Engagement Chicken: A Short Story -The Toast

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Elyse had a wedding to go to, and she needed clean underwear. She flipped through Glamour as she waited for her clothes to dry. The dryer cost a quarter for every 8-minute increment, and Elyse was trying to be better about not wasting money. So, after letting the dryer run for an initial 48 minutes, she put in a single quarter and let it run for 8 more. The clothes were never dry, though sometimes they tried to trick you. Like, the thin white cotton t-shirt would be hot and dry as hay, but then you’d feel the inside of the bleach-stained blue towel, which had contorted itself like Kyle Kendall in fifth-grade gymnastics, and inside it would be soaking! Elyse sighed, sat back down in the smooth gray chair, and grabbed the Glamour again. The language was frantic: “The only shoe you’ll EVER need and how to get it NOW!” And full of math: “1 simple coat worn 6 ways to keep you warm 24/7.” She came across a recipe for something called “engagement chicken.” If you make this for your man, someone named Jill Sutro had written, he will be yours forever.

Elyse didn’t have a boyfriend. Anymore. But she wouldn’t mind being engaged. No, she wouldn’t mind that at all. Try the recipe, give it to a friend—oh, and let us know when it works! Jill Sutro wrote. Below the recipe there were messages from women for whom the recipe had worked over the years, appended with tantalizing details like “Amy lives in New York and now has three children with her husband John.” The legend of the chicken had spread throughout a wide network of searching souls. Elyse pictured each woman standing, watching over her bubbling cauldron, chanting incantations passed down through the centuries by the timeless Jill Sutro.

She studied the magical recipe. The chicken had to be “washed inside and out.” What could that mean? She wasn’t much of a cook. Once, toward the end of her and Jared’s relationship, when she could feel him slipping away, she’d tried to salvage things with a festive “Taco night.” The meat had tasted funny.

The wedding was a luncheon at a hotel downtown. Elyse walked in, found her table card, and immediately headed toward the bar. But before she could get there, she was approached by Jared’s roommate, Tom.

“Elyse!” he said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “I’m so glad you’re here!”

It turned out they were seated together, at one of the “singles” tables. She had forgotten he would be here, but now remembered that he had gone to high school with the bride, a college friend of hers, who she’d barely spoken to in years. Over specialty cocktails with cutesy names (“Mark + Stormy” and “Mint Juliap”), Tom asked Elyse if she was dating anyone.

“Just some casual things,” Elyse answered. “Nothing too special.” She took a sip of her drink.

“God, weddings are for dumb-dumbs,” Tom said, looking around. “You know what I mean?”

“It’s true,” Elyse said. “Dummies.”

Tom shuddered. “If you’re going to have a wedding at least be gay,” he said. “Like, okay, we get it, you’re excited. But for a straight couple to just have a wedding? It’s like, what are you doing?”

“How’s your ‘love life’ going, Tom?” Elyse asked.

“Ha,” he said. “It’s not really going. But our house is busy enough with Jared’s love life right now. Jesus. The sights, the sounds, the smells…I think he’s going through a bit of a sex-maniac phase.”

Elyse stared at Tom. He didn’t seem to be fucking with her. But then what the fuck. Wait. Seriously what was going on why had he just said that.

She desperately changed the subject: “How’s work?”

Tom proceeded to tell Elyse, in great detail, the plots of not one, not two, not three, but four TV pilots he was working on, and how difficult it was to be spread so thin. She felt her eyes glaze over, and she relaxed slightly.

“People say it’s a good problem to have,” Tom was saying, “but no! A problem is a problem, right? If it’s a problem, it’s a problem.”

That afternoon, in a cab home, defiant after three or four “Mark and Stormy”s, she’d texted Jared: “Heyy. drink tonight”

No punctuation at the end to indicate just how casual of a text it was. She couldn’t even take the time to complete the sentence with a period, much less a question mark (god, a question mark was desperate). That’s how casual it was. Sex-maniac. Who’s a sex maniac? What did Tom know. She was the sex maniac, here, if anyone was. This town’s only big enough for one sex-maniac, she chuckled to herself.

She paid the cab driver, and teetered out of the cab on her high heels. They were midnight blue, suede, beautiful, beautiful shoes.

She walked into Sunac Fancy Food, the deli underneath her apartment. It was open twenty-four hours, had organic over-priced everything.

She’d come in wanting something savory, something messy and bad and dirty. Prepared macaroni and cheese and potato salad and a chicken parmigiana sandwich all put in a bowl and stirred together and eaten with a wooden mixing spoon.

But as she walked toward the counter to order the prepared food, under the deli’s bright yellow lights she saw the frozen chickens.

Elyse stood in her kitchen, barefoot, but still wearing the dress she’d worn to the wedding. It was one of Fall’s Most Wearable Fashion Trends– a black sleeveless Zara dress, with a transparent back. She held a raw whole chicken in her hands, like it was a little baby. It was her and Jared’s little cold naked goosebumped baby.  Chickenbumped. She lifted it up and down a few times; made it dance on the countertop.

Jared was coming over in a few hours, for a drink, and she was making dinner as a surprise. She’d already started the drinking, and now she was going to tackle the recipe.

Remove the giblets from the chicken, wash the chicken inside and out with cold water, then let the chicken drain, cavity down, in a colander for 2 minutes.

Elyse set the bird down on the counter. She closed her eyes and reached inside the pelvis. She grabbed the chicken’s oily heart and its gizzard and whatever else was in there and yanked her hand out. She dropped them on the floor in a purple mess. She moved her right foot over, slowly touched it to the mush, and gave it a little kick. Her hot pink toenail polish looked pretty next to the giblets. She held the chicken under the faucet, upside down, legs spread wide, and filled it up.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.

We’re giving you a little bath, little baby, little sweetie, she said in a sing-song voice. Now we’ve got to get you nice and dry. The chicken skin felt clammy and tissue-thin. A few little white hairs were sticking out, like on an old woman’s cheek. She took another swig from the bottle of wine.

Place the chicken breast-side down in a medium roasting pan fitted with a rack and pour the lemon juice all over the chicken. Then prick 2 whole lemons three times each in three different places with a fork and place them deep inside the cavity. Chicken cavity size may vary, so if one lemon is partly sticking out, that’s fine. (Tip: If the lemons are stiff, roll them on the countertop with your palm before pricking to get the juices flowing.)

The lemons were stiff. Oh they were stiff all right. And she needed to get those juices flowing.

She placed them deep inside the cavity. This chicken’s cavity was pretty small, so the lemon was sticking out a little, just like the recipe had warned. She lifted the roasting pan up to put the chicken in the oven, sloshing some lemon juice down the front of her dress in the process. Oopsies.

She got the chicken inside the oven, then tried to wipe off her dress with a damp sponge. Trying to see the spot on her dress forced her to look down in a way that made a thick double chin. So she put the sponge aside and lifted the dress off over her head and laid it on the counter. She was wearing a black thong from the Gap. Buying black underwear was smart. Damn smart.

She reached behind her back and unhooked her bra and tossed it toward the giblets. Then pulled her underwear down, letting the tiny piece of cloth fall to the floor. Her naked flesh felt warm and soft in the kitchen air, heavy with the aroma of roasted chicken. She took a lemon, smelled its bright yellowness. She gave it a little lick and smiled. She rubbed it against her cheek, pretended it was kissing her hello. She began touching herself with the lemon, guiding it against her belly, her thighs, and then playing with it, teasing herself. She stood naked, making soft gasping noises. Finally, so turned on she couldn’t bear it she shoved the lemon deep inside herself, groaning in pleasure.

The timer went off; the chicken was ready.

After removing the roasting pan from the oven, let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving. And here’s the secret: Pour the juices from the roasting pan on top of the sliced chicken— this is the “marry me juice.” Garnish with fresh herbs and lemon slices.

Elyse took the pan and dumped that “marry me juice” over her head. Licking it off her arms and sticking her hot chickeny fingers inside herself. She writhed on the floor in bliss, garnishing herself in fresh herbs strewn around the kitchen.

Jared was on his way over to Elyse’s for a quick drink. He checked the time on his phone. Okay. He’d go there from 8-9, be completely nice but under no circumstances let anything happen between them, and meet up with Annika for dinner at 9:30 at the romantic Italian place by her apartment. He congratulated himself for agreeing to see Elyse, not just ignoring her texts. He would give her some closure.

He felt nostalgic as he walked down the block to her apartment, as he had so many times before. He briefly considered stopping into Sunac to get something to bring up–  some beer? She’d probably have an expensive bottle of wine when really all he wanted was a Coors Light. But she’d probably be insulted if he brought beer. God she was insecure. He always felt like he was walking on a minefield with her. It was so awesome to be with someone like Annika, who wasn’t into analyzing every little word he said. She let him have some peace and quiet, for once, so he could focus on his writing.

He pressed Elyse’s doorbell and she buzzed him in. He opened the door, and clomped up the steps to her apartment. As he put his hand on the doorknob, it immediately swung open. He jumped back in shock as he was greeted by a buck-naked Elyse, covered in grease and clutching what appeared to be a roasted chicken.

“Why hello there Jared,” she said. “Your timing literally couldn’t be worse. I don’t want to get engaged at all!” She threw her head back, laughing wildly, as chicken juice ran down her chin and neck and formed skinny brown rivers on her bare chest. Jared backed away slowly.

Maintaining eye contact with Jared, Elyse sunk her teeth into the chicken’s flesh. As she chewed lustily, juice seeped out.

She had done a wonderful job; the chicken was incredibly moist.

Sarah Beller's writing can be found at The Hairpin, Lilith Magazine, the Weeklings and other publications. Her twitter is @JulesBesch.

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