‘Fall from Grace’ by RJ Belcourt

Fall from Grace

Illustration by Andres Garzon

 

I was raised on a farm just outside a village nestled like a shirt button in a valley on the Canadian Shield. Most of the wage-earners in this Northern Ontario community worked at nearby nickel mines. My childhood was relatively normal until one autumn afternoon in 1972. I was twelve. Forty-five years later, the horror I witnessed that day still haunts me. My mother, who turns ninety this year, likely has no recollection of the event, unaware of the psychological trauma she inflicted. My perception of my sweet, loving Maman has never been the same.

Every Sunday morning, I’d crawl out of bed, put on my best clothes and, unwillingly, accompany my parents to church. My mother adored Mass. Like a newborn suckling breast milk, she eagerly absorbed every word spewing from the priest’s lips.

I recall the floral scent of her perfume—that sweet smell of wild lavender. Looking up at her from the bench, I couldn’t help but admire her. She was so beautiful in her best dress, her painstakingly arranged auburn hair and her ruby red lips. In those moments I couldn’t imagine she was anything but perfect—an angel.

Despite her beauty, time in church seemed to drag on forever. Uncomfortable, confined and bored, I squirmed around, only half sitting on the hard-wooden pew. I fidgeted with the prayer book and played with the kneeler until the inevitable look of scorn my mother glared at me. An omen, a silent warning of decidedly unpleasant consequences to come.

My father, stiff in his good suit, sat next to my mom. He left the disciplining of the children to her and made no effort to bond with any of us. He was a proud, hardworking man who, despite his faults as a father, managed to provide his family with the necessities: food, clothing, shelter. He fought emotional demons his entire life and sought relief from his tormentors in the bottle. He loved spending time with relatives and friends. Unfortunately, as far as he was concerned, any socializing had to include drinking. Alcoholism established a rhythm in our lives, each drunken episode an orchestrated symphony based on a familiar recurring motif.

My father’s periods of drunkenness affected us to varying degrees, and we dealt with them differently. One child reacted with anger, another with compassion, or hatred, resentment, understanding or pity. Mom’s unwavering devotion to my father, and the care with which she helped him through his weeks of binge drinking and the painful withdrawals that followed, were undeniably fueled by her faith in God. The agony my mother endured during those dark periods was reason enough for me to consider her a martyr.

One lazy Saturday morning, all of my impressions of my lovely mother were about to be broken. I was lying on the green shag carpet in the living room, chin in hands raised on my elbows, watching cartoons. I was interrupted by Mom’s voice from the kitchen.

“Raymond, why don’t you turn that thing off and come over to the Larose’s with me?” asked my mother with enthusiasm.

“Aww, Mom. Bugs Bunny is starting. Do I have to?” I whined.

“C’mon, it’ll be fun. We’re making sausage and I could use your help.”

“Can I bring my comics? I have a couple I want to trade with Yvon.”

“Sure, but no trading until after we’re done the work,” she answered.

Mom grabbed a big ceramic bowl, a wooden spoon and a large knife from the kitchen, and out the door we went. We walked up the driveway and the short distance along the highway to the neighbor’s farm. To my surprise, Mom led me past the Larose’s house itself straight to the barn.

Mr. Larose and my father were already at the barn waiting for us. They were leaning against an old plow, chewing the fat—my father with a cigarette in one hand and a ball peen hammer in the other. Mom instructed me to wait outside. Handing me the utensils, she walked into the barn with my father and Mr. Larose.

A few quiet minutes later, I was startled out of my comic by a chorus of high-pitched squeals. Curious, I set the comic down and opened the barn door to find my father and Mr. Larose both in the pig pen. My father was desperately trying to herd a half dozen piglets into a corner, while Larose approached them with his ball peen hammer cocked. My mom, standing at the pen’s gate with her arms flailing, shouted instructions. Larose swung hard, but missed his target, the hammer glancing off the side of a piglet’s head. The poor animal, screeching in pain, scrambled back into the pack. Cursing, Mr. Larose lined himself up for a shot at another piglet. This time the hammerhead landed directly in the middle of the piglet’s forehead. The animal went down as if its legs had been cut from under it and rolled onto its back. My mother ran into the pen of screaming piglets. Grabbing the injured piglet by the back leg, she drug it out of the pen, past me and out the barn door.

“Raymond, come quick,” she hollered. “Fetch me the knife. Bring the bowl and spoon.”

I ran to do her bidding. Kneeling on the ground, she took the piglet by the snout with her left hand and pulled its head up and back, over its shoulders.

“Slide the bowl under the neck,” she commanded. She tightened her grip on the knife with her other hand.

Before I could question what was happening, the sharp blade sliced deep across the pig’s neck. A stream of blood sprayed through the air, staining my jeans bright red. In shock, I stood watching a stream of blood pouring from the animal’s throat into the bowl, aware that the piglet was unconscious, not dead. The pulse of the spewing blood slowed with the rhythm of the piglet’s failing heart.

In disbelief, I stared at the nightmare unfolding before me. My body froze in place, not fully comprehending what my mother just did. I felt lightheaded and my ears began to buzz.

“Raymond?”

“Huh?” I muttered, in a daze.

“Raymond! Take the wooden spoon and stir the blood.”

“What? What are you doing, Maman? Stir the blood? No!”

“Don’t be silly. Quick. Stir it up or it won’t clot evenly,” she explained.

As if in a trance, I followed her orders; kneeling down, I dipped the head of the spoon in the warm blood.

“Why are we doing this, Maman? This is sick—just sick,” I exclaimed. I couldn’t keep my hand from shaking as I stirred the thickening liquid.

“This is how we make sausage,” she answered matter-of-factly.

The flow of blood from the piglet’s throat having slowed to a trickle. She grabbed one of the rear legs and began moving it up and down like a pump handle. The blood gushed with every pump, getting weaker until the bleeding, and the horror, stopped.

The sweet, metallic smell of the blood made saliva rise in the back of my throat and I fought the urge to vomit.

“Sausage? I don’t understand. This is blood.” I choked, gagging.

“Of course. Piglet blood mixed with bits of apples and raisins makes the best black sausage.”

“I think I’m going to be sick. Can I go now?”

“Yes, I can finish up,” answered my mom, laughing to herself.

“I will never, ever eat black sausage again as long as I live.”

Despite all of her church worshipping and care-taking, from that day on Mom was no longer the angel I imagined her to be. God would not—could not—approve of such a disgusting ritual, even if it was for sustenance. What I witnessed was nothing less than barbaric and evil.

The following day I attended Sunday mass with her as always, but on that occasion, I took a moment from my distractions to ask God to forgive my mom for the black sausage massacre and to save her soul. I hope, for her sake, He was listening.

 


RJ BELCOURT‘s discerning eye for landscapes and natural forms most likely grew out of his love of nature, which developed at an early age. In 2008, he collaborated in the publication of a small book of Haiku poems and photos entitled “Haiga Moments.” His photos were featured in the book and received positive reviews from both Daily Haikuand Book Review. Ray collaborated with a number of provincial artists on a project that combined mixed media art featuring landscapes from across Canada. A book of the paintings was released in 2012 and now is being re-released with a few added pages in conjunction with the publishing of the art featured in Our Canada magazine Dec/Jan 2019 Issue. Ray is now pursuing writing and publishing short stories as well as his first full length novel, “Blood Cove.”

Copyright © 2019 by RJ Belcourt. All rights reserved.