The Harvest

Catherine Kyle

Catherine Kyle

The garden had been my idea. And really, out of all the things we tried to grow—bell peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupe, squash—the pumpkins fared the best. They bulged, heavy, golden, and orange, swelling in the loam amid pastel, hairy vines.

The pumpkins were spectacular. Still, their verve was no match for the Pacific Northwest, its dew creeping in like a flurry of barnacles. Slowly, tenderly as fingers stroking fur, the rot set in, a damp, spongy thing. Two of the pumpkins were spirited off and knifed into jack-o-lanterns. We rotated them to cover the specks of umber and decay. One hunched round in the garden, still living, and dying, nursing from the vine.

A silver drizzle coated the landscape of our back yard as we sat inside with tea. We contemplated the squirrel-gnawed squash, the peppers that never bloomed. My father nodded toward the final pumpkin, the solitary crop that had dodged October’s scythe.

The ritual was his idea. We blamed it on the play. He was starring, at that time, in a one-act sketch that took up the theme of the scapegoat. In one scene he was to simulate adorning a small, white goat with trinkets and cloth, then symbolically painting the sins of its village onto its body and setting it free. Onstage, he would mime watching the creature fade on the horizon, its bell clanging out the vanishing traces of wrongdoings and remorse.

“We should try it,” he said, blowing steam from his cup. “The damned thing’s rotting anyway.”

Intrigued by this macabre suggestion, I went to the yard with the long, clean shears and the tattered, mottled gloves. Mist clung to our faces and hair as we sliced the pumpkin free. Turning it over, we saw that indeed, the belly was soft and gray with putrescence. I carried it in and we dried it off, bathing it of its grime. Much of the shell was still firm and shiny. It did not yield when we took our pens and pressed the tips against it.

My father and I wrote our sins on the pumpkin, solemnly at first, then with rising hilarity, laughter alternatingly mirthful and tin. I wrote the name of the class in which I was slacking at college, squandering good days. I wrote the name of the boy I liked, who had done wrong unto me but whom I could not forget. My father wrote the names of things he knew he should love but, in fact, wanted to break. We wrote these things in black and blue, a network of error and pride. Confession and braggadocio.

When we were finished, we set the scapegoat at the top of the hill below our back yard. Wordlessly, we shoved it rolling and leered at its bumbling fall. Near the very bottom it struck a stone and shattered into pieces, a firework of sloppy seeds, string, and lettered crust. The drizzle yawned to crackling rain and washed the ink from our fingers.

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