two forks on white dinner plate, with tines touching

Juicy Chicken

I like the skin on chicken,
and I’ve never found out
if that’s weird or not.
My dad thought it was weird,
so he’d rip my skin off
and feed it to the dogs.
My mom didn’t think it was weird,
but she also didn’t eat chicken.
She’d just smile and watch us eat it
while she ate a salad.
My mom always tells this story about me,
about when she asked me
what I wanted to eat on my birthday.
I was turning eight,
and I told her I wanted a juicy chicken.
She loved that,
and she tells that story every year.
I think it’s a sad story,
but she thinks it’s a happy one,
so I let her tell it.
I let her describe our little yellow house,
with the big window in front.
And how the neighbors called me Apple Pie
because they said I was so sweet
they wanted to eat me.
How they’d kneel down and tell me
I had the perfect family,
just loud enough for my mom to hear.
And then she’d tighten the apron around her waist
and continue baking.
A juicy chicken.
An apple pie.
This mac n’ cheese that was crunchy on top.
It’s a fantasy.
My mom went to bed starving,
and my dad went to bed with someone named Debbie.
And I felt it.
Even when I was eight.
Even when I was smiling
and telling my mom exactly what she wanted to hear.
I want a juicy chicken, Mommy.
I want this small and simple thing
that you know how to do just right,
and we don’t have to talk about the other things.
I think it’s a sad story
because I know it has everything to do
with what came next.
But my mom doesn’t see that.
She did everything right,
and then it was just gone.
She basted the chicken.
She set the right temperature.
She took it out right at the buzzer.
She carved it precisely.
She knew exactly which piece I wanted
and which ones my dad wanted
and she served it to us on a beautiful platter.
So why did she end up alone,
doing dishes,
crying to a carcass on the counter.
She did everything right.
But we were sick,
and the chicken didn’t make us any better,
it just made us fatter.
It just made her thinner.
It just kept coming out of the oven with these promises that we couldn’t find no matter how much we ate, we just had to stare at our dirty dishes and piles of bones until finally, finally, my dad excused himself.