but by both Teddy McRae and Greta Belvedere that this was the most fertile, arable land in a 60-hectare radius, his driveway was nothing but a narrow span of the most fantastically sticky mud his car had ever had the distinct pleasure to be trapped in. Were he of the mind, he might have packaged and sold the stuff to parlours and fancy salons as purifying clay to treat even the most severe case of wrinkles. But instead, he borrowed a truck and hired a couple of strong types to dump gravel and effectively suffocate the purifying stuff.
From the road, the only indication that someone was doing something with the land was an A-shape canvas tent sitting atop what appeared to be some sort of stage but what was the beginnings of a foundation for a small log house. The foundation was simple, a square shape that was so modest it could only accommodate the bare necessities—a fact that was carefully considered by its owner. Be it a sign of either a man’s true priorities or failure to think things through, the construction of the outbuildings was progressing faster than the house’s, and the chicken coop he purchased at the co-op only needed assembling.
“Ah, but we’re to have a barn raising!” Cackled Greta Belvedere at James’s mere mention of the fact that he would need to hire the Mennonites from the north or all the strong men the county could provide to raise what was, in reality, a diminutive structure compared to others in the township. But barn raising was something that folks around here specialized in and hooplaed about. Only thing was, Greta was making such a fuss about it that it there was a more to-do about the celebration than the actual work. Don’t you worry, Mr. Peters. Leave all the organizing to me. Rather than remind her for what seemed like the tenth time that he cared little about the subsequent festivities that a barn raising supposedly merited and more about raising the structure to finish the roof before winter came, he put it out of his mind and focused on tasks that one man could accomplish with his bare hands. This weekend, that meant ploughing his field and feeding it before planting his seeds.
As he pulled up next to the tent and turned off the ignition, he at last felt the rush of excitement of the back-breaking times ahead. If this weekend didn’t kill him, he’d figured he earned his right to be called a farmer. The sun hit the property with its bright, grapefruit-hued rays that gave everything a decidedly Romantic quality to which James was not immune. His Brooks Brothers navy knit suit was a deranged oddity that was removed the instant he stepped into the tent. Since it was his only suit currently not at the dry cleaners, he spared some time folding his pants and hanging the jacket against the horizontal pole of his temporary house.
The place smelled like untreated wood and that distinct aroma of camping gear. What else occupied the tiny square was a rucksack filled with shirts, a pair dungarees, a few kerchiefs, socks, underwear and his father’s woollen button-down sweater for when the evening temperature dropped; a Persian rug, sleeping bag, bear-proof food container, batteries, and three two-by-sixes separated by cement blocks for his books: Call of the Wild, Mary Barton, The Heart of the Midlothian, Self-Reliance, Walden, The Book of the Farm, An Agricultural Testament, The Farm Garden, The Moonstone, The Woman in White, Lyrical Ballads, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Homeric Hymns and a wad of yellowing farming manuals. He wondered if the amassed knowledge and sentiment of his literary collection was a hindrance to the practical nature of his farming endeavour. Rather than choke with overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, he imagined this life-long enterprise to be only thinly separated from nature as an experimental process, in which all manner of error was not only appreciated, but rather encouraged.
Rather than plough into the sunset like he had imagined he’d have time for, he lit a fire, skewered a few sausages and popped open a beer, sat by the fire and listened to the whip-poor-wills, only casually remarking on his total and utter vulnerability. He had been assured that the largest animals in these parts were coyotes, and that they were generally content to leave people well enough alone but were vicious opportunists when it came to poultry. He wondered, as many men had before him for thousands of years, what was sitting just beyond the light of the fire. Beasts and madmen and even cloaked old hags approached him in his mind, slowly, menacingly surrounding him until one such beastie was brave enough to reach into the circle and trace its mangled finger up James’s spine. The idea sent a prickling sensation up his back. He felt for his gun. Darkness, he realized, was something he’d just have to get used to out here.
Darkness and solitude.
The war had a funny way of making a man feel free. Before deployment, James sold everything he owned except for the clothes on his back. He knew he wouldn’t survive the war. He was not a fatalist: he accepted the odds as they were. He was not especially quick or adept at combat, he thought. His parents wished him an all-embracing goodbye that obliterated all past resentments and brought tears to his eyes. His death was inevitable now that he parted the family home on urgent whispers of affection. He romanticized his death, wished he knew how it would come if only to prepare for his grand exit. He survived, almost despite himself.
And when he returned from Europe in May 1944, James was overcome with a sickness that left him wretched, hungry, and silently hysterical every hour of the day. In the next room, his mother sat with her ladies, proffering pinwheel sandwiches, tea, and sweet embellishments of her son’s shining achievements and accolades. She could do this because none of her friends’ sons died in the war, so it was fair. Sure, Trudy’s son lost his left hand and ninety percent of his hearing, but he was alive and kicking, so it didn’t count. Meanwhile, James lay fully clothed and shod under the covers in the bedroom he wasn’t supposed to see again, the intensity of his thoughts so moving that his entire body was tenser than a suspension cable. Knocks at the door went unanswered, social calls were turned away or received with hysteric bellows of a man who has tasted death on his tongue. And for months James lay in bed, staring at the white window casing at the foot of his bed. He vaguely remembered Oskar pulling him up out of the water. One day he was watching the rain slice wet streaks across the casement, and the next, he was downstairs forking overdone pork chops in his mouth and sipping blood-red wine as Oskar gesticulated excitedly for the benefit of Jack and Marigold Peters about how their son was the stealthiest infantryman he’d ever seen and that together the two were going to start a business. That was the first night his parents met Oskar Jessen, and by the time he stood by the door to say goodbye, his face red and jovial from wine and the two hours of being the centre of attention, he held a cheque for a one-thousand-dollar loan and a frozen pot roast.
Oskar knew he wouldn’t be able to hold on to dear old James forever. And when he noticed his friend’s propensity to disappear on Fridays without so much as a pretense for a social invitation, he realized that Jessen & Peters wouldn’t last another year.