Fragments of language and story extracted from the body
–by Temim Fruchter
“Please give me that heavy book. I need to put something heavy like that on top of my head. I have to place my feet under the pillows always, so as to be able to stay on earth. Otherwise I feel myself going away, going away at a tremendous speed, on account of my lightness. “ – Anais Nin
We were not counting on the weight of the chicken.
It was heavier than a chicken should be, everyone agreed – even for a large chicken, the kind you would be proud to find toward the back of the freezer, behind the smaller, rounder chickens, a muscly misfit back there, too bulky to be on display but perfect to feed the lot of us.
Because we would be eating in a different city, we put the chicken between the clothes in my cloth suitcase, frozen solid, and zipped it up so it bulged around the midriff, heaving it upright and pulling out the handle for easier carriage. It was when I tried to walk that I realized that the suitcase wouldn’t move. When I moved the suitcase anyway, it protested stiff and the handle snapped off, and then there was nothing to do but push the suitcase to where I was going with everything I had from my pelvis up to my chest.
It was the heaviest walk. It felt like days. I knocked the suitcase down the stairs of the subway and kicked the suitcase onto the train with my stronger foot. I sat on the suitcase, ashamed, as though I had any way to hide it with my body. When commuters offered their help I refused it, knowing that no help would be sufficient in making the suitcase move.
In the sticky elevator up to the street level, the suitcase seemed to grow even heavier, like if it stayed too long in one place, it might just attach itself to the ground. When the doors slid open, the grey city sun shone hard. The stories I told walking down Wall Street! Yes, a frozen chicken. Yes, a broken suitcase. Yes, so heavy. Yes, it could have been shipped. Yes, I’m on a mission. Yes, he is reluctant to travel. He was comfortable where he was. Can I leave this in the lobby for just one moment? I may have imagined it, but I think the chicken was sweating under all of the questions. The suitcase, of course, was terribly angry.
The bus crossed its hours home and pulled into the station between the days. We were too tired to push anymore, the three of us, so we called for a ride.
There is the parable about the man who lives in a one-room hut with his mother, his wife and his six children. The man feels desperate and stuck and so goes to see the town rabbi. What should he do? Things are so hard and everyone is fighting in such close quarters. Nobody is ever happy to see anybody because everybody sees everybody all of the time.
The man takes the rabbi’s strange advice and fills his one-room house with farm animals. First, the cow. Next, the two horses. Then, the chickens, the giant rooster and all of the eggs. The goats and the sheep and even the dog and the cat. Several out-of-town relatives for good measure. Everyone in one room. The sky holding its breath around them. The walls thinning like onions.
And then, one day, just like that, everything and everyone leaves. The cow, the two horses, the chickens, the giant rooster, all of the eggs, the goats, the sheep, the dog, the cat and the relatives. Everyone. The one-room hut is empty. Except for the nine of them. The air can see itself. The house feels so paper-light then it might just fly away. The man feels lucky enough to be close enough to hold anyone he loves with just the reach of an arm or two. He gasps a little, surprised by this feeling. It is not a feeling he has had before, like his head and shoulders are dangerously close to floating.
The night we cook the chicken, I have a fever.
I have never cooked a chicken before, and I am unreasonably afraid. The fear is multiplied by the fever.
The chicken has been massaged, rubbed, salted, peppered, stuffed, turned and turned again. I overcompensate for not understanding what most it needs. Because I am afraid to undercook the chicken, I lay congested vigil on the couch, shivering leaden-headed under a thin pink blanket, until you arrive. When you do, I wake up finding myself folded into the cracks between the couch cushions, everything tasting a little like sleep, smelling of hundreds of years of family dinners.
Hello? I say, even though I see you standing right in front of me. Something about the way your soft face animates answering hello that makes me sure you’re real, fills my body with bones again. You lower yourself down next to me and sit on the outer edge of the couch, the most tender place. Your back presses into my front, a magnet, Your weight is hot and sweet and reminds me of rest.
The chicken has filled the entire house now. Everything is warm and waiting. Everything is raw and heavy. Everything is thawed and lighter. Everything feels like a memory and a distant hope all at once. In the meantime, the couch grows larger to fit the shapes of us both.
That night stretches out longer than most nights. We check on the chicken as it browns, and between hours, you put on a record. We listen to only the slow songs. You bring me a mug of tea that tugs perfectly at my thumb. I am not sure if it is a dream when we slide down the doorjamb, graceful and never falling, to kiss where the carpet meets our skin.
When we take the chicken out of the oven, it seems to have shaken off a sort of burden. It glows and arches. It sings. Spices like rhinestones and the shine of something proud. When we lift it off the oven rack together, it is less heavy than we expect. It feels like we are bringing an entirely new texture into the world. It’s not time to eat yet, but I want to give you forkfuls, and I tell you this as you wrap the blanket back around the shape of me and climb on top to keep me warm.
Always it is eventually time to go. Always I am afraid that the story won’t end and that it will.
The house smells like aftermath. Everyone who has come has also gone, after echoes, flung jackets, days of rain, leftovers. Everyone has ringing ears and upturned eyes after all of the singing. Liftoff songs. Waterlogged songs. Songs you didn’t know the weight of before they leapt from your heart to your mouth and showed themselves. Songs that sagged and songs that dissolved immediately upon hitting the air.
Between the songs, we all ate so much chicken. We ate it with potatoes and with wine. We ate it with all of our hearts. We were all just close enough to touch.
Now my suitcase billows, only with my clothes. No chicken. How do you weigh luggage that’s already fulfilled its promise? The bounce of sweaters and socks and dresses all mine. How heavy is loss in the face of sudden quiet? How heavy is joy when it’s unexpected? What about the weight of intentions spoken in the folds of some night, in the corners of delirium, in the thrall of some majesty slowly roasting? The lightness of not noticing you’re forgetting? The weight of two people sliding wide and slow down to the floor? The weight of what’s gone when you realize you’re alone again?
After everything, I feel so paper-light I might just fly all the way home. I imagine fat rope and laughing, thick quilts and open hands – the things that keep me on the ground. Weighted things. Things with shapes, with tops and with bottoms. I can see dirt on my shoes and green glass in the tar, so I stay put for the moment, dangerous, on the very tips of my toes.
The truth is, though, I want to feel heavier. I want to be the courier. I want to carry something back for you. Something of great substance. I don’t want to feel so unloaded. Something about what a song weighs. Something about a kiss hidden tight and feather-thin between sleeps. Something about carrying what will feed us roundly for days on end. Something about bringing you something beautiful. Something about nothing and everything left.