The Kitchen, Lauren Counce

 Carni was by no means a gourmand, and her kitchen in the small, aluminumsided
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 hunggry.
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 proceeded 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 sludge, Virginia playfully
bent over and tossed leaves for her French poodle to bite at them. Her slender
frame was hugged by denim pants and a stylish sweater; her blonde hair was
sleek about her shoulders as she played. Even the dog was well groomed. The
raking sound continued.
 Carni's hand lingered on the handle as it heated 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.
Comment [JRB1]: Changed from said.
Comment [JRB2]: Awkward, different word
Comment [JRB3]: Passive voice. 398
 "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. Spongy 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 and stopped in its place. Carni grabbed her
garment from the dog's mouth and collared it with the wire line. Red now painted
Carni's hand.The fall bed beneath her feet crunched even louder as she carried
the extra weight home and into her kitchen.


Lackluster, Patrycja Humienik
The Night I was Swallowed by the Sea, Vivian Underhill
Records of Middletown, Daniel Leonard
City Limits, Lauren Counce