Back in the Country, I spend a great deal of time reading my way through the rather substantial collection of 20th Century literature your Auntie S had managed to collect. There is a lot of overlap with my own taste (though a lot of divergence as well; I'm not a huge Updike or Martin Amis fan, though I can recognize their remarkable talent). And it is strange to read heaps of first editions, some of which cost more than my prom dress. There is a lot of bleak, windswept fiction on the shelves: novels of social realism, stark warngings from the Gulag, from behind various curtains - Iron, Silk, Damask - tales of compromise and class war and life lived and abrupted. And there are cookbooks. Voluptous, weighty tomes filled with details on food that one reads for the sheer beauty and largess that they present. Cookbooks have become a favourite of mine, ever since I discovered that the oven isn't a battleground. I don't cook or bake as well as I one day will, but I am happy to learn.
I wonder if S. saw herself as ordinary. She so clearly wasn't ordinary or comfortably worn. She was herself and all that that entails. And I wonder about her sister, the enigma that was your Auntie L. I never met L., at least not in the flesh. I met her when she was already expired, a box of ashes tucked in the cupboard under the stairs.
I meet a lot of people after they are already dead. I meet them through their letters, and notes scribbled in margins. I meet them through the things they collected - the string, the buttons, the brass tacks. . . the forgotten magazine subscription renewal, the overdue notice from the Library.
Today, the Library phones, Like a credit card company, to tell you when your items are late. It is so uncivilized.
So, whilst I'm reading and contemplating, the laying hen is playing out her role as escape artist. She will meet her demise with a broken neck and a trail of feathers. And I'll wonder just what the hell to do next. And what I do is simple: I call my daddy. And together we decide skinning is the way to go, at least for this first time. So I do. I skin it, clean it out, contemplate making chicken pate, then realize that I am feel very, very squeamish and not a little queasy from the endeavour. So instead of pate, I have a very large drink. I cook the chicken, it is devoured, and I still sleep the sleep of the innocent in a bed that is like sleeping on a cloud. Or a giant marshmellow.
Your uncle returns home today and I'll have to tell him about the chicken. And really hope that wasn't more attached than he let on, as the only bits left now are a few feathers. . .