Touch: The Journal of Healing



Day Before Fasting

    by DeMisty D. Bellinger

After it had browned to a crisp skin like the rest of the chicken, Dana took the last thigh off the pan.  She shook it lightly with the tongs as she turned the fire off beneath the pan with her other hand.  Before she had fried the chicken, she had coated the pieces in an egg and corn flake batter, seasoned with spices she had to think to remember.  She placed the thigh on a plate covered in paper towels already translucent from earlier.  Along with the fried chicken, they were having baking soda biscuits made with a cup of real butter, chicken gravy from the reduction of gizzards and livers, collards with fatback, cornbread with bacon drippings (they had bacon that morning), string beans with salt pork, and creamed corn southern style for dinner.  She thought she forgot how to make it all, but there it was: a feast fit for a ghetto king.  Or a hillbilly.

Dana worried that the rich meal would be a shock to Benard’s system, after so many dinners consisting of such foods as baked or grilled chicken with the skin removed, brown rice and margarine, greens flavored with onions and olive oil (very tasty, actually), low-fat fruit pies for dessert instead of the yellow cake with caramel frosting they’d have that night.  That morning, Benard promised to have a huge piece.  “About a quarter of the cake,” he had said, “with some real vanilla ice cream.” 

From the kitchen, she could see Benard sitting on the love seat, watching his game.  His broad shoulders spanned across a full section of the love seat and extended to the next section slightly.  When he stood, Benard was six feet and three inches, and he didn’t seem to shrink much when he sat.  His bald head bobbed while he sat there on the love seat, moving it as if he ran up and down the basketball court.  He hardly made a sound as he watched; he was always able to contain his excitement, saving obscenities when no head dip or eyebrow movement would do.  His shoulders contrasted highly with the white A-shirt he wore and his muscles moved easily beneath his mud-hued skin.  Dana couldn’t understand it— how can a man that big have a heart so weak?  Why him?  He was a hard worker, was faithful, and he has never laid a hand on her or their children.  Why Benard?

“Put a shirt on,” she said.  “It’s time to eat.”  She didn’t think that the dinner (the whole day for that matter, with the breakfast of bacon, four eggs and buttermilk pancakes) was a good idea.  When he had told her what he wanted to eat the day before the day he had to fast for surgery, she said, “You ain’t supposed to be eating stuff like that, Benny!”

“I know that, but I might die under that knife.  Then what would I have?  Ten years of eating how I am told and not how I want.”

“You said that the food was good.”

“It was, but it wasn’t fried chicken and gravy.  Dana, baby, I want a whole chicken to myself.”

She had looked at him with one hand on her hip, her lids lowered.  “A whole chicken, Benard.”

“The whole thing.  Baby, I might not make it.  I could die, Dana.”

“Don’t talk like that.”

As she set the table, she fretted that one of their kids would stop by to say hello, or ask for money, or complain about their own husband or wife.  They’d think she was trying to kill him for sure.

“Got to be the best Lakers game in a long time,” he said from the living room, “but the way that smelling in there, baby, I won’t feel bad about missing a bit.  About missing it all, you dig?”

“Just get ready, Benny.”  She just smelled grease.  Everything smelled like fried fat.  She tasted the food as she went along, cooking all day in that kitchen, but it all tasted alike.  She was worried that she forgot how to make those meals that took forever to make and no time at all to kill you, to make you obese.  She was worried that the dinner could have been all for naught, unpalatable to both Benard and herself.

The constant cooking made the kitchen hot, made her tired.  When she finished setting the table, she sat down at her place and stretched her legs out.  It felt good to sit down, cooler in the dinning area, but not by much since it was right off of the kitchen.  She was glad she didn’t have to cook like that all the time anymore.

As she rested, Dana watched Benard as he stood up from the couch and stretched out fully, raising his arms to the ceiling and stretching every tendon.  If she didn’t know him, she’d be afraid of him.  He was almost twice her size, almost none of it fat.  But that was because he worked and he worked hard.  Had he a desk job, she supposed Benard would have been as soft as a baby, like most of L.A.  She looked out the kitchen window when Benard went to the bedroom to change.  She could see the Hollywood Hills, the famous sign, and she thought about all of the misconceptions people outside of California had about healthy living on the West Coast.  Dana could count the skinny girls she knew on her right hand.  Most of Benard’s friends had beer guts that leisurely hung over their belt buckles.

Benard came in wearing a clean shirt tucked neatly into his Dickies work pants.  “You outdid yourself, Dana.  Look how crispy that chicken is, skin almost as pretty as yours.”

“Sit down and eat, Benny.  Stop trying to flatter me.”

“I ain’t playing, girl.  Goddamn, look at those biscuits!”

“Hey, that’s hardly grace!”

“And we ain’t religious.  Pass me a thigh, would you?  I’ll start there and just pretend it’s your thigh.”

Dana giggled, “Shut up, Benny!  Dammit, just eat your food.” 

Neither ate until both had something of everything on his and her plate.  Dana slowly sampled everything.  She couldn’t taste anything.  She couldn’t stomach it and would have preferred some of that chicken grilled and a baked potato with no-fat yogurt.  She had gotten used to that kind of food, lost a lot of weight with it, got better skin from it. 

Benard didn’t nibble around.  He concentrated on his chicken, silent except for polite smacking.  His lips were rimmed with oil, his fingers were wet looking.

“If you get out of it?” Dana asked.

“What?  Get out?”  Benard took another bite from his chicken, chewed it philosophically. 

“Surgery?”  He looked at his wife.  She nodded.  “This is a last supper for this heart, honey.  We can go back to the nuts and berries, grass and dry chicken.”

“You said you liked that stuff.”

“I do!  But, Dana admit it, it ain’t this.”  He grabbed a chicken leg and held it up for her to see.  “I haven’t had anything this crispy for a long time and don’t tell me a carrot’s crispy.”  He bit the leg, trying to make the crisp audible.

She started to cry.  She couldn’t help it.  “It tastes terrible, don’t it?”

“No.  Why would you say that?”

“Taste all the same.”

“Don’t cry, baby.  It’s phenomenal.”

“I can’t eat it.”

“Don’t cry right now.  I don’t need that right now.”

“I’m scared,” she said.  She looked at him as if he did this to her, as if he invented southern fare and cholesterol ridden hearts.  She looked at him as if he could make it stop.

“I am too,” he said, looking back at her, “but I don’t need that right now.”

After sobbing and dabbing at her eyes with her napkin, Dana tried to compose her self.  She took a big forkful of creamed corn and ate it realistically.  “The corn’s good,” she said.

“Got that right,” Benard said.

© 2011 DeMisty D. Bellinger

DeMisty D. Bellinger, a Wisconsin native, has an MFA in creative writing from Southampton and is completing a PhD at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Her fiction can be found at Diverse Voices Quarterly, LITSNACK, and Wilderness House Literary Review. She lives in Lincoln with her husband and twin daughters.

Copyright © 2011

Touch: The Journal of Healing

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