Below is a wee little story I wrote a while back. Seems appropriate to share round this time of year.
The perfect chicken soup
Her belly fat bulbs beneath — and above — the elastic waistband of the skirt she’s worn three days in a row. The onions in the pan pop and sizzle, as she watches the thin membranes turn transparent and then golden. From the corner of her eye, she watches as a cockroach crawls from the stack of crusted dishes by the sink. Its quick little legs carry it across the bench top, weaving between crumpled takeaway bags and Sippy cups, the critter ploughs towards it finally destination, her chopping board. BAM! She slaps her bare palm down — and the dirt is gone. Wiping a filthy hand across her skirt, she meditates on the beads of sweat coming together below the lose flesh of her chin. BING! The jug’s boiled. She fumbles for the handle and pours the boiling water into the pot; now for the final ingredients. Opening the fridge she removes the chipped porcelain dish containing the chicken carcasses. Uncovered and cold, she stares into the cavity between the breast and backbone; where life had once resided, now there was nothing.
The birds join the boiling broth of water and onion, accompanied too, by a chopped carrot, a celery stick and a crack of salt and pepper. She’d seen that on one of those cooking competition shows. The kind where supposedly well known and well filled out chefs sit back and watch housewives bake, slice and stir flamboyant and complicated dishes. She dragged her wooden spoon through the broth, not because you should, but because she had always liked this part – the stirring. She remembers being a young girl, watching her Mother do the exact same thing and saying, ‘The secret to perfect chicken soup Tracey is perfect chicken stock.’
She had been sent home from school early because of a stomachache. An occurrence more frequent after Daddy left. Mostly, it only happened— happens —when she thought those thoughts; like when she pictured slamming little Tommy’s face into his desk. She imaged the blood that would drip from his nose and the crack of his lens as his glasses connected with the hard wooden surface. How she would laugh! Ha! ha! ha!
Her mother had bought her a little stepladder, so that Tracey could always climb up and see exactly what her mother was doing on the stovetop. Peering over the tip of the pot, Tracey watched the broth bubble and felt the steam warm her face.
‘Do you know the difference between hot and cold?’ Her Mother asked. Tracy nodded.
‘Do you?’ she asks again ‘I don’t think you do.’ Tracey pulls her gaze from the boiling liquid and looked at her Mother, her lips were thin, and the hollow pads beneath her eyes seem darker from this angle.
‘Tracey, I want you to slowly lower your hand into the pot, so you can feel how hot it is.’
‘But I don’t want to Mama.’
‘I thought you were a big girl now. Big girls say Mother little girls say Mama.’
‘Now are you going to put your hand in the pot or do you want me to do it for you?’
‘Please Mam…Mother don’t make me do it.’
‘Do you want me to get the scissors?’
Tracey’s little mouth popped open, but she closed it quickly, shaking her head. Slowly, she began to lower her hand into the pot. She closed her eyes but that only made it worse, making her more aware of the pumping heat as it hit her outstretched hand. She felt the skin of her palm become sweaty, like it would when she’d have those thoughts, only now, the little beads of water could be felt between her fingers and up her wrists.
She could hear herself, the voice inside her head scream STOP! DANGER! DANGER!
‘Keep going’ her mother whispered ‘keep going.’
Tracey shook her head, tears springing from her eyes.
‘I said keep going Tracey— remember what I told you about band aids?’
‘The quicker you do it, the less it hurts.’
Tracy pushed through the voice in her head and plunged her palm into the broth – squealing as the burning liquid puckered her skin, turning it raw, exposed and angry. The shrieking pain jolted her from her position and she tumbled backwards off her ladder, the boiling broth decided to come too, and the pair fell through the air until the kitchen floor collected them. Her head slammed into the linoleum but mercifully the pot has come down at an angle, causing the liquid to spill away from her small body.
‘Now look at the mess you’ve made’ says Mother.
Tracey howled in pain, but the cool of the night’s air brought no relief. Mother stepped over her, on her way to the freezer. Removing a bag from within, Mother retraced her steps before kneeling down beside her daughter, wrapping the bag around Tracy’s clawed hand.
‘See Tracy, the peas are cold and the pot is hot. Now do you understand?’
‘Now I understand,’ she replied as she returned to the broth at hand, stirring slowly so that thick waves of steam could bloom upwards and caress her face. She placed the spoon beside the pot and slid on the sealing lid. ‘The first step to perfect chicken soup…’ she thinks.
And her stomach began to hurt.