CHICKEN, CHICKEN ON THE STOVE
Chicken, chicken on the stove, who knew you’re a treasure trove? Tucked atop your bright red base, Chicken, chicken, all white and red, you turn, turn, turn, to tell us time.
You tell us when it’s time to baste, and when it’s time to turn, when it’s time to poke and when it’s time.
Chicken, chicken sitting over minute O, you stare at me defiantly.
“You’re cooking one of me down in there?” the chicken’s black-dot eyes ask when I bend to put my dish into the oven. “What’s wrong with beef? Or pork? No matter. Turn me to 20 minutes. That’s when you’ll need to baste your bird.”
“It’s fish, if you don’t mind, and I don’t eat pork; I’m Jewish.” I set the plastic chicken-egg timer to 10 minutes and stick my salmon into the stove. Before I prepare the hollandaise sauce, I stare at the chicken, ticking, ticking, ticking, as if it is harbouring an explosive hostage. A secret that nobody can unravel.
“Whatcha looking at? Never seen a bird mark time?” The oven light from below lends Chicken a sinister glow.
I stare at the red and white plastic egg. “What makes YOU a judge of time?”
“I merely mark it, as have my ancestors, and theirs.”
“Chickens don’t mark time. You’re just a stupid egg-timer! I don’t even know where I bought you; for sure at the dollar store! No, wait, I never bought you! It was Rog who had the queer audacity to purchase you in the first place. When he moved out, he abandoned you. I rescued you! Be grateful.”
“It was nice when I was with Rog.”
“What do you mean?” I separate the yolks of six eggs.
“He used me much more than you do! His recipes were well planned, and always timed. I helped every step of the way. When he needed to beat eggs, he set me on three and when he had to create a crème burlee, well, that was simply an exquisite moment… I’d say he set me on ecstasy, darling.”
“He made crème burlee?” I beat the eggs faster. Get them fluffy. In, out, fluffy!
“He created magic on the chopping board too. Everything he did was to accompany his choice of meat,” the Chicken egg-timer on the top of my stove speaks, although I don’t want to know.
“I’m cooking salmon.”
“You said. Only one minute left before you need to turn. What shall we play, now?”
I look at the arrogant bird ticking loudly as if it knows how much time one has left; how much time, once the doctors notice a pattern they don’t like.
“Don’t leave now!” Chicken shouts before the shrill of her, ‘time’s up!’
“My salmon is done. Why are you so bitter?”
The ticking chicken timer looks away, at the wall, not answering my questions, proudly resting over zero, once again. I take my salmon and eat it watching TV.
The fish is baked to perfection. I savour every juicy morsel. When I’m done, I get rid of my plate or else the remaining aroma will drive me insane.
You wanna see my ass? I’m not sure if this is what I hear over the loud splash of washing dishes. I turn to look at Chicken still looking toward the back wall.
“You just gonna stand there? Turn me around, already!”
I turn Chicken so she faces me. Her thinly painted smile is frozen and she looks grateful.
“You know I’m right about Rog, you do, dontcha?”
“Oh, c’mon Chicken! Or, are you an egg? Are you a chicken that looks like an egg or an egg that looks like a chicken?”
“Rog. I’m talking about Rog. You know he didn’t abandon me. He just could not take me. Not to where he was going, not there. It wasn’t my fault. It’s what happens to some adults some of the time. He explained it all to me, dontcha worry.”
“Yeah? And, where did the prima donna say he was going?”
“Well, I sure would like to know. All I know, is that one day I came back from work and all I found that belonged to him was a plastic bag with a sign that said ‘garbage.’ Nothing else. Not the three months’ rent he owed me, not the decency of an explanation, not even a good-bye. I found you in that bag, so don’t go bellyaching that I didn’t save you.”
“And…I’m grateful!” Chicken doesn’t say this. It is somebody else. A woman, behind me. I would have panicked had I not seen how peaceful and happy Chicken looked. I turn around. “R…Rooog?” my pitch is as high as Timbuktu.
The woman smiles. It’s Rog’s smile but, something is different…there is a sense of knowing in his…her smile.
“Regina from now on, honey bunches. What do you think?” She bats long false eyelashes. Twirls a lock on her wig.
“I think it rhymes with vagina, is what I think! Whatcha think I’m gonna think?”
“Well, do you like it? Don’t you think I look gorgeous? Come on…admit it! You know you wanna!”
I think I hear Chicken cluck behind me.
“I don’t.” She looks stunning but, Rog, he looks ridiculous. “Get you and that wig outta my house, right away. And where’s my friggin’ rent money?”
“I had to use everything I had for the operations honeybunches, but you know you’re going to get it.”
“Get the hell out of my house! I mean it.”
“If I’m going, I’m taking Chicken with me.”
“No you’re not! She’s my rescue!”
Rog/ina snakes an arm around me heading straight for Chicken. Regina has me in a back bind against the stove. I struggle to get out but, I can’t. I wiggle. Chicken is already in her clutch. I reach to grab Chicken. Regina towers over me in 10 inch stilettos and breezes Chicken past me.
“Chicken’s mine!” Regina shouts triumphant.
Despondent, I look at the chicken/egg in Rog/ina’s large hand and feel fractured. Divided. Caught between merging waters. Tossed around, to and fro, up and down. Drowned.
“It’s only fair, it’s where Chicken wants to go.Rright Chicken?”
If Regina cooks like Rog, you know where I’m going! Cluck, Cluck Chicken thinks to herself.
“Oh, Chicken!” Regina brings the egg-timer right up to her face. “You are going to have the biggest orgasm in Regina’s Kitchen! I plan to soufflé, merengue and to bake everything in sight. I have some recipes I am dying to try out!”
Chicken smiles and clucks contented. “I will be your guide, every step of the way, my friend.”
Gathering all the strength I can muster, I leap. I swoop Chicken out of Regina’s palm.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Let me down! Let me down! You’re maaad!”
I can feel Chicken’s fear. Her body bobs in my fist. Her plastic buckles under the sweaty pressure of my palm.
“Let Chicken go! Can’t you hear she wants to come with me?” Regina reaches toward me.
I fall to the ground and roll myself into a ball, protecting Chicken with my body. Regina kicks me with her stilettos. “Let Chicken go! I’m warning you.”
I roll away from her. Toward the door. Roll, roll, roll toward the door. Away from mad wo/man. Toward Chicken’s salvation and toward my redemption. I must keep Chicken. She’s the only reminder I have that once, the world was normal, held no surprises, was a world where pies always rose to perfection.
Rog storms away, calling me all manner of names. Victory rests easily on my bones. I release Chicken from my fist and place her on top of the stove.
To celebrate, I take a box of frozen Jalapeño Poppers, read the instructions and turn Chicken to 20. I place the tray in the oven, but Chicken is not moving. She ticks, ticks, ticks but, moves from 20 to 19 to 20 again.
“I want to go with Rog! This is not fair!”
“Regina,” I remind Chicken.
“She knows how to cook, and how timing is of the essence.”
Timing…yes. The concept I seem not to grasp.
“Fine, go! Go to her you stupid Chicken!” Defiance coats my words.
Chicken starts to quiver. She bobs on the thin stove top, swinging left and right. She rolls on her side and rolls off the stove. She rolls out of my house. Rolls down the door. Out of my life, forever.
The glittering pink stiletto digs into my forehead as I bend to pick something at the front door. “You are a freak!” I yell. On all fours on the Welcome mat, I touch my head, checking for blood.
“I knew you’d pick up Chicken.” Rogina towers proudly over me.
I stare at tanned calves, silky smooth. Curvatious.
“I came for the rest of my stuff.” Her drag queen flamboyance showers over me, full of arrogance.
“I should have known not to open when Chicken came clucking at my door.” I pick myself from the floor, dusting off humiliation.
“Tah, tah! Always the victim, dahrlink! You really ought to stop that, you know? It truly is unbecoming!” S/he looks at me as if I am an obstacle, an object in his way. This is my home! S/he was the renter.
I pick up Chicken from the mat. Stare at the person I’ve been secretly in love with, ever since he moved in two years ago.
“This means I get to keep Chicken, right?” I try to sound confident. I clutch the ovoid plastic timer, feeling its strength. Drawing precision from his red and white body. Trying to stitch my world back together again.
“Dahrlink. Do as you please. Haven’t you always?” Rog-ina’s lips, outlined in bright crimson, pout. Her camel-like eyelashes look down at me, contempt drips from the corner of her eyes. “What possible use would you have for Chicken, anyhow?”
Some time later, in the waning light of a later summer’s day, I raised my chest and let Rog-ina back into the kitchen. I wanted to show that I too could become a great cook. It was the first time that s/he’d been inside the house since we fought over Chicken.
“All these! I plan to cook every single dish in this tin box of recipes by Christmas!” I announced.
S/he plucks a card and reads: hibiscus-mezcal seared tuna, sprinkled with chilhuacle. “Fabulous! Shall we get started, dahrlink?”
Sparkly blue eye shadow examines other recipes. Rog-ina’s pout begins to draw a little at the edges into a faint grin as s/he encounters each ingredient in the recipes. S/he seems to soften.
I remember when I used to look at him, examine him, like this. When he’d be lying on the rug in front of the sofa and I’d be petting his soft curly hair. When we’d lie there for hours drinking red wine and dreaming of adventurous food travel destinations we’d conquer, just he and me. Rog and me. Not Regina and me, and not Chicken, Rog-ina and I….
“Do you have any chorizo or tasajo in the house, dahrlink? No, didn’t think so.”
“You can tease me all you want. I’ll be going down to Mexico to gather the ingredients. I’ve already decided this.”
Rog-ina walks around my kitchen, confident; with her head so tall it feels as if it will fly at any moment. “You do speak the language, I guess. What about work?”
“I’ve got days coming.” I wait. Shall I ask him…her? Nah…they don’t like her type down there. “Where do you live now?” I ask, to change the subject, to get the thought out of my head.
“I was certain you knew. I moved in with Flabio!”
My heart plummets. I want to scream, to shout, to verify, but nothing comes out of my mouth. My vocal chords are frozen.
“As roommates?” I can’t let the image of my ex-husband sleeping with Regina into my neurons, I will not allow it. I’m shaking my head when I hear Rog-ina say,
“Not like you and me, honeybunches.”
S/he collects her Wothstof knives and puts them into a duffle bag. S/he whisks around the kitchen. S/he picks up what remains of her cooking utensils. Every item s/he can justify as hers s/he takes. Her large hand hovers over Chicken, “Goodbye, my little friend.”
I look at Chicken and Chicken looks back at me. Fragile. Shattered egg shells. Humpty Dumpty crashes our world.
Chicken gets me into plenty of trouble at airports. It does not matter if I pack her in my suitcase, which she hates, or if I take her aboard in carry-on, the sound of ticking in my bags sends security scurrying in all directions. At a small airport on route to Mexico, I am separated from other passengers. Escorted by armed military police, I am sent into a lone hanger at the end of the runway.
“Go there.” The head police points left. “We’ll examine your bags over there.” He points at a closed curtain to the right. “Explosive-proof.”
“I told you already, I’m not a terrorist. I’ve got a damn egg-timer in my bag.” The policeman looks at me as if I am mad. “It’s a long story.”
A policewoman escorts me to one side of the hanger and asks me to strip down to my bra and panties.
“You’re clean. Get dressed!”
“I told you—”
“Shut up! We still have to examine your bags. Sit!”
We miss our plane to Mexico City but finally, I am exonerated and Chicken and I hop on the next plane to Cuernavaca. I immediately feel at home. A sizable American and Canadian population gives the charming Mexican town a taste of diversity and the large indigenous population provides me with all the exquisite ingredients I need for my exotic recipes.
Chicken and I rent a room from an American socialite couple who know everybody in town. I experiment with ingredients in their kitchen with Chicken keeping time of every whip of the atole, cut of raw chocolate, slice of the chile and pitter-patter of tortilla.
The American socialite couple’s friends love my food. They encourage Chicken and I to stay longer, to open a kiosk or a small restaurant, they’d be willing to help with the rent; it has been a long time since they’ve had food that is new and exciting.
And so, I open Pollofree, the first Chicken-free Mexican restaurant in Cuernavaca to great acclaim. Soon, I am opening branches throughout Mexico, the U.S. and finally, in Canada where Chicken and I make sure to be present at the grand opening of the branch two blocks from where we used to live, when Rogina was a fantasy and Flabio my ex. I wonder if I would poison their burritos if they came in to eat?
Chicken, chicken on the stove, who could have known, you are a treasure trove? Tucked atop your bright red base, Chicken, chicken, all white and red, you turn, turn, turn, to tell me the time.
You tell me when it’s time to baste, and when it’s time to turn, when it’s time to poke and when it’s time.
Chicken, chicken proudly sitting over minute zero, you stare at me defiantly.