Hot Tin Roof: ‘The Kitchen’

Hot Tin Roof
Hot Tin Roof is a program to showcase current literary work produced in Iowa City. The series is organized and juried by representatives of three Iowa City-based cultural advocacy organizations: The Englert Theatre, Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature and Little Village magazine.

The Kitchen

By Chris Wiersema

Uh huh, yeah. No, I’m listening. Stuck at the office. Broccoli in the steamer in half an hour. Asshole boss—you said it first—deadline at nine so no later than ten. Chicken breast thawing in the sink.”

Eleven year-old mumbled on the cordless, wiped afternoon Koz-Zone cartoons out of his eyes. Mom’s staccato instructions, same as every other night.

“No. I did already, Jesus.” Homework untouched.

“Dad says that he’s got another or two test-drives—whatever, one or two more—anyway he says that he’s going over to the hospital to check on Brian and then he’s gonna try to meet with the doctor so he doesn’t know when he’ll be home and to eat without him.” 

Dad slept since school let out, saying “headache” instead of “hello.” Brian breathed mechanically in the NICU with no visiting hours, no news. Broke a block of Jewel frozen broccoli on the counter. Dad slept. He slept, pigment sapping from his hands, as he had since Brian had been partially born ten months prior. Since then the hands turned almost completely white.

“I need you to sign this thing for me for school tomorrow. No, I didn’t get into no trouble—fine any trouble—I’m failing mmfffm. Jesus! You don’t need to scream.”

Yanked the freezer door open. It swung back hard on two hinges and bounced closed again. Opened a second time, softly. Took two chicken breasts out.

“Yeah, I’m doing it right now. I’m making enough for everyone. I thought you said I could go talk to Dr. Takomi during gym.”

Peeled the wrapping off the breasts, they clacked together like stone in the streaked sink basin, knocked flecks of pink blood frost off to melt and pool.

“Yeah, I can hold Mom.” Dad came into the kitchen, groggy, towards the drawer where aspirin lived.  His swollen, possum eyes tried to focus on the elements of dinner.

“Mom working late again?”

“Mom” mouthed, phone held out to his shaking head. “Not now, dude. Just tell her that I’ve got to deliver a new M3 and a used Audi four-door. Then I gotta go see Charles at the Cruther’s funeral home.”

“Did already.”

Keys, checkbook, wallet. His chalky hands darted shameful and quick into jacket pockets. Color started to leave almost a year ago, started when was removed Brian from Mom, whose incision scar was more vibrant with pink life than Brian.

“Thanks dude, but I think I’ll train it again tonight. I might—I’ll see you tomorrow and try not to be up to late, huh?” Front door opened, closed.

“No, that’s fine I can keep holding. Nothing, just sitting on the floor waiting for the water to boil.”

Dug under the sink, grabbed the can of Scotch-Guard and the yellow stained rag. Liberal application.Breathed deep. Breathed deep until the evening shuddered, the atmospheric suck of the South loop, the nothing of the apartment, the boiling water, the Mom on hold. All of it is replaced. Wawawawawawawawawawawawawawawa

Went sideways in a giggle and another hit, prisms from streetlights stream fantastic onto the floor, dancing for him. Then light to white. Gasped. Upright and thought, I’m blind, how long was I laying there, I can’t feel my lips, am I dead, did I burn dinner?


Minutes passed sitting there. Water beaded, threatened to boil. On hold, still. Wawa faded to the return of the silence, popped and hissed. Took a smallish last hit to stop spinning the wrong way, keep from throwing up, threw the can and rag alike back under sink.

“Yeah, I’m still here. No that’s ok. So the doctor said you gotta go to the hospital now?  Did you tell him you have to eat, too? Ok, it’s ok. I’m sorry. Stop. Everything is fine. Maybe they’re letting him come home. Ok, can you call Kyle’s mom first and tell ‘em I’m coming ‘cause last time they didn’t know that I was coming and I got embarrassed ‘cause I didn’t think they wanted me to spend the night. Yeah, I’ll still eat first. Love you too.”

Grabbed a warm Diet Coke in one hand and Scotch-Guard with rag in the other. Curled up on the couch. Slept there until daylight.

This article originally appeared in Little Village issue 188

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