Clementine took the chicken from the hot water so she could pluck the feathers. The pinfeathers were the hardest and she has hated to pick out those since she was a girl. Thinking about storms and her momma had made her feel a bit pixilated. She wasn’t one for staring back into the past to figure things out. The past just was what it was and staring back into it only made a body feel lonesome, or tired, or mad, or vengeful. Seems lately the past kept creeping up on her and stood there stomping its feet to get her attention.
She sat on her porch in the old wooden chair her daddy made her when she was twenty-two. He said a woman at twenty-two needed a special chair. He never explained why, and she never asked. That old chair had lasted all these years, with just a few twiddlings here and there to shore it up. Clementine plucked away. She always felt a little sad to kill her chickens, but she also knew chickens were stupid, and they were mean, and they liked to peck at they own shit. They’d just as well peck out an eye if a body were to stare at them cross-a-ways. And chickens were for eating, she reckoned. What else could a chicken do? She never figured it out. Some animals she wouldn’t eat, like pigs. Pigs were smart and when they were babies, they were the cutest things.
She asked the chicken, “What should I do with you? Fry? Fricassee? Or bake you up with some lemon and salt?”
Clementine stared out in the distance, to her potion garden where she grew lady fern that she made tea from to help her pee, or dried the roots and made a paste when she had a cut or scrape; goat’s rue for the new momma’s to make more baby milk, or for the diabeticals in the town, and for fevers; mayapple was good for the fevers, too, or if she couldn’t go potty properly she’d make a potion out of it for her bowels, and she even gave it to new momma’s if they kids had the worms, or if for old Mrs. Mendel’s warts, poor thing; the bloodroot sometimes was used for a love potion, all the want-to-be-loved had to do was rub the juice from the bloodroot’s root on they hand and touch the hand of the one they wanted to love, but that wasn’t always a good thing to do, she warned them, and as young hot bloods will do, they didn’t always listen and they’s skin looked mighty bad afterwards, but she used bloodroot mostly for the ringwormy kids, and for other skin problems the townsfolk had. Clementine had all manner of plants growing for her potions. Her grandma had taught her everything.
On the other side of the potion garden were her flowers, then back behind was her vegetable garden. Clementine spent many hours of her days tending to those gardens, and she didn’t mind one speck. It had done her well—the townsfolk paid her for her potions and sometimes for her flowers and her vegetables, too. She enjoyed the offerings from them gardens when she needed them, too.
Clementine was surprised to see the chicken was near about all plucked. She said aloud, “Funny a thing how the mind can wander off willy go nilly whilst the hands keep on working, right?”
No one answered, since no one was there, and Clementine felt a sudden loneliness. She put the bird in the pan for washing and sat there a moment, thinking about that empty feeling she sometimes had. She knew it was silly. She knew she had her critters to talk to, and she had the townspeople come up to see her. But, there was a missing spot, that hard ache in her belly that never went away, even when she pretended it didn’t. Most times, Clementine liked being alone. It was quiet and nobody asked her to do anything she didn’t have a mind to do. Clementine stood, reached for the pan with the plucked chicken, and headed inside to wash it up so she could cook it for her supper.
As she scrubbed the chicken, she had a thought. She let it roll around a little bit. Then she said to the chicken, “I could invite him up here, you know. I could just ask him to come eat some supper with me. What do you think that man will say? Huh? What do you think he’ll say? Been a while since I asked any man up here to my table. Might be more trouble than it’s worth, I tell you.”
She put the scrubbed chicken on a clean kitchen towel and patted it dry. From her little pantry she took salt, pepper, red pepper, and garlic. The garlic she minced. From the counter she grabbed a big fresh-smelling lemon, cut it, and squeezed the juice in a bowl. She added the salt, peppers, and cut up garlic to the lemon juice, made a paste, and rubbed it all over the chicken. Inside the cavity, she put the lemon rinds, a whole pod of garlic, some wild ginger from her garden, and a whole onion. The chicken went into her old magnalite cooker and into the oven. With the chicken, Clementine thought some fried taters would be good, okra and maters, and cornbread. For dessert, blackberry pie. She checked her freezer to make sure the blackberries were still there, and they were.
She smiled to herself. Maybe she could have a bit of company for supper. Maybe she could. All she had to do was ride Beauty a few miles down the mountain and…she put her finger to her lips, rubbed them, wondered if her lips were too wrinkly to kiss. Wondered if her old body was nothing to look at anymore, look at like a man likes to look. She knew it didn’t matter if the man’s body was old and busted up, it was all a time the woman’s burden to keep herself young—weren’t fair and it made her mad, but that’s how things were. But maybe he was different. Maybe he would see her from the inside out instead of the outside in. That’s all she asked, that she be looked at for what her insides where—her strong beating heart, her heavy bones, her blood that still ran hot and fast through her veins, her pink lungs. She bet if she was turned inside out she’d be smooth and pink and red and beautifully made. She bet she’d show him what she was really made of, not this old old woman that showed up on the outside.
Clementine went to her bedroom, stared at herself in the mirror. She pinched her cheeks, took her hair from its pins. She next went to her chifferobe and stared at her clothes, at the pretty little dress Mrs. Patters made her in payment for the rheumatism potion. Could she do it? Could she ask a man come have some supper with her? . . .