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Original artwork by Katie M. Zeigler

The Shoulder

Pete Riebling

I figured I’d give Joe the shoulder. It’s inexpensive relative to other parts. Quite good, though. I figured he’d want the shoulder. Quite good roasted with the bone in.

Joe was my plumber. Well, he wasn’t my plumber. He was a plumber. I’d hired him on many a fine occasion. When the septic tank backed up into the bathtub, for example.

At any rate, the season of giving was upon us. My gestures of beneficence had been planned well in advance. Over the summer, I’d gone to the farmers’ market on the plaza every Saturday and become friendly with one of the farmers. Riley and his brother owned some modest acreage of land in Popquauhock. Five, ten acres. A small, family farm. They raised pigs on pasture. Riley explained to me the details of the operation. The animals are free to roam all day. At night, they sleep in a barn. It isn’t a sad, depressing life. They forage for grass and legumes. The key is rotation. Riley said he moves the animals around from paddock to paddock. After a week or two, the soil has been rooted and tilled and fertilized. That’s when it’s time to move them. I bought everything from Riley. Bacon. Ham. Sausage. Salami. Jowls, bellies. Everything was delicious. I was his best customer. He invited me to visit the farm. I went in late July and bought a piglet. Two weeks old. It was weaning. Weighed about ten pounds. By the middle of December, it had grown to two-hundred and fifty pounds. When it gets cold, that’s when it’s time to slaughter and butcher them. Riley explained to me the onset of winter is akin to nature’s refrigerator and facilitates the preservation of meat. He slaughtered and butchered my pig for me. I was invited to watch but begged off, citing another appointment. I received about a hundred and twenty-five pounds of meat and allocated various cuts to an assortment of my friends and my clients and my dog-walker and my cleaning lady—and my plumber, Joe. 

In years prior, I’d bequeathed bottles of Puerto Rican coquito, pounds of Hawaiian coffee beans and crates of oranges flown in from Florida. Always something related to food and drink, always something evoking a warm, tropical paradise. This year was a departure—the farm was local, not far away. It seemed in harmony with contemporary mores, though. I was confident I’d outdone myself.

I knew where I’d find Joe. On the morning of Christmas Eve, he was at Jorgensen’s Tavern. Early start on the festivities. He wasn’t alone. Steve Keough and Pat McGee were there. Others whom I didn’t recognize. “Ho ho ho,” I bellowed. The shoulder was vacuum-packed in plastic. The bartender offered to stow it in the ice machine. Joe was grateful. I stayed for a round and a game of darts before boarding my sleigh and commanding my reindeer to fly.