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The Kitchen

Lauren Counce

Carnie grated a metal fork against the sink.

Carni was by no means a gourmand and her kitchen in the small, aluminum sided house did not inspire much. The smoker’s-teeth wallpaper flitted at its edges with each oscillation of the seasonal space fans and heaters that failed to adequately circulate the smell of Freon and beer through the mildewed hallways. Despite this scene, she had in that kitchenette dabbled in the midwestern art of the casserole and so the oven aromas sometimes cut through the dank stench of the place. Chuck worked late nights at the auto plant and always came home with several appetites. Fried onions and Potato Stix often hung onto his beard in naive avoidance as he shoveled tuna melt or ham and cheese bakes into his mouth to meet his gut. His grease fingerprints were crows permanently landed on the sky blue apron that Carni always wore around the kitchen and never bothered to wash.

The truck blinked through the yellowed lace window dressing above the kitchen sink where Carni washed her dishes. The door opened, heavy steel-toed boots hit the runner matt against the sofa.

“What did you make me, little lady?” He asked. Carni put down a pot crusted with tomato paste, onion paste and what looked like chicken paste. “I’m hung-gry. Oh, I see it’s that damn loosen-your-belt roast beef melt. What are you tryin’ to do woman? Make me fat with all this butter, cheese and fried shit?” Carni didn’t move but to wipe her sudsy hands through the slightly graying yarn atop her sweaty head and make some guttural attempt at rebuttal. “And, what on earth is all this damn red shit all crusted up on here? Is this tomater... There isn’t even a tomater in here, now, is there, Carn? Lord have mercy, woman.”

The siding of the house moaned as the wind outside groped at each aluminum shingle and plank. After he devoured the entire pot of casserole, Chuck went to Carni at the sink. His hands were shiny with the fatty juices he had swirled up with bread from his plate. His lips glistened and felt like cold soap on Carni’s neck. He grazed and prodded her breasts, searching for a place to rest for leverage as he made his move. The trees outside the window cut into the sky with arms of brittle blackness and heaved in the coming storm.

The morning came and Chuck remained in bed snoring like a clogged drain. Carni stepped over piles of rain-wet leaves that had blown under the warped threshold into the kitchen during the night.

“Chuck, get up for breakfast.” Carni whisked at the eggs and surveyed the view outside the laced windowpane. Their neighbor Virginia was outside raking leaves. With each futile pull through the heaped amber up, nearly burning her while the eggs and bacon hissed. Her hips were wide, her rear begged for freedom from housedress as stickiness climbed onto her skin. Her chest was full and aging, burdensome for her at times.

“Chuck” she said as he moved in behind her to grab bacon from the skillet.

“Hell, woman, it’s hot in here. No wonder your dress is stickin’ places.” She fidgeted with the blue dress wrapped around her thigh.

The sound of Virginia’s dog barking filled the kitchen. Carni grated a metal fork against the skillet.

“That noise, Carni!” The raking continued outside.

“The bitch,” Carni said.

“You’re tellin’ me? That damn dog has been keeping me up nights. You know how I get when I can’t sleep.”

Carni bristled at this. Sometimes when sleepless, he made his way to the kitchen for some beer. On one occasion, he decided to clean out his truck instead. Mostly, though, Chuck nudged Carni awake to occupy him.

“What the hell do you want me to do about it, Chuck?”

“How about gettin’ off that ass of yours and goin’ over there and telling that pretty little thing what I really think about her dog.” He paused. Spongey egg hung from his beard. “I work all day, Carn, while you sit around here doin’ lord knows what and then I have to deal with that damn dog now, too?”

“Shoot it, then. Take your damn gun and shoot it.”

“You’re crazy, woman.” Chuck left for work. The raking and barking continued while Carni paced around the kitchen and collected dead flies and hair with her sock foot; she swept them under the fridge as she smoked a cigarette.

The sky blackened, ashy dust kicked around and drove Virginia indoors. Her dog remained outside, barking. Carni went to her fridge. Empty but for a few onions. She would need to go shopping. Outside, weeks-old laundry dirtied by weather flapped in the wind. Her tent-like underwear blew across the lawn onto Virginia’s property.

The clothing stretched between two maple trees on a rusted wire line. Carni went out into the darkened sky now spitting rain to collect the garments. A browned sock here, an old housedress there. Still, her underwear as a tumbleweed blew along Virginia’s yard. Humiliated even in solitude, Carni burned with embarrassment at the sight of her large drawers collecting leaves.

As the undergarment snowballed with debris, Virginia’s dog went wild with chase. She skittered after the underwear, barking and yipping in delight in the escalating rainfall. Carni’s hand followed the wire clothesline’s length with incredible tension in her palm; the wire began to cut into her flesh. Deeper it cut and soon blood surfaced and dripped down onto the lawn. Once she met the tree fixture of the line, she tugged at it, further tenderizing the meat of her hand until she had loosed the wire. She made her way toward the dog. Wire in hand, Carni approached the dog to retrieve her underwear. The animal took her advance for play Red now painted Carni’s hand. The fall bed beneath her her feet crunched even louder as she carried the extra weight home and into her kitchen.

****

The steel toed boots hit the runner mat against the sofa. Chuck entered the kitchen. “What did you make me, little lady?” Carni laid down the familiar metal pan.

“What fancy shit are you trying with this?”

“It’s somethin’ French from one of them magazines. Had all the ingredients right here, though.”

Chuck stuffed the onion and meat bake into his mouth. Carni looked out the window toward the trees and removed the bloodied wrap from her palm when a series of screams forced its way through the walls from next door and into their ears.

“What now with that one? Just when she gets her dog to shut up she starts.”

Carni grated a metal fork against the sink.

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