Onion Skins for the Color

Anna Lea Jancewicz

Onion skins make the broth a rich and golden brown. A good trick, a smart trick. Edie stashed themlike brittle old love notesin a paper bag on top of the refrigerator and added them to the stock pot when she boiled chicken bones. Her mama taught her that. Simmer the bones until they give their gelatin, add onion skins for the color. She did the other things her mama had told her about too. She washed the windows with white vinegar and newspaper until the glass was clear enough to fool a bird. She salted the stains on the children’s clothes, feeling the grit of the crystals pressed hard and sharp into the pads of her fingertips through her rubber kitchen gloves. She gave the babies catnip tea to drink when they were fussy with teething and needed to sleep. She used Crisco to get chewing gum out of ponytails, but she always used real butter for cornbread. Edie’s mama had been an excellent housewife, and Edie pretended that she was one too. Food cooked with love has the taste of love. It tangled up her belly to think that Billy might bite into his supper and taste what was really nested in her heart.

Fall wasn’t quite there yet. September, September was just beginning to peal on the wind, the sycamores the first to drop their leaves. Baby Elaine was napping in her crib, with a head of dark sweat-curls, and the toddler, Reba, was playing on the linoleum in front of the sink, stirring invisible soup with a gnawed-on wooden spoon. Edie sliced through the last of the tomatoes from the garden, little slick seeds swimming in a puddle of thin juice on the countertop, while the two older girls ran in and out through the back door, the screen slamming on its failing hinges. Wendy chased Delia, bang. Delia chased Wendy, bang. Bang, bang, bang. Edie’s jaw was clenched tight, molars locked, but she kept smiling, humming along to the radio. She kept smiling as she held her breath and cut into her left thumb.

For half a second, she didn’t feel anything, and her mind was a succulent blank. Then came the deep sting and burn. She could see the bone. She stood there, splashing blood onto the kitchen floor, while Wendy and Delia swarmed her with clean dishrags and honey-armed hugs, trilling words of comfort. Wendy pulled back the soaked-red towel and clucked her tongue. Oh, mama, you poor thing, you’re gonna need stitches. All Edie could think of was the scene in Roadhouse, with Patrick Swayze getting his wound patched up by the pretty lady-doctor, Patrick Swayze with his elbow raised up above his head, his armpit showing, his chin jutting cocky, saying, Pain don’t hurt. And then Edie laughed. She laughed hard, because pain does hurt.

Anna Lea Jancewicz lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where she homeschools her children and haunts the public libraries. She is an Associate Editor at Night Train, and her writing has appeared or is forthcoming at The Citron Review, Hobart, matchbook, Prime Number, WhiskeyPaper, and many other venues. Yes, you CAN say Jancewicz: Yahnt-SEV-ich. More at her website.