"Ma, I want to learn to cut a chicken," I say, imagining myself crawling through the underbrush with a snare made from twisted yucca fibers, guided by the intimate knowledge of where the quail run and what their habits are. I imagine catching a quail in my snare and slitting it's throat and bleeding it out and then... my imagination stops there. I don't know enough about what comes next to even imagine it. Even if I knew enough to catch a quail I wouldn't know what to do with it once I killed it. Like that one time that quail flew out in front of my car and smashed on the bumper before I could even blink. Intending to eat it, I went back for it and put it in the back of my car. It stayed there until the dead animal smell made me throw it in to some road side bushes.
"Okay Diana," my mom replies. She has a whole chicken defrosting in a pot on the counter.
"I know I should just cut it so I remember better, but I'll just watch you do it," I tell her.
"Well no, Diana, I'm going to show you how, but you are going to do it. Why don't you want to cut it?"
"I don't want to get my hands chicken-y."
My mom makes a face, "You're going to get your hands chicken-y."
"Oh," I reply.
My mom sharpens her knife. I imagine the chicken cutting knowledge going back through my mom and my grandmothers, back in time to the days when there were chickens running in the yard of my great great grandmother. I imagine this knowledge coming forward in time, passed down from mother to mother. For a moment I feel really connected to my family.
After pulling the neck, the heart, the liver and some other parts out of the inside of the chicken, my mom advises, "I learned from a book, so if you forget, you can look it up somewhere."
"Oh," I say.
"I start with the wings, wiggle them so you find where they connect, then cut through the joint."
I wiggle the dead chicken wings.
After she shows me how to cut the wings and the legs, then we have just the chicken carcass.
"Now this part is a little harder," she takes over the knife, "look for where the ribs meet the other ribs, see in there?"
"Yeah," I say, head hanging over the abyss that is the inside of the chicken. My mom deftly cuts through the difficult parts. She shows me how to cut through the wish bone, the breast. I imagine her years of practice making her graceful, the difficulty of the dead chicken not getting the best of her. She is so quick.
"A butcher can cut up a chicken in about 3 seconds," she mentions.
"Oh." I say.
All the chicken pieces are in the sink now. My mom shows me how to cut the skin off the legs and thighs so the soup won't be as fatty. She tells me not to cook the liver in the soup or it will make it bitter. She shows me how to press the blood out of the legs and thighs. She tells me if you don't press it out it will bubble out when you boil the chicken. "Does that make the soup bitter?"
"No, it's just gross."
We are done cutting the chicken. I sit down at my computer to write.
"Diana, get back here, you have to clean off the cutting board."