Where the Flavor Is
Jonathan Johnson

“Scaling, Sonny,” she says, a big needle in each hand. “That’s the way,” she says. Her work grows in folds in her lap, the big needles clicking. “The only way,” she says. “No waste,” she says. “Pan fried,” she says. “A little flour on the skin,” she says. “And not oil,” she says. “Never oil,” she says. “You and your deep frying,” she says. “Butter,” she says. “Do it right if you are going to do it, Sonny,” she says. “Take some time,” she says.

I spread the newspaper on the table, pull the trash can next to it, push down the trash inside. I put out a bowl of cold water, float one ice cube in it. I put the bucket on top of the table and pull one out. I flick a few scales, clearing the way to run it in, the tip of the long, thin blade flexing, the gills still going, along with the lips, the eyes.

“That’s the trouble, Sonny,” she says.

I slide the blade in. I work the blade down along the backbone. The insides sog up old news and great values. I flick a couple scales from the other side. She works the big needles.

“Once they start,” she says. “They get other ideas,” she says. She shifts in her chair, pushes the needles down into her lap on top of all her work. “You know what’s going on,” she says. She rubs the arms of the chair. “They take what they can take, Sonny,” she says. “See things for how they are,” she says. She grabs the embroidered areas on her white blouse. She grips crumples of embroidered blouse in her hands. “They tell you what they need to tell you at the time,” she says. She lets go of her blouse and reaches under the folds of work in her lap. She pulls out her smokes. “Got your limit then?” she says. She shakes one out enough she can get at it. She sticks it in her long, black holder with its golden tip. “Does not tarnish,” she says. She flicks the lighter, lights the smoke, drawing down on the gold tip in her mouth. “Only the beginning,” she says, setting the lighter on the table next to her, pulling the smoke away, holding the holder away as she considers the next thing. “And you know what I am talking about,” she says. “A piece at a time,” she says. “How I pray,” she says, her tongue wetting her lips before she places it back in her mouth.

Her face hollows as she draws on it.

It makes an impression.

She tells me she has seen. “I’ve seen,” she says. “Which is why,” she says. “The slightest bump,” she says. She tells me why she is nervous. “Why not be nervous?” she says. “Sonny,” she says, “Why not the garage with that?” She shifts in her seat, holds the holder with one hand, reaches down to adjust underneath with the other. “The way you’ve sharpened it,” she says. “You know how I am now,” she says. She is talking about certain things. “Certain things, Sonny,” she says. “And in the house, Sonny,” she says. “That a good idea?” she says. “All those guts, Sonny,” she says.

She taps the ashes off in the tray on the table next to her.

“Club them or something,” she says. “Be a little humane,” she says. “How would you like it, Sonny?” she says, putting the holder up close to her mouth, but finishing the thought first. “You know, your sides cut away and your guts hanging out and your eyes and lips still going,” she says. “What are we, anyway, Sonny?” she says. She tells me what we are. “I will tell you what we are,” she says. “Limbs in the streets,” she says. “Guts in the kitchen,” she says.

She pulls it away from her mouth. “Limbs everywhere now, Sonny,” she says. “Limbless children,” she says. “In the streets, Sonny,” she says. “I’ve seen them,” she says.  “They’re there, Sonny,” she says. “Maybe get a TV,” she says. “Know what’s going on for once,” she says. She twists it around in the ashtray—sharpens the cherry. “I know,” she says. She looks my way. I catch her in my peripheral, but I do not look back directly. “That’s right,” she says. “Don’t look, Sonny,” she says. “Who wants to look?” she says. She tells me to just think about these things. “For instance,” she says. “Where do they go, Sonny?” she says.  She wants me to tell her that. “Tell me that,” she says. She means the pieces. “I mean it,” she says. “The pieces, Sonny,” she says.

I press down on the tail end with one finger and run the blade up between the skin and the fresh white flesh. I do the other the same way. I run the tip of the blade around the remaining bones. I toss the skin and bones into the trashcan.

“You got the touch, Sonny,” she says. “I’ll give you that,” she says. “Just makes a person nervous,” she says. I put the finished pieces in the bowl of cold water. “Sonny, don’t tell me you don’t wonder,” she says. “Who wouldn’t wonder?” she says. She tells me it is a fair question. “It is a fair question,” she says. “Somewhere someone knows,” she says. “They’re yours,” she says. She tells me people should be able to ask for them.

I pull out another.

“Consider the waste, Sonny,” she says. “You should consider scaling,” she says. “In the garage,” she says. “Do things where they are supposed to be done,” she says.

She draws on it once more, twists it in the ashtray. She twists the cherry off and taps it out without bending or breaking it.

“Fixed income, Sonny,” she says, pulling it out of the holder. She sets what is left of her smoke in the ashtray. “Second half burns longer,” she says. She puts the holder, the smokes, and lighter away under her work in her lap. She gets the big needles clicking again. She is just saying.

“Bones and skin—where the flavor is,” she says.

Jonathan Johnson has published fiction, poetry, and reviews in a variety of journals, including NOON and Dead Reckonings. He has a piece forthcoming in NANO Fiction. He makes his way in Wisconsin.