Last night, I ate wild boar for the first time at the home of my friends Pierre and Christine. We sat on their terrace overlooking a hillside of vineyards lush green at the end of June. As the sun set, we had to put our sunglasses back on and hide behind a pillar. Five minutes, Pierre said, and the sun will disappear. No clouds willing to filter out the sun against all that blue surround. The colors here—the old painters loved them. It may have been five minutes in French time.
Pierre had showered and was ready to eat for a change. Usually, he shakes my thin hand with his thick one, or if he is too dirty, he offers his forearm for me to grab, then runs in for a shower. He works hard in the vines. He is a man of the earth who can tell where and when it’s going to rain, contradicting all available signs to us watching dark clouds hover, listening to the low thunder rumble. Knows where the wind is coming from and why and all things visibly invisible.
Where did you get the wild boar? I asked.
Christine said it’s a long story, then told us that story: a man in a nearby village has healing powers in his hands—particularly his thumbs. Nothing to do with Jesus. Once, he saw a cow moving awkwardly, favoring one shoulder. The man ran his thumbs down into the flesh of the cow until it moved normally again. The news spread through the village, and neighbors soon began dropping in, saying touch me the way you touched the cow. He did. He relieves pain, stiffness, pressure. People wait quietly on a bench outside his tiny house.
The man refuses payment. He has no training in chiropractory. The word spread to other villages. Since he refuses money, the lame and aching bring gifts. The countryside has been overrun with wild boar, and the farmers all hunt them. The man cannot refuse all the meat. He redistributes it to those who visit him. He gave a chunk to Christine. They were waiting for a special occasion. They are old friends of twenty years. For our visit, Pierre pulled the meat out of his giant freezer, where he keeps such things.
Restaurants can’t serve wild boar. The government inspectors won’t allow it. The idea of sharing the meat, a ritual here in these small villages. The howling of hunting dogs thickens the air in season after the grape harvest. The braying of hounds carries miles through this clear blue sky.
Roasted with gravy, accompanied by fresh vegetables. We sighed on the terrace as the sun dropped below the village on the hill. Juice of wild boar around our mouths, wiped with tissues Pierre handed around, in lieu of napkins. The soft waft as the tissues pulled out of the box after the cicadas kicked back for the night. I was skeptical at first, Christine said. Then she pointed to her back and lifted her thumbs to mime the man’s actions. She told us the name of the nearby village, but I’m not telling you. The man is 89 but the signs point to clear skies ahead, a steady tailwind.
When Pierre offers you his forearm, it’s a gift. He expects nothing in return. Happiness is the sun setting on a good meal and good story. The massive, shaggy beast reduced to stew, overshadowed by an old man with magic thumbs.
You might be skeptical, as I was. Christine was speaking French, of course, so I might have missed something in translation or time travel. But I don’t think so.
Jim Daniels‘ recent books include Rowing Inland and Street Calligraphy. His forthcoming books include his next collection of short fiction, The Perp Walk, and his coedited anthology, R E S P E C T: The Poetry of Detroit Music, both to be published in 2019 by Michigan State University Press.