The Old Man and The Cheese
His fungused fingernails peeled back the thin layer of petrified rind that couldn’t quite hide the mold forming on his sliver of bleu d’Auvergne. He was old and rickety and had sought refuge from the blistering sun under a barren ocotillo shrub. Surely no creatures in this desolate landscape would try and compete for this meager morsel? Any attempt to pry this godsend loose from his crooked claws would be met with a furious swipe of his steel cane. His skin was fused to his bones and his age could be measured in the layered wrinkles embedded like fossils on his face. Years of unkempt eyebrows served as respite for his eyes from the merciless rays streaming down from the heavens.
He had stumbled across this victual, likely discarded by someone on a religious pilgrimage or perhaps dropped from the beak of a discerning bird. Either way, it was a feast to be savored slowly and not to be taken for granted. Though famished, he mustered the patience necessary to make the most of this unlikely discovery. As a young boy in the south of France, he had walked past many a quaint fromagerie with his mother, staring at the cacophony of shapes, sizes and colors and inhaling the strange perfume emitted by these odd delicacies. He knew he was grasping bleu d’Auvergne because of the moist texture and the pungent odor that rose from the deep blue moldy veins that crisscrossed the buttery canyons of the cheese.
Before daring to nibble at the façade of this edible wonderment, he stared skyward for fear that a hovering cactus wren might want to partake of his find. Seeing none, he turned his head deftly to the left then to the right. Nothing. His only blind spot was directly behind, but that was protected by the base of the ocotillo that was slowly needling into his back.
Subtle, yet discernible, teeth marks suggested that the eating of the cheese had been previously attempted, if not enjoyed. The old man wondered whether it had been intentionally discarded as a result of its curious aromatics and unusual flavor or accidently swept away during an ill-fated outing. Given its hefty price, he hoped it was the latter. That he should be so fortunate as to stumble across this gourmet tidbit remained a mystery to him.
He had tithed most of his life without expectation of recompense, save being spared from the eternal hounds of hell. Since falling down on his luck, however, he had lapsed on his payments and thought he’d pay penance by wandering aimlessly in this god-forsaken wilderness. Now he had his sign.
With the tip of his fingernail, he delicately dug into the deepest ravine of blue-green mold and gingerly surfaced a hint of yellow curd. Bringing it to his nose, he closed his eyes and let the smell waft before depositing the fragment onto his tongue. He let it sit there for an eternity. His aged taste buds had not forgotten the crisp assertive flavor. Even the rotting rind had preserved its ancient spice. As a tear streamed down his cheek, he opened his eyes and, with newfound vigor, proceeded to excavate the next helping. With the last piece ingested, he plucked a few thorns from his back and raised himself up on his cane.
Perhaps tomorrow would reveal another sign from the shops of Auvergne. He could dream of holding his mother’s hand as they skipped over the cobble stones of Puy-de-Dôme, Cantal, and Haute-Loire, imbibing new fragrances and staring with glee as the cheesemongers displayed their age-old mouth-watering creations.
– Lorne Kelton, Montreal