“When the Chicken Slowly Cooks You Back,” a short story for Flavortown USA by Harrison Cook

 

WHEN MY GRANDMA WAS ON the farm, she snapped around one thousand chicken necks and in one day killed, boiled, and dressed over one hundred chickens by herself. Word travels fast in small town Iowa; hops county to county and before long my grandma, or more so the image of the frenzied farm wife snapping hundreds of chicken necks on the daily, was elevated to folklore if not mythic status. You would think I would be able to somehow tap into this rich culinary inclination saturated within my lineage or maybe even consider it common sense that one does not simply wake up on a whim, remove a whole chicken from the freezer, take care of its plastic wrapping, plop it down in the Crock-Pot: The Original Slow Cooker your family purchased for you as a move in present, and expect it to base itself. Either way when I called her that morning, somewhat freaking out, she had this to say:
“Now be sure to rub the cavity. That way the flavor soaks along the inside too.”
“Wait … what? The cavity?
“The cavity. The inside of the chicken?”
Looking down into the unwrapped bird, there is no cavity to speak of. There’s no opening—but a plug.
“Grandma, would a whole chicken happen to have a sack?”
“Yeah, don’t cut the sack. It’s filled with the heart, lungs, liver, gizzard. Just don’t cut the sack, sweetie,” she says.
“Okay, I won’t cut the sack, Grandma.” At those words; the parchment bundle of undesirables is frigidly clenched on all sides by the chicken, like an angry fist.
“It should be thawed and ready so just pull it out,” she says.
“Ooooh yes right well … So, worst case scenario what would happen if the sack was left in?”
“Well the chicken would taste like heart, lungs, liver, gizzard. So just take it out. Luv ya. Tell me how it goes.”

I stare down into the sink, holding the glacial chicken. It looks back up at me, seeing that I have no idea what I’m doing or going to do with it. Either way, the beast should’ve thawed overnight.
Three minutes go by. Another six. Twelve minutes in total as the whole chicken makes its last lazy sway around on the microwave plate. Some steam is released when I open the door. A sign of progress? Plopping it down on the cutting board, some fatty island patches beneath the skin, moves away from my fingers. The wings and legs have slightly opened: mid jumping jack. I try to grab hold of the bird to make the first incision. The knife glides across the skin and halts on inner thigh. Fuck. It’s still frozen solid, lukewarm, and kinda jiggly.
I set it in the sink again and flip the faucet to the left. A continuous warm flood strikes the chicken. Grabbing the knife, I trace down the belly. Lay it on its side, placing weight on the fulcrum of the knife.
My hand slips.
I cut the sack.
I flick my eyelids shut expecting the insides to squirt in a Tarantino fashion. I look down at the sliced parchment packet of internal organs and find a little bit of heart and lungs rigid with ice: a darker strawberry color. The water fills the bird. It gurgles. Grabbing a spoon, I place it along the blocked cavity. A quick flick and there is some separation, but not much. I dig the spoon deeper along the spine. The spoon disappears and resurfaces concave. What did I get myself into?
We need another plan, the chicken and I … blanch! I scream. Blanch! Yes, I scream, grabbing the blue water boiler; I plug it in and hear the hot plate sizzle as it fills with two cups. I upgrade to a serrated knife. Now we’re cooking, I think frantically. Now we’re cooking! It hacks into the skin and in a sawing motion, cuts deeper into the bird, and catches in the pelvic bone. I reposition, start again. Three restarts later the knife still will not cut. A steam stack rolls in the corner of my eye. The whole chicken makes a squelching hiss as the water passes over it. Again, the knife still will not cut, even along the sternum.
Fresh frame. If my roommate were to walk in at this moment he would see me, still in my underwear, a sad, crazed, college student caught up in the Crock-Pot cooking, frenzy wrestling this whole inanimate chicken. I’d look at him. He’d look at me and slink down stairs and think, “Shit, he was really wrestling it.”
Flipping the whole chicken over, I pin it to the cutting board, take the serrated knife and cut into its backbone. The knife jets to the left. I’m cutting at an angle. I don’t care anymore: it was never about presentation! My grandma had to chase down her meals around the farmyard and dress them moments after they went limp. They died in her hands! I’m chasing this meal! I drop the knife and plunge my hands into the meaty crag, lukewarm water stinging up my fingers, pulling till crack. Its ribcage gives out and the bird flops open, sitting butterfly. I scrape the remainder of the organ sack from the chicken’s cavity, standing in sweaty triumph. Now faced with the chicken’s gnarly scar, seeing the flesh pulled back, pulled back in petals, I think: you didn’t deserve to die a second-time. Oh, poor lightning stricken chicken. I text my grandma a picture of the bird and tell her how it’s going. My attempt at the Crock-Pot creation. The caption reading:

I tried.

 

 

Harrison Cook′s writing is forthcoming from Hotel Amerika and Soft Punk Magazine, and has appeared in Gay Magazine, Phoebe Journal, Slate, Atlas Obscura, and onstage. His chapbook Warby was selected as a winner of the Iowa Chapbook Prize. He is Deputy Managing Editor at Guesthouse and a contributing writer at Hi-Fructose, where he writes art features.

Image: freepik.com

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