Tuesday, March 07, 2006

vignette: kitchen

Chen Chen spared the kitten one last remorseless glance before plunging it into the bucket of cold water. Immediately, the small animal clawed and struggled for air, gouging deep ruts into her thin arms. The young girl stoically took in all the pain and did not move from her squatting position as the hisses and gasps for life ended in a dispersal of bubbles. When the surface of the water was calm, Chen Chen lifted the lifeless corpse out of the bucket, trailing water and dislodged fur across the kitchen courtyard to the where the dead dog rested, its eyes still open from the shock of betrayal.

She pushed both into an empty rice sack, grimacing at the burning lines on her arms, and hefted the dead weight onto her narrow shoulders. With her eyes on the ground before her, Chen Chen kicked open the little wooden gate and began to walk to the crossroads, whistling tunelessly and bent over like an old man who knew too much about insensate love.

In the late atfernoon, the crossroads was a dull, uninteresting place, marked only by an ancient stone etched with a number. Chen Chen selected one corner of the crossing paths, set down her burden, and began to dig with her hands, flinging away rocks and weeds and roots, imbuing them with disinterested trajectories. When she could not dig anymore, she measured the hole with her extended arms, ignoring the throbbing of her torn fingernails, and decided that it would do.

Chen Chen dragged the dog out of the sack first and pushed it down into the hole, its wet brown fur offering no contrast to the mute earth's colors. Then she carefully placed the dead kitten on top of the dog, positioning the cat's little head so that it looked like it fell asleep instead of being drowned. She tried to close its eyes but stopped when the wind blew a little too strongly.

With the first part of her task done, Chen Chen straightened up, brushed away soil and grass and dirt from her heavy kitchen dress, and walked back to her old mistress' house, her tuneless whistle hinting at a slowly growing hope.

When she returned, she washed her hands and arms thoroughly before devoting her spirit and concentration on the two hundred and seventy six tasks, big and small, that she still had to do. She performed them without speaking, ignoring the presence of the old woman who woke up at the precise moment the sun set to begin exoriating her with words whose hooks and barbs bit deeper than any struggling cat's claws. Through the whirldwind of curses, threats and imprecations, Chen Chen chopped, sliced, rinsed, dried, cured, stewed, preserved, blanched and baked, the exposed nerves of her fingers numbed by the combination of tomatoes, ginger, beef, shellfish, pumice, charcoal, olive oil, salt, blood and tears.

When she finally finished the day's kitchen tasks, Chen Chen collapsed on her frayed pallet and thought about the next day, only three hours away. That was when she could sneak out of the kitchen, run back to the crossroads, unearth the animals she had just buried, and proceed with the second step of her long plan of escape.

Tomorrow, she would catch a kitchen spirit and taste the result of her simmering plan of revenge.


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