Gamma's Fried Chicken

It was dark inside when he got there. Besides the candles she had lit, the only light came from the windows, illuminated with falling snow, and the apartment was dusky. Earlier, she had watched the thick flakes silencing the sunset orange sky but then the windows steamed up because of the heat in the kitchen.

He stirred the concoction of green and red pepper slices, gluey with an unnamed number of spices from her cabinets -- mainly paprika from the looks of it -- using a plastic spatula that she hoped he wouldn't leave resting on the side of the frying pan, where it would start to smoke and warp.

"Smells good" was the substitution for what she really wanted to say, which would have been a continuation of her "nit-picking," the subject of a recent early morning discussion involving the cleanliness of his bathroom and his steady refusal to come in his hand instead of on her stomach and/or chest.

"You might want to use a bigger bag," was the only piece of advice she had given, not knowing that his Southern grandmother had taught him everything there was to know about tossing chicken legs in paper bags full of flour, salt and pepper. So she said that if she ever met this Gamma, she would be sure to ask about the ratio of chicken to the cubic measurement of bag. That was right before the bottom fell out of the paper bag brought from the deli on the corner, and once the clots of flour and two of the legs had scattered on the floor she didn't say anything more about Gamma. She sat perched on the stool and, out of habit, said for the third time, "Let me know if I can help."

She felt bored and constricted and wished they'd gone to a restaurant instead. But he was cooking her dinner after all and it's the thought that counts and tons of other cliched bullshit. She kept quiet. She wasn't going to ask again about why they weren't over at his place because she knew that the story about the gas bill standoff with his roommates was just, and here she smirked, fuel to the fire. He asked what she was smiling at. She shook her head.

Her roommate came in with a heavy purple backpack, trailing icy wind and a dusting of snow up four flights and into the apartment, and, looking at the flurry in the kitchen, asked, "Valentine's Day dinner?" It was obviously a rhetorical question meant as a greeting, but nobody had heard her anyway because at the precise moment of the roommate's entrance, both girlfriend and boyfriend lunged for the skillet popping over with hot oil and six chicken legs. One went for the knob to turn down the eye and the other grabbed the handle of the skillet, and in lifting it, tipped it a smidge to the side, allowing smoking peanut oil to escape the lip of the pan. It rushed over the edge of the stove and made a long, yellow tear streak down the side, pooled on the floor, maybe even found a speck of flour to fry.

The roommate had the look of a childless adult faced with a toddler's poopy diaper. She went into her room and shut the door. He put the skillet on a cold eye and shoveled the chicken pieces onto a wad of paper towels which quickly went translucent with the oil. From the cupboard she took down three plates, two for eating and one for serving. The Formica garage sale table, kitschy cool that became battered junk, was already set with a lumpy red candle and yellow cotton Crate and Barrel placemats. Their chairs scraped against the floor when they pulled them out to sit down. She spooned some of the slick melange of peppers onto his plate then hers, and he poured them wine. She had bought it, a $7 Sutter Home Cabernet, on her way home. "A toast," he said smiling. She rolled her eyes but picked up her glass. "To a warm heart during a cold winter." She smiled. They drank. She wondered if that meant that they would break up in the spring, when it began to stay light out longer and the nights were shorter.

About the author:

Valaer is the managing editor of a Forbes travel web site, blogger-in-residence of Minus Spine, word-wrangler, grammar-tamer and syntactical aerialist. Her work has been published in Toasted Cheese and as part of the Unfinished Stories Project, and she's hard at work (she swears) on a novel in stories.