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I Just Lately Started Buying Wings

By Kim Dana Kupperman

Her voice, like some holy place, issues from a warm brown prayer of a face. She’s going blind. She doesn’t worry about her son’s alcoholism anymore, or the injustice of the everyday.

“It’s like lye in the sink and you better not put your hands in it,” she says.

She’d know. She’s cleaned a lot of houses. Put her hands into a lot of sinks in other people’s homes.

“You should get married, Annie,” she tells me. I don’t know why she calls me Annie, but I’ve always liked it. She tells me that her daughter’s two kids are on drugs and can’t get off, and how her sister’s grandson was shot and killed. I shake my head.

“I’m not ready to get married,” I say. I tell her that my brother is still on drugs, and my other brother, dying of AIDS, is also still using drugs. She shakes her head.

Believing as I do in the power of food to blur the distinctions that keep people hungry, I ask her if she’d mind very much telling me her recipe for fried chicken.

“I ain’t ever told nobody how I makes chicken. I tell people how I makes cakes,” she says.

We talk and talk. I will not press her for the fried chicken recipe, which, like her exact age, is one of the few secrets she still can claim.

She rubs Nivea lotion into the keen flesh of her old legs. These legs have carried her from place to place, where she has made the dailyness of other people’s lives a little more bearable. Legs her own son held onto as he learned to walk (her son, now a man who lives alone somewhere in Baltimore, drinks too much, and doesn’t stay in touch). Legs that carried her to the work of feeding and cleaning and raising other people’s children. She has the legs of one of those saints who walk among us unnoticed. Legs of sustenance for which we should thank God, the Creator, Vishnu, Allah--whatever we believe in--each and every day.

She says the trip home to her sister’s in Virginia Beach is too much this year. She says she’s mad at those doctors who lie to her, and the trip into the city is too long to see those lying doctors. She says she’s thinking of getting a new place, one with an elevator.

“Stairs, Annie, is getting hard on my old legs.”

Her vision, she reminds me, is like the weather. “On clear days, I sees like lightning.” On rainy, cloudy days, everything is blurred. She tells me the A&P on Flatbush Avenue is only two bus stops away, a beautiful market, but she buys her meat at the butcher shop, where she can smell it. She relies more on her nose these days.

“I like the breast, the short thigh,” she says, “But Annie, I just lately started buying wings.”

As she says this, I think of her ascending on splendid wings that navigate the places she can no longer walk to or see. Wings of soft brown, darkening to bittersweet chocolate at their tips.

Then, she tells me her recipe for fried chicken:

“Don’t put nary a drop of salt because those seasons are salty. After I wash my chicken, I take paper towels and dry it. Then I put on the season. It’s very important to put your season on the chicken before you flour it. If you’re not a good flourer you can put it in a paper bag, or a plastic one. But it’s very important on your season. Don’t put no thyme on fried chicken. Don’t put no sage on fried chicken. I use a little papriker and a little bit of Lawry Season Salt. Then I use a little bit of Accent. Accent’s very important to it, the chicken. And I use white pepper, not black pepper, just a dash. It’s better to put the season on a half hour before you flour. Use Crisco oil. You can use Mazzola, but I use Crisco. You have the pan half full with oil, and not lukewarm. You fry it with a cover and a long fork. And you don’t turn it over and over. Just turn it when it’s crisp on the edges.”

When she’s done speaking, she rocks in her rocker, hands loosely clasped in her lap. We sit in silence, the secret she has spoken floating between us as if it were a feather.

Kim Dana Kupperman is is managing editor of The Gettysburg Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Baltimore Review, Cimarron Review, Eclectic Literary Forum, Hotel Amerika, ISLE, Louisville Review, River Teeth, and others. Her essay, “Four Points,” received the 2003 Robert J. DeMott Prose Prize from the journal Quarter After Eight and her 1996 essay, “Of Borders, Infidels, and the Ethics of Love,” received the first-place award in the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics Essay Contest, and one of her essay "Relief" has been chosen for inclusion in the forthcoming Best American Essays 2006.

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photo by Dinty W. Moore