CHICKEN FOR TWO
by Kim Magowan
After we order the chicken for two, I run a theory by my friend Lois: certain professions are more conducive to being good spouses than others. I’m not referring to practical considerations here, like the wear and tear a surgeon’s hours (both long and unpredictable) will inflict on her marriage. Rather, the same qualities that make people good at certain jobs make them decent spouses. “Architects, for instance,” I say, “like me. We need to be meticulous, we need imagination and long-range vision. Looking at a building pared to drywall and studs, we picture the pristine home it will become. We gravitate to the fixer-upper.”
What I don’t say—but Lois knows what I am thinking, because I intend her to—is that I am married to the converse: someone whose job primes him to be a crappy husband. Curt is a food critic. A good food critic, like my husband, is the ideological opposite to the architect. Instead of seeing things through the rosy glow of potential, Curt sees flaws. He’s like the boy Kay in the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Snow Queen,” who gets a splinter of cursed glass stuck in his eye that makes everything grotesque. When Kay looks at a rose, he sees the slick, black bug crawling on the stem.
Also: a food critic is motivated to discover the next shiny thing. The new restaurant is the one suffused with a honey glow.
I used to imagine myself as Curt’s favorite restaurant, where we still go once a year and always order the same thing, where Lois and I are eating now. More specifically, I would imagine myself as a particular dish at his favorite restaurant: roast chicken, served with bread salad, black currants, and pine nuts. You have to order the chicken as soon as you sit down—there’s a note about this on the menu—because it takes fifty minutes to cook. It roasts at 500 degrees in a cast iron skillet. I know this because I bought their cookbook this summer, so I could make the chicken myself. I burned my hand lifting the skillet from the oven.
But it’s Lois here with me today, not Curt, because Curt is in Bologna. Bologna has the best food in Italy. Married to a food critic, I thought this was a universally known fact, though Lois is clearly surprised to hear it, after she asks, so casually, “Why Bologna?”
This makes me consider which other facts I consider universally known are not, and then which facts other people know that I would be equally surprised to learn. For instance, Lois just told me, assuming this is something that everyone knows, that only 15% of used clothes are donated to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. The rest become landfill. “Didn’t you know?” she says, perfect eyebrows arched. I’m at a loss to explain my horror is not just about the waste. Suddenly the world is full of knowledge that I am not privy to, and learning this knowledge will only make my world darker.
This feeling is so oppressive that I almost lose my appetite for the roast chicken and bread salad that I once believed represented me, the dish my husband would always rank first.
I’ve bullied Lois into ordering the chicken and bread salad, since the restaurant will only serve it to two people or more. Lois mostly avoids meat. I watch her pick at her chicken thigh and feel guilty, despite having every right to manipulate her.
Lois writes grants for nonprofits. She thinks this makes her a good person.
“So, what are you going to do all week while Curt’s in Bologna?” Lois asks.
“Work. See my friends,” I say. “And,” I hesitate, because I didn’t plan to say this next part. I consider reasons to disclose, reasons to withhold. It’s like an imaginary house I am building and dismantling. I hesitate for so long Lois repeats, “And?”
“And, I’m going to get my eggs frozen.” Lois’s eyes are her most beautiful feature, black and moist as olives. They widen. “I thought you didn’t want children?”
I’m almost certain Lois is having an affair with Curt. But I am willing to see Lois with an architect’s eye, and imagine as I look at her, her plum-colored lipstick mostly rubbed off, her lips shiny from the chicken skin that she only reluctantly eats, that Lois is having regrets. She feels guilty for betraying me. She suspects Curt is a pain in the ass, finicky and difficult to satisfy, and she could find a better man who would cause considerably less trouble and stress.
“Curt doesn’t want children,” I say. Lois bites her greasy lip. I watch her set down her fork with its chunk of bread salad, its dainty, impaled currant.
Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing (2018) won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award. Her novel The Light Source (2019) was published by 7.13 Books. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, and many other journals. Her story “Madlib” was selected for Best Small Fictions 2019 (Sonder Press). Her story “Surfaces” was selected for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 2019. She is the Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel. See more at www.kimmagowan.com.