She made Fleischkuechle, a strange sounding name for hamburger rolled in flour and fried in a pan. Afternoons, school finished, I’d watch her at the stove, her hair sometimes stacked up in curlers like a fern, sweat trickling down her cheeks from the heat in the kitchen, the spiced tang of meat ripe in the air around us as I sat at a table struggling with math homework, struggling with puberty, struggling with being her son.
She was a focused chef. All the good ones were, she said. We were poor but still she was a chef. I wished she'd pay me as much attention as the food she prepared.
My brothers were always away and I wasn’t sure how to talk to my mother so I’d make up terrific lies that she may or may not have believed. It gave us something to talk about.
“Here,” she’d sometimes say, tossing me a potato peeler. “Strip these as fast as you can.” Strip for peel. A dozen potatoes on the counter, things that looked more like gourds or discarded embryos.
“You are the smart one in the family, reading your poetry,” she said, snickering. “But you can still do things with your hands, or else you’ll go soft.”
As I peeled potatoes I felt Mother coming up behind me, which made me speed up the slicing of the skins. I wanted her to think me capable of carrying out a command. Cigarette smoke wafted over my head and into my eyes, stinging, and I hoped they wouldn’t water.
She leaned across my shoulder and took one of the spuds in her hand, inspecting for a moment, before thrusting it close to my face. “You’re careless. You’re missing the divots, the eyes. See, there’s still dirt and skin there.”
“Yes you are,” she said, dropping the potato on the table. I heard it thunk, watched it roll off and bounce across the floor.
“Pick it up and wash it,” she said.
We raised and butchered chickens. It’s a scary thing when you’re nine. The beheaded birds would fly off squirting blood, dead but somehow still alive, like me, I’d think.
- Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State, an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans, and the author of I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE AND NEITHER ARE YOU out now from Unknown Press. You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com