INSIDE, THE MORNING shade took rest beside the soot-coated fireplace, smelling of cold smoke and ancient brick. It was an old farm. A dozen or so generations had lived and died between these walls. Faceless and forgotten, but occupiers of life all the same. The woodwork and stone had taken in the joys and traumas housed within. It was there in the discoloured weathering, in the cold air the chimney let in each night before dawn.
While the women were out walking, the men were in the kitchen ready to prepare the animal. The hare was curled up in a large metal bowl on the counter, next to the garlic gloves, mustard, rosemary, and half empty bottles of wine. Geoff explained to Richard the basic rules of paunching a hare, the same he learned as a boy. The first was to remove the skin without puncturing any organs. Geoff demonstrated this by making a small cut with his knife, loosening the fur from the meat and running the blade up across the belly. He then emptied the intestine, kidneys, lungs, gall etc. into the bowl; this is the paunch. He set aside the liver and heart which he would fry later in butter. He went through the cavity once more to check if there was anything left. When all had been removed, he picked up the carcass and, turning to Richard, said:’There you go, matey. A lovely new purse for the wife.’
This was followed by a gruesome cackle and a disapproving sneer from Richard, who was watching with mild fascination.
‘Now the skin. This is the fun bit.’
He cut off each of the hare’s feet, placing one in his apron pocket and handing one to Richard for good luck. He then cut off the head. One by one he popped out the legs from the fur, revealing pale but healthy-looking meat, tightly bound to the bone. From here, it was simply a matter of peeling away the rest of the fur in one singular motion.
‘Just like a banana,’ said Geoff, his voice slightly strained as he tore the fur from the body. He then placed the carcass in a bowl of salted water and gave Richard the fur.
‘Or maybe a lovely fur hat,’ laughing once again, before taking the bowl of entrails out to the garden. Richard hung the fur up on a hook outside by the backdoor, while Geoff threw the entrails over the fence. On the counter, the head remained on the wooden board, its yellow, protruding eyes staring out into the empty room.