short story    
photo of Matthew Klam

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Lynn's roasting a chicken. She takes out garlic, chili powder, and a dime. "What's that for?" I say. "There are pine nuts above your head," she says. I hand them down to her. Now she butters the pan. She's got the coriander in a bag, cloves, curry, and two oranges. Then other green herbs. Jesus Christ, I'm thinking, all that crap for the chicken.

"All that's for the chicken?"


"What? That." I'm pulling on my eyebrow hair. It's a nervous habit, but I feel like plucking these long curly ones. "All that goes on the chicken?"

She rinses off her hands and says, "This is a recipe from my mom."

It's early summer. It's afternoon, and the kitchen is the brightest room in this house. It's like a greenhouse in here, very sunny. The house itself is small and cheap, though a hundred and fifty years ago somebody planted a sycamore on the front lawn. Protected from the wind and fed by sun and water, the plant grew into a giant. The limbs stretch up--it's like an elephant, white tusks against the sky.

"Up we go," she says, upending the chicken. She pulls a wax-paper bag from inside it like an envelope and drops it in the sink.

"What the hell is that?" I say. Lynn wipes her forehead with her wrist. She takes the bag out of the sink and tears it open, spilling the contents into her hand. It's meat--it looks like tongues.

"Oh, my God."

"It's chicken livers. See?"

She flicks them with her finger. It's three glistening pieces of purple meat, but not at all like steak. They look like they were alive five minutes ago. She holds one. She seems to enjoy touching it.

"O.K., get rid of it." Lynn puts the bag and the livers in the garbage. She says, "You make it with onions. My mother loves it."


This is the whole chicken, an entire animal. Like, I haven't exactly seen this done before by a person my age. We're both kids. We don't know how to cook this stuff. In all the time we've been living together, Lynn's never cooked a whole chicken.

I'm leaning close enough to her that I can smell her shampoo. Her hair is thick and reddish brown, full and shiny, and her skin is the color of creamy tan suede. Mexican mother, Irish father. You know how they airbrush the skin of ladies in Playboy? I see Lynn's body every day, I look at her skin up close, I've had my eye an inch above her stomach or her shoulder or her calf, and it's flawless. It's golden skin. Every morning after her shower, Lynn comes and stands in front of me. I'm either getting dressed or making notes for work--then she turns around and I rub cream across her shoulders, underneath the bra straps, bright-white fabric against her tan skin.

She cuts the fat off the chicken, that makes sense, but with scissors, of all things. She holds it like a little playmate, flipping it over, rocking it under the faucet. She washes out the hole in it, pouring some little pieces of red guts into the sink, shaking out the dried blood or cartilage that runs down and sticks in the drain. Sickening. Then she tears off a piece of brown paper bag and folds it, dabbing the outside of the chicken.

"What are you doing?" I ask.

"It gets the old oil out of the skin."

"Old oil? What, like sweat?"

"No, not like sweat," she says. "Like sweat? Chickens don't sweat."

"I know."

"I'm cooking you dinner and you're gonna stand here and give me shit?"

"No! No way. This is gonna be sensational."

I love her. Man! I really do. She's a pistol. It's not placating love, it's really passionate love. Uncharted territory, yes, definitely. But that's what love is--undefined.

"Move aside, termite," she says to me, grabbing the bottle of olive oil.

"Termite," I say. "Good one."

I love how she says that--"Are you gonna give me shit?" That's funny. The answer is yes, I am.

Lynn's awesome, though. She knows what she's thinking, and she knows what you're thinking. She's got you. She's a keeper, as they say. I want to keep her.

"Or would you rather I'd left the feathers on?"

I say, "You're the chef." I mean, whatever this girl touches turns to gold.

Say something bad happened to her, and we have no control over it. All of a sudden there's a situation. Hang on, let me start this over.

It's hard to explain--poor kid--a month ago Lynn had to get an abortion. What a lead balloon. What a joke. It ain't no joke.

"Give me that," she says, pointing at the pepper, and I hand it to her. She rubs chili powder on the skin. Now the paprika, now salt, now some other stuff.

In Spanish, the word is aborto, a foreign word that even I can master and pretty easy for Celia, Lynn's mother, to yell at her a few times over the phone. "Aborto! Aborto! Clak-ata-clak-ata-clak-ata."

Lynn called home. It was night, we were lying in bed, and I heard everything from my side. I wanted to help, but what could I do? You don't interfere with a family. Lynn nodded into the phone, picked up a pencil and stared at it.

"Mom. We already decided."

"Goddamn it!" I heard Celia say. "You slut. You and your jackass boyfriend."

After two minutes, Lynn hung up. She didn't say anything.

"Jackass boyfriend?" I said.

"She said to tell you she hates you."


In my mind, I saw Celia stomping barefoot through her newly carpeted house with the antenna phone and her 1950s bouffant hairdo and ten pounds of eye shadow, shaking her fist, saying, "Goddamn jackass," meaning me, blaming it on me.

Lynn and I have a normal sex life. Whatever that means. Sex is never normal with anyone, it's bizarre, it's wiggly meats, but Lynn was a virgin when we met. And then a couple of months went by, and we were invited to her parents' for Christmas.

We drove from Colorado to Ohio. It's twenty-two hours by car. You know how it is when you go on a road trip--you're going to a new place together. After five or six hours, the inside of the car smelled like B.O.; my ass began to hurt; my legs felt like concrete; there were sunflower seeds all over the floor. More miles, and soon we were spitting the shells on each other. Two o'clock in the morning, shit-bag road stop, I'm buying cigarettes in Michigan. Lynn's standing next to me in a pink pajama top and jeans, sunflower-seed shells in her hair, which is all sticking up in knots in the back from her sleeping on it. She gave me two candy fireballs; her hand was warm and clammy. Outside, no cars passed by. It was silent. It wasn't particularly cold for December. There was the gas station and then nothing for miles.

We stood in the unfamiliar light of the store in the middle of nowhere, lost. It was at about that time that I felt anything could happen. Me and my girlfriend, Lynn, on our first road trip together. When you're twenty-three, a road trip is the highlight of your life. I held on to her hand. It's the same person, and she's great, but she seemed different all of a sudden, three-dimensional. Like a person you've just met for the first time and would like to get to know. As we drove off, the car went over a speed bump and out of the corner of my eye I saw Lynn's boobs shake.

They put me in the guest room in the basement. The room had white wicker furniture and green-and-silver jungle wallpaper. Mold in the squishy rug. We'd packed our clothes into the same suitcase, and as I dug through it for my contact-lens holder I came across a bunch of Lynn's underwear. I took a pair out and held them up to the light, weightless flowered cotton panties. They had a lacy edge. They were clean and cute and smelled like powder. Eleven o'clock at night I'm sitting on the bed in the dank basement, white wicker furniture and green jungle wallpaper, the underwear crumpled against my nose and mouth, tracing swirl patterns in the stucco ceiling. I really loved her. Two floors above me my girlfriend lay sleeping, down the hall from her mother and father. I never put pressure on Lynn, for I knew that would be wrong, and yet she must've felt safe. We'd begun to build up a trust. This is the part where Lynn loses her virginity. It was the holiday season. The stage was set.

Lunchtime, Celia had made a Mexican specialty, a casserole, a savory thing, cheap cuts of fatty meat, bone chips, dog lips, and I went into the bathroom to get a stain off my pants. Lynn came in to help me, and we both ended up naked from the waist down. She got up on the sink, both of us a little self-conscious, trying to be quiet, except I was so excited my feet itched, the thing so hard it felt like it was pulling off me of its own power. Lynn's like kicking my jeans, she's like Don't come inside me, she was like drooling, her eyes rolled back into her head, kind of grunting, her legs around my waist. And there were her parents--Celia and Phil sitting outside the door sopping up the orange grease on their plates from their Mexican lasagna. Man, it was something. Lynn said, "I'm supposed to be a virgin, you bastard. My mother is in the next room. Stop it right now. Stop it before I faint," laughing. "Somebody, help." I almost fainted myself, both of us leering and hot as monkeys.

It's terrible the way kids work off their parents.

That week was the best sex I ever had in my life: Celia knocking on the door to Lynn's room during afternoon-nap time, me beneath the blanket, Lynn saying, "I'll be right out, Mom, I'm getting dressed," Celia saying, "Where's Jack, honey?" and really not knowing where I was! See? That's why I love the Midwest. Such a dreamy lack of a clue. That's what happens in the Ohio River valley, even to a transplanted Mexican with citizenship. I'm from New York, where dead people are not that dumb. These folks are idiots. I mean innocent. Other friends of their family would come by, I'd run down to the basement to bring up extra chairs, and I'd feel it dribbling in my pants. Once the first one was out of the way, we did it every time Phil and Celia turned their backs. Every time they went to the food store. They had to go back to the food store so many times because we were eating everything in the refrigerator and losing weight at the same time. Their whole house must still smell from our spooge. I picture that dumpy suburban street: the snow melting in rivers of mud everywhere, her dad walking around in that fisherman hat, the smell of new wall-to-wall carpet everywhere in their house--and I get an exciting feeling inside. It's like the first time we did it all over again.

Lynn holds the chicken's weight in one hand and rubs a stick of butter around it with the other, like a deodorant stick almost. She sprinkles it with lime, rubbing gently with her other hand around its back and rump. It makes me squeamish sitting there, like it might get up all of a sudden and tap my shoulder, but Lynn's got a pretty sure grip on it. She grabs it by the cavity, sticks it on its back in the pan, and throws in a bunch of herb leaves and pine nuts. Then she cuts up an onion and an orange with the skin still on.

My office mate Amy told me, after she had her baby, how similar an uncooked chicken felt in her hands to the body of her daughter. She said how she held it, rubbing olive oil on it, under the wings, around the thighs, with soft loose pink skin, the small, protective rib cage. It was the same weight and size as her baby. She said even the elbows had a similar feel in her wet hands. She said it was too funny, so she loaded her camera, naked Elizabeth lying next to the chicken on Amy's leather coat, and all the groceries piled up around them. She stood on a chair and got the two birds on film.

Lynn is standing at the sink now, measuring out rice, and looking at me with those bright-green eyes that say, "I know what I'm doing here." She looks like an angel. My knees begin to buckle, and I just want to put her down on the kitchen floor and start the trouble all over again. I want to bare her breast and nod on her nipple. I'm her baby. She's my baby. Everybody's somebody's baby. Let's make a baby.

Lynn says, "What else besides rice?"

"Do you want salad?" I say.

In April we put a garden in the backyard. The land behind our house is flat. It gets both sun and shade. The grass is long and lush and light green, and right now there are some dandelions. It'll need mowing soon. The garden was our team project, although the day we rented the tiller Lynn was sick and I did everything, and I'd just as soon have Fritos over a vegetable any day of the week. But we both like looking at the garden.

After dinner we go and check out the garden, walking between the rows, careful of where we step. Sometimes she'll pull weeds. When it gets dark we lie on the cold metal basement doors and watch the sky. Above us, the clouds are silently on the move, backlit by the moon. The smell of cut grass is everywhere. The sweet smell and the crickets, and the slick noise of lawn sprinklers hissing in the dark. Grass smells good. There should be a name for it.

"I'll get the salad," I say. There's a basket we use for the vegetables. I take it off the top of the refrigerator.

"I'll do it," Lynn says. "I'm in the mood." She pulls the basket out of my hands and goes out the back door, the glass doorknob banging against the wall.

The sun is going down. Flat, ginger-colored light is sprayed against every surface inside the kitchen, across the counters and the refrigerator door and the walls that are the color of yellow wine. I hear her say hello to Whiskey, the cat. The people next door own him. Strange name for a cat.

It's Tuesday. It's almost seven. Time to eat.

We said we'd get a cat, but what I really want is a dog--dogs are better--but cats are less permanent. If we had to move, you could give the cat away, or leave it. No one would do that to a dog, and anyway it's against the law. A dog would starve to death.

Our difficulties began one night three months ago. I know the exact night. Lynn came home from class and said, "I just got my period. It's so early this month." She said something cute like "You don't have to worry about rubbers for a while." I do worry about rubbers. They are my downfall. We did it that night, no rubber. There was an instant--I remember it--when I was deciding whether or not to actually go for it. I followed a certain line of reasoning, and remembered what she said, twinkled over the risks, and then blew my nuts out. It was something to behold. I really enjoyed myself, oink oink, drowning in it. But then her period disappeared the next day. Or I should say it never came.

She was ovulating.

Let me lay this out again. She ovulated that night, thus the dot of blood. Then we did it. Bingo. You morons, you fucking biologists.

We were pregnant. It was April. I'd just turned twenty-four. I'd never been near an abortion clinic. And Colorado's not the laid-back liberal-Jew neck of the woods I come from. This here's the American West. I work for a software designer, but I've seen guys in spurs all duded up like Deliverance on a Friday night.

I felt desperate and called my parents. My mom told me how in Florida a pro-life group stood outside a women's clinic with a bullhorn, yelling, "If you come out now we'll shoot you, but your unborn child will be spared!" Congress had just blocked the abortion pill for the eighty-second time. She told me that what we were doing was O.K. Her voice made me homesick.

The thing about New York City is everything's so jampacked. It's the crowds, there are so many bums, dead people practically lying on the street. In the winter you die from the cold wind, in the summer you die from the heat. The breeze stinks, the people smell like piss, there's the traffic. It's impossible to park. Everybody's in a rotten mood. No place to hide.

In Colorado, the sun always shines. The sky is usually blue, and when we hang our clean clothes on the line in the backyard they dry in an hour. When you smell them they're crisp and smell like air. The mountains are to the west of town. This is a new town, 120 years old. They shot indigenous peoples to settle this town. You drive up into the Rockies and see powdery snow on the side of the road. Toward the eastern part of Colorado there are cornfields that go clear across the Midwest, I think. That yonder there is Kansas, I reckon. Anyway, it's flat, and kind of stunning from inside a car, cows and fields and vistas slashing out in every direction, and the sky above you is a flawless ceiling. God, you think, this would be perfect, if only . . . if only I had more money, if only it were a couple of years from now, if only Lynn and I were married, or were ready to get married, if I had more friends here--but old friends--or decent places to hang out at, or more of a feeling of what's next.

(Continued on the next page. Click here.)
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    Copyright © 2000 by Matthew Klam. Used by permission of the author.