The Red Kitchen
by Sarah Françoise
Strange now to think back to those two chickens we made: the first one, we roasted on a wet Saturday in February, in my kitchen in Forest Fields; the second time was last night, in the red kitchen we have come to share. Though you are not here now, I can see you cutting old bread, a black ghost in the red kitchen. Arching a little under the weight of happiness, you remark that we need new bread.
That first roast chicken. It was the night before the storm, and you pushed lemons into it as we listened to the BBC. Remember how it went:
We are about to experience a spell of freakish weather. Everything points to a snowstorm on Sunday. The television. The radio. The wet noses on restless dogs at windows and in the park. And those who still give credence to the farmers’ almanac for the year of our Lord.
On Sunday, we, the people of Forest Fields, will have a snowstorm. A fight about the past. Roast beef with all the trappings. Bread pudding. A water shortage. Bathtubs are filled to the brim in preparation. We expect snow, but we would do well in a drought, also. Candles are reunited with matchboxes collected from places where Italian meals were had. They are placed somewhere handy, in case the electricity fails us.
The weather has been terrible all week but the big snowstorm is predicted for Sunday. In number 38, the weather forecast is spoken out to an empty room. Even if we are in the kitchen, causing obscenities to a doughy chicken, we keep the radio on upstairs, for fear of missing a vital warning. In number 40, the old woman wraps up warmer than usual, and her son counts the tins of spaghetti hoops. For a while we are all faced with a vision of ourselves hungry. Frostbitten. Without electricity. Impervious to all the nonsense, the hill upon which we live fawns its tail by the common, like a salmon in a crust of salt. The unbuilt land that still exists around the house captures time and stops it for the observer: an open tool shed by a sagging gate. A pine cone the size of a fingernail. Bark splitting in the doomsday frost like wounded mouths. The rim of sundown around the brewery roof and the chimney pots. Paths we made earlier through the Forest, years ago, for what occupied us then. By Sunday they should all be covered in a cape of glistening snow.
And then the other chicken. The one we’re still picking at now.
When I first set foot in this kitchen I was your guest. I came over on Thursday exactly a week ago, straight from cold storage and without a towel. You told me not to worry about the towel.
To be at the beginning again, with you. Our shopping list soon gets out of control – we refuse ourselves nothing and we can see the kitchen from our bed.
Sometimes when I am in the kitchen, I see the silhouette of a man, standing at one of the gaping holes in the building site across the road, on 56th street. He monitors. Sometimes he sees me come to you, from the kitchen to the bed.
Earlier you got out of bed and got ready to spend the day in The Dream House, where you monitor walls of sound. Well, let me tell you that they are digging up the pavement outside and the sound of drills is driving me up the wall.
We soon realised that if we were both in the kitchen we would be forced to touch. When I lean on the sink to wash the dishes, the curve of the wood digs into my right side and marks me with a scalloped edge. When you are at the stove you are in a corner. We inhabit it well and we can see the bed from the kitchen.
The noise. It reminds me of Forest Fields. Of how thin the walls were, between number 38 and number 40. Remember that the night of the storm, how they seemed thinner than usual?
“Shut up! I said shut up, you stupid cunt! Selfish bitch. Trouble. That’s all you give me. You’re never happy. Shut up, shut up, shut up! You’re a cunt, you know? Do you know that? First it’s this, then it’s that. You’re never happy. It’s never good enough for you, is it? No, never good enough. Well, shut up now, you cunt. Shut up. I’ve had it up to here with you, d’you hear me? Enough! Find someone else to do your dirty work, you selfish bitch. To clean you up. And feed you. So what if you hardly eat anything? You still shit it out, don’t you? Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
And with that, the neighbors went to bed.
And then Sunday came. By this point, we had stared fate in the eye and wanted to be tested. Each of us for their own reason.
Since I arrived on Thursday, exactly one week ago, we have spent hours in closeness. In the kitchen. In bed. In bed. In the kitchen. But it is a fact that tonight, once we had stuffed the chicken and walked over to the window, we could not find the moon. Tonight, after we have polished off the carcass of a second chicken and without the moon, I am no longer your guest. We have moved into more familiar space and our circle can be opened up to other people. I wonder where their necks and heads end up? Once you and I took the fleshy parts, the rest was just waste.
Because the kitchen smells of cold chicken fat, we take our guests to the bar downstairs. There is a man at the bar who has no intention of sharing his dog with you, despite your friendliness. Another man and a woman are thinking of what they will do to each other. “Do you want company? Will you be alright?” he asks her. She leaves without him and he turns: “She was scared, that’s all. She wanted it, she was scared”. You edge towards me, but that’s precisely it: you edge.
What a letdown.
There was a better snowstorm that year I carved my initials against the grain of a red wool rug. In a pine tree on the ridge. On a rock by a lake. In the door of a barn. I remember how that year, when the temperature dropped, the warmth escaped from the cracks in the tool shed like smoke from a barrel.
The day after the storm, I remember watching the robin red-breasts peck at the feeder in the neighbor’s garden. The radio was still working and suddenly all the fuss about a generator had come to nothing. “For those thinking of…”. For those thinking of having children. For those thinking of long-lost loves and long-lost Sicilian cousins hiding out in Florida. Opportunities missed. For those thinking of going for a walk. For those thinking about the elections. For those thinking about the statistics they have read. For those thinking about the man who came to stay and left a message on the bathroom mirror.
Strange to remember last night, how, when we went to bed, you cried on my shoulder. We spliced the wishbone –I told you not to wish out loud. “I wish you never crossed your arms”, you said.
That Sunday night, in February, the ghosts grew tiresome. I walked up the steps to lay down in a white bed. The house shook in the wind. The storm came but none of us could stay awake to hear its passing.
I tell you how downstairs in the bar I stopped listening to what your friends were talking about. They were talking about sex and it was banal. All I could think of were the words someone up there in the flat must have once said:
“We were about to, you know, and then he said:”
Let’s paint the kitchen red.
Sarah Françoise is a translator/writer who lives in Brooklyn and sometimes in Maine. Her writing has recently appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Poems In Which and is forthcoming in Hobart.