Grubore was tired after a long day out in the field. His large, heavily calloused feet were leaden as he made his way up to his hut. On his wide, strong back was the carcass of an animal, much like a deer. Blood dripped from a wound in its head as it flopped lifelessly up and down with each tired step. He was greeted gleefully by two small children. They were grubby faced and mostly naked and danced happily as they spied the prize on their father’s back.
At the entrance of his modest hut was his mate. She stood wearily as her third pregnancy in as many years took its toll on her young body. She wore the fleece of a wild sheep to keep her warm and offer some protection from the elements. She cracked a smile as she too saw the trophy on her mate’s broad back. He reached the fire pit just outside their hut and with a deep, tired sigh, he let down the animal on a large flat stone.
The children hurried to see their father work at the carcass. This was the most excitement they’d seen all day. Grubore produced a flint stone, sharp enough to slice through the tough hide of the animal. The taught skin parted as he deftly disconnected sinew and skin from the meaty flesh. Within minutes he produced a clean hide ready to be dried and would provide a great covering for his expected child. As he stood to display the animal skin, his children stood agape, awestruck to see how their father had separated animal meat from skin.
The eldest child pinched at his own skin and a ponderous look flashed past his eyes. He drew a line with his finger, copying his father’s knife moves across his own skin. Not yet able to speak, his face seemed to be questioning whether his own skin could be separated from his flesh. With a brief pause, the child picked up the sharpened flint and began to draw it across his own skin. He yelped in pain as the rough edge caught and cut into the skin on his forearm. His mother took three lightning fast strides to the child and swept him up into the safety of her arms. She knocked the flint stone out of his hand and picked him up all in one motion.
A trickle of blood made its way to his elbow and dropped onto the dust below. Sobbing, the boy no longer seemed interested in separating his own skin from his flesh and only in the comfort his mother could bring. A concerned look crossed Grubore’s face as he turned to see that his child had been hurt. He quickly saw that his eldest was safe in his mother’s arms. After a few minutes of sobbing the child only let out the occasional whimper to make sure his mother continued to comfort him. With a satisfied grunt Grubore returned his attention to the carcass.
The skinless animal lay lifeless on the large stone as Grubore opened the abdominal cavity. He’d done this enough times now to be careful around certain parts. He remembered the time when, in his hunger and excitement, he’d not taken his usual care when dismembering the animal. He sliced open the abdomen of this particular animal only watch in disgust as the contents of its most recent meal spilled out onto the ground below. The sight of the entrails was enough to turn his stomach. Once the smell of putrefaction hit his nostrils he learned once and for all that some parts of an animal should remain undisturbed.
He carefully removed the gizzards of the animal and placed them in a basket nearby. He would dispose of them later, a long distance from his hut. This would make sure any wild animal that preferred this kind of meal stayed well away from the feast within. He removed some of the choicest parts, the most nutritious, and put them aside for his pregnant mate. He then flayed the rest of the animal to be cooked over the open fire pit. Grubore made a frame of sapling wood and used some of the raw hide to tie the flayed carcass to it.
Grubore was attentive as a young man. His intelligent eyes watched his elders carefully and he garnered from them the secrets of keeping meat. He learnt many other things which he would pass on to his children through careful instruction. He had begun to develop new ways of doing things that even his ancestors had not understood. He found that the heat from the wood was best when the fire was not high but only after it had died down. He had also discovered a way of flavouring the meat using the smoke from different types of hard wood.
Grubore built a three sided box that he stuffed with wet leaves and moss to keep most of the smoke from escaping. He put the carcass on the sapling frame that rested between two boulders over the fire pit and placed the box over it. The glow from pit rose and fell as a soft breeze played between the burning logs. He was just about done setting up his complicated looking apparatus for smoking the meat. All that was left was to put in the hardwood pieces he kept for smoking meat.
Grubore looked around to see his mate eyeing off the liver, heart and kidneys that he’d kept over. He gestured to his mate to bring the meat over for him to cook. He grabbed a flat rock and placed it next to the fire. His body ached as he stood while his mate walked the offal with a lump of fat over to him, the blood from the animal dripped through her fingers and she handed the meat to him. She brought her hand to her mouth as a gesture of eating and he nodded. She smiled. He looked at her with fondness and thought that she’d grown even more beautiful since he first met her.
Their first meeting was by pure accident. Grubore was on his way back from another unsuccessful hunt when he heard a whimper coming from a nearby gully. He had found her huddled, cold and naked with angry looking bruises and welts all over her body. She was extremely dirty and a dark brown from head to toe. He tried to wash her in a nearby stream and while she seemed cleaner the blackness didn’t wash off. At first she seemed happy enough to be clean but after repeated washings she gestured angrily at him. After being hit a few too many times, Grubore realised that her skin was permanently dark and she would just have to live with being clean but dark skinned. He got the shock of his life when his first child came out dark skinned as well. He almost drowned the child washing away the after birth. His assumption was that her previous tribe had somehow punished her by giving her dark skin. He soon realised that there was something stranger at work with his mate and had quickly learned to accept it.
She had not spoken a single word to him since he had met her but she seemed happy enough to be in his care. He thought that maybe she didn’t understand his words at first, because he had not seen any dark skinned female let alone one quite so stunningly beautiful. No, not in any of the tribes he’d seen. After a year of trying to communicate with her, all he got in return was her frustrated looks. He thought that there might be something stuck or broken in her throat. Grubore tried in vain to see if something was stuck down there making it hard for her to talk.
Whenever he went to put his finger down her throat she always just bit him. She would look at him as if to say, ‘are you stupid? if it were stuck I’d get it out myself!’. A couple of times she drew pictures in the dirt and would point first at the picture and then at her throat but Grubore didn’t understand. After a while they developed a way of communicating with each other using gestures. This was good enough for most things, but he would worry about her if she was injured or needed urgent help how would he know to help?
He shook his head as if to clear his mind. He spat on the hot stone and it sizzled. He knew it was ready for the meat. Grubore put the liver fat onto the stone and it dissolved into a pool. His father bore the scars of having the fat catch alight on a hot stone so Grubore found a flat stone and ground a shallow well for the fat to stay. It didn’t stop it from spitting everywhere but at least it didn’t run off into a fire and flare up. He placed the meat evenly about the stone.
Soon the innards were cooked and his mate was ready with broad, glossy leaves to receive her food. She had put together a selection of wild flowers and berries she’d gathered during the day. His mate fed her eldest a portion of meat while the other child suckled at her breast. Grubore tended the fire and checked the smoking apparatus to make sure it was holding. He had made other designs for smoking but they frequently ended up as a pile of ash around the fire. More disappointing was the blackened carcass atop the coals. They were expensive lessons.
A cold breeze sent a chill up Grubore’s spine. He shivered and realised that the days would soon be getting colder. Winter was fast approaching and game meat became harder to find as the ice sheets crept down the mountains. He sat with his back to the fire and was thinking over the freeze that was maybe only one moon away. It felt like the freeze lingered a little longer each year and the warmth from summer disappeared a little quicker.