Chapter Twenty-five: A Notch or Two
"Too bad there isn't anything we can do with chicken bones," Ben observed, tossing a fan of ribs onto the pile.
"You should try selling them on eBay. Scrub them with soap, then Clorox the shit out of them, dry them, varnish them, and market them as voodoo kits."
"Might work for Halloween, but I don't have enough time to do all that this year. Maybe next year, though. I'd have to come up with a spell for them ... No, wait! Fortune telling! No kidding, Gloria, I bet I could come up with a package that would sell. People are all cautious about stuff like jewelry and collectible comic books, but weird crap -- bet it would sell."
"It'd give you a hobby, anyway. Wow, that's a heap of chicken," Gloria said, wondering if she had overestimated her ability to cook so much.
Washing his hands, Ben quipped, "Hope it tastes better when it's done. Kind of blah right now."
"I shall transform it, magically, like a love potion. You and Will are going to fall for it like a ton of bricks." At least I hope so.
The next step, after boning the chicken, was to get a gravy or broth going, and for that, she really didn't want Ben in the kitchen. She planned on crumbling the liver into the broth, a process almost certain to draw disparaging comments from him. Sometimes it was better for the diners not to know what went into their food. Kind of like Gloria's own reaction when she saw Maria simmering fish heads, eyeballs and all.
At her shooing, Ben went to the living room and turned on the television. "How about that cooking channel?" he shouted.
"Is that a hint?" she laughed, hurriedly mashing the liver before he could return, then scraping it into the biggest pot she could find. She fished the greasy back pieces out of the water, and the necks, hearts and gizzards. While at the store she'd seen packages of gizzards being sold separately from the other cuts of chicken, but had dismissed them as something only a fetishist would want. She spent a little time pulling the meat from the necks, noting that if Ben did end up trying to sell chicken bones, neck bones were pretty interesting to look at.
He could probably make necklaces out of them and sell them all, she thought, and then frowned. Actually, he probably could. She had a sudden flash of chicken vertebrae bleached white, interspersed with wooden beads. It might even look cool.
The hearts and gizzards and neckbones and backs were about to be scraped onto a plate, on their way to the garbage. It was just too bad that they didn't have a dog to eat the hearts and gizzards, but then a dog would have been an expense they simply couldn't afford -- if they lost the house, they wouldn't be able to take a dog with them to an apartment or a shelter anyway.
It was a measure of how wealthy she was, her family was, that she was going to throw out those hearts and gizzards. In another country, in a place where starvation was real and poverty meant death, not just being unable to afford better cuts of meat or the payments for three cars, the two hearts, two gizzards would be a stout serving of protein for someone, maybe even two people. But try though she might, there was no way that Gloria was going to put those things in her mouth. There's a new magazine diet! Lose 30 pounds in a month! All you have to do is eat chicken hearts and gizzards! "Hey, Ben? You want to eat these chicken hearts?"
He came back into the kitchen and looked at them. Taking a knife, he sliced one of the hearts, thinly, just one slice. He put it in his mouth and chewed.
"What's it taste like?" Gloria asked him, her own appetite gone.
"A rubber band," he told her, pulling the bits out of his mouth and throwing them into the trash.
The other heart and the gizzards and the neckbones followed them.
To accommodate the meat from two whole chickens, there had to be enough broth, but the resulting "soup" was almost completely tasteless. Ben, sticking his finger in the liquid, concurred, adding that shit had a better flavor.
"Bouillon? Do I add bouillon?" she asked her youngest brother, after nearly calling her mother for advice. There would be no point to that, however, as Philli had left her cell phone on the kitchen table.
"When I taste that, all I think of is being sick, since we always have bouillon tea when we get colds. What about those gravy mixes? You know, the ones we have if Mom's feeling on the lazy side when we roast a chicken?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Sometimes she makes the gravy from a mix. I kind of like it -- better than having mashed potatoes and no gravy at all, any way."
Was this something her mother had begun doing recently? Gloria couldn't really recall seeing her mother make packaged gravy. Ben was already rummaging in the pantry. "Good god, I had no idea she ever used that stuff," Gloria gasped when Ben emerged, holding two packets of turkey gravy mix.
"I don't think she used much of it," her brother informed her. "Just some to bump up the taste a notch. This stuff could use a notch, for sure."
It went against Gloria's grain to use a packaged mix, especially when she had mentally sneered at Maria's use of a packaged gravy for a meat course. But Ben was right, the liquid in the pot was uselessly bland. She dipped some of the watery stuff out -- it wasn't yet too hot -- with a ladle, put it in a mixing cup, and added the two packets. Each packet would allegedly make a cup of gravy, so perhaps, spread through the vat of soup, the pre-mixed flavor wouldn't be too evident. She returned the resulting paste to the pot and stirred it in with a big wire whisk.
Ben had a finger in it before she could put the whisk down. "Yeah, that tastes like something now."
The stuff still wasn't very thick, though, so Gloria made another paste, this one of flour and water, and stirring constantly, poured it into the broth. Then she allowed the pot to heat to boiling, just a little, to see how thick it was. A little more of the flour and water paste, and the consistency was good. She added some thyme and some coriander, a teaspoon of pepper, and some salt. Then she picked up the tray of chicken.
"Can I dump it in?" Ben asked, sounding like he was ten years old again.
"Sure," Gloria told him. "Don't splash, don't burn yourself ..."
"Yeah, yeah, 'don't cut yourself on the chicken' -- I know the litany."
She stirred the chicken gently, while Ben dipped a spoon into the stuff and tasted a little bit of it. "Still needs a little more salt," he declared. After she'd added another shake from the cooking salt container, he nodded. "That's it. We might not have any left over after Will and I finish with it."
"That's why I'm putting half of it away before he gets home. We have to watch how much we eat as much as we have to watch how rich we eat, Ben. We're still only about a month away from living in a shelter."
He looked troubled, and Gloria's heart ached. A kid his age shouldn't have to think about things like that. No one should. Dear old Dad, why did you have to leave us with nothing? What were you thinking?
The phone rang, and Ben hurried away to answer it, away from the ugly truth that Gloria had brought into the kitchen. I suppose telling it like it is keeps me from slipping into denial. She drizzled the margarine, celery, and onion mixture over the chunks of bread, tossing them to evenly distribute the flavor.
"Will's on his way home," her brother called. "He'll be here in about half an hour."
"Okay," she said, glad of the interruption. "I'll put the bread into the oven to crisp up, and in ten minutes --" she started the timer " -- we'll put the potatoes on."
"He says he has a treat for us, but he wouldn't tell me what it was."
"I hope it's not a bag of snakes or anything like that."
"I dunno, Sis, snakes are supposed to be good eating."
"Oh! Right! I could do snakes like we did chicken today, and then you'd have the hides to sell on eBay! And god, snake bones definitely would sell like hotcakes!"
"The washer is done. I just dump that stuff in the dryer and turn it on, right?"
"Set it on the setting that says 'More Dry' and clean out the lint trap, and add a dryer sheet while we still have them."
"I was hoping that I wouldn't need a translator for this, you know."
"Come on, Rat Head, I'll show you how to work the Monster Dryer so that it doesn't fry your undies."
Ben could have got the machine to work, and could have dried the clothing, but he might have set the dial too hot, and nearly scorched the fabrics so that they wore out too quickly; he could have set the dial too low, and risked an infection of mildew in the clothing as it fully dried in closets. A kid usually didn't have to worry about how to do laundry efficiently -- normally the mother of the household would have done it, or an older sibling, as Gloria had. Even at that, Gloria knew that she was unusual among her friends who were still at home, knowing how to do all the laundry. Most of her acquaintances barely knew how to load a dishwasher, and only did their own laundry. Take care of their mother's and father's undergarments? Ewww, no way! How gross was that?
They called it the "ick factor" nowadays, and with a start, Gloria realized that it was exactly that "ick factor" which had prompted her to dump the chicken giblets into the trash. It was food, it was protein, but she was fat enough that she would rather say "ick" and waste the food and energy than make use of it. Her friends would rather run a washer with a tiny load of darks than mix their clothes with the rest of the family's. "Ben," she said to her brother at her elbow, "the first thing to learn about laundry is to pretend you don't know anything about the people who wear the clothes, and after you load a washer, go and wash your hands before you start to fold clothes."
"Got it. Show me where we're at with this week's junk."
"What's in the washer now is whites, bleachable whites. You guys' undershirts, all white socks, the white washcloths, the dish towels. The chlorine bleach not only makes the stains come out, it sanitizes the lot, so your toenail fungus and athlete's feet don't spread."
He rolled his eyes and motioned with his hands for her to get on with it.
"Next up is medium colors. Warm cycle, only non-chlorine bleach until this runs out. It's not actually necessary, and we can't afford it any more. It's all sorted. One of those hampers is a full load, no more or they won't come clean."
"God damn, Glory, it's Rocket Science, isn't it?"
"Wait till you want to go to the Royal Ball, Cinderella -- that'll put your sarcasm right up your ass."
"My mice!" he cried in a falsetto voice. "Where are my mice?'