Madeleine drifted from stall to stall, inhaling deeply. She loved how the farmers’ market smelled a little different every week–this week, her nose found fresh basil, brewing coffee, and the toasty sweetness of kettle corn floating through the crisp morning air.
A few of the vendors called out greetings as she passed, and so of course that meant she had to stop and chat. Chatting gave her time to have a quick look at their produce–and that was how her bag grew a little heavier with each stop.
Tom waved her over from a few tables away. “Maddie! If you’ve got a yen for pork chops, you should know this will be the last of them before winter.”
She smiled and crossed over to him. Tom was a character–the kind of man who would demonstrate on his own body where a cut of meat was located. “Oh, I’m good for meat right now,” she replied. “But are your chickens still laying? I could use some eggs.”
“Of course!” he answered, and reached into one of the coolers. Not only did he have eggs, he had a story about the growing piglets and new baby goats. This was the best part of the market–the way the seasons came and went in meat and in vegetables. Everything in its time, and all of it within 100 miles.
The produce was simply glorious this week. With the approach of fall, the tables groaned with the last of the summer harvest. Knobby lumps of artichokes and the sprays of greenery from the crisp fennel bulbs vied for space amongst the heaps of stoplight red bell peppers and vibrant purple eggplant. The local honey vendor’s table glowed as though they sold jars of late afternoon sunshine.
Madeleine couldn’t resist. A dark bunch of Thomcord grapes were nestled on top of the last of the pale yellow crookneck squash. A few stalls later, she tucked a bag of cherry tomatoes beside the grapes. Maybe a late summer bouquet? She hesitated.
“Oh, you should celebrate,” the woman running the stall told her impishly. “Think of it as summer’s last hurrah–those sunflowers would look beautiful in a good vase.”
“You’re right!” Madeleine agreed, and learned about how Alice had gotten into the market scene while the flower stems were wrapped in brown paper.
“Do you have any fun plans for the rest of today?”
“Oh, just some canning,” Madeleine said blithely. “Get the last of the harvest put up, you know?”
“I love canning,” Alice agreed. “It’s great when things are in season, but there’s also something about tucking away rhubarb for February or strawberries for March. And pickles! Isn’t life better with pickles?”
“Alice, you are speaking my language. There’s nothing like taking food when it’s available and preserving some. Nothing gets wasted.” They shared a conspiratorial smile.
At that point, her bag would hold no more. Regretfully, Madeleine walked by the yams and wound her way through side streets until she’d reached her own front porch. As she unlocked her door, she could just barely hear a repetitive thudding noise coming from inside. She sighed. She would have been mortified except that she was pretty sure it wasn’t loud enough for the neighbors to hear.
Setting the bag and flowers on the kitchen table, she took a moment to appreciate the way the sun fell over the cheerful yellow blooms. The flowers could wait a moment, but she should probably unpack the rest of the food into the fridge and pantry.
Once that was done, she checked to make sure she had all the pressure canner parts and accessories set out and ready on the counter. The glass threads on the jars shone white with reflected sun, and the pile of metal rings gleamed.
Madeleine straightened the cleaver on the cutting board and then went down the wooden basement stairs to grab the first ingredient.
The thudding grew louder as she stepped onto the cement floor. “Do you know,” she said companionably to the man pulling at his zip-tie restraints, “I’ve never canned meat before? The recipe says it’s very simple, though, and promises that you’ll be absolutely fork tender.”
His eyes widened and he keened against the towel she’d stuffed in his mouth. He stopped kicking the metal side of the furnace and tried to push back into the wall as she approached.
Madeleine stepped over the drain in the floor.
“This will be a new experience for both of us,” she told him.
Rachel is a Canadian writer living in California, where she learned that you always flip the rock sample over first to check for scorpions. When not writing, she spends way too much time riding her bicycle. Her recent fiction has been published in Blood Tree Literature, Asymmetry Fiction, and Digitally Disturbed. You can find her online at www.fictionbuffet.com.