Serves: 2 plus1 uninvited guest
Cook time: 8 days
- ½ cup of context – one naive suburban childhood sprinkle heavily with TV dinners
- One question crawling beneath the lid of the amygdala
- Full pint of small town political arguments delving into immigration and gun violence
- One handgun – caliber optional
- Medium sized hand-held mirror, shattered
- One knife blade waived in hot dark at spouse
- Two teaspoons each of reflection folded in with revelation
- A cup of paranoia mixed one pound of pointless self-pity
- One college degree worth of judgment, compassion, and hesitation blues
- A smattering of small town gossip
PREPARATION: 60 minutes in two installments
Slather a pan with context. Learn that men aren’t supposed to be afraid. Grow up with BB guns and Swiss army knives, clambering on cliffs and hitchhiking your way across the USA. Move to a small town in the foothills, where more people own weapons, talk hunting, and display respect for police and the military. Join the fire department. Connect to neighbors in various ways. School, work, church, skiing, volunteers, connections surrounding, choking.
Add lingering question: Have a friend ask something like, “Why didn’t you shoot him?” after hearing about your home invasion, rather than “Wow, I’m glad you’re okay” or “It’s good you got the guy to leave.” Such a question functions as an itch. The question should unsettle you, make you wonder how little weight someone may assign a life. The question should linger on the skillet of possibility.
Insert Gun in Pan, Safety On. Toss in silhouette, as in a thousand late night movies and cop shows. Stare it down, despite ridiculous clichés forthcoming. “What do you want.” followed quickly with “Don’t move or I’ll shoot.” Consider that you may die at the hands of a masked man, and remember Chekhov’s theory about showing a gun in a tale.
Let the Words Simmer. Talk at least 20 minutes to allow tension to fester, surge, and come to a full boil add circular logic until it bubbles. Convince thug you have no money, coax him to create his own exit strategy. Half expect a pistol whip. But there is nothing, only rapid-dash footsteps across the hardwood, what passes for an ending.
Simmer for Eight Days. Consider what you said. What he said. What you should have said, should have done. Regrets mixed with depression stirred into living. Tell some people, not others. Call the cops, feel like a narc, realize you’re an idiot for feeling that way. Listen to a colleague say you have a silver tongue. Feel only violated. Change the locks. Try not to think about it. Think about it. Pretend it didn’t affect you.
Add a Knife to the Hot Stew. Have the guy flash it in the dark, real menacing like now that the wife’s home. Have the guy be more aggressive this time, unwilling to leave without attaining his goal. Make the dynamic far more emotional with three people, but match latent fear with burgeoning fury notes. Have thug’s face add extra menace by referring to “my friends outside”. Have him suggest kidnapping in full creep mode. Offer him a baggie of pharmaceuticals. Realize at some point, the golden rule stops making sense. At the point of a knife blade. Limit reached.
Add Reflection and Revelations. Stir thoughts for ten minutes, then unload in pure muscular energy expulsion on another human. Wash reason away. Swing golf club, bat, cane. Slam him against the wall, door frame, window sill. Attempt to choke a human being, to crush a larynx. Get stabbed without knowing it. Repeatedly. Let adrenaline and anger drive the violence train.
Sprinkle in the gun control debate. Bullets, bodies, dog-eared wine copies of pocket Constitutions as seasoning. Focus on “shall not be infringed” one day, “well-regulated” the next. Buy a shotgun, mace, window alarms. Notice headlines about mass shootings. Sandy Hook, Roseburg, San Bernardino, Orlando, Paris. Consider the NRA playbook phrase “The only thing stopping a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun.” (Note: if you followed the recipe correctly, you already stopped a bad man with a gun). Stop. Learn statistics. Lose friends in arguments.
Ladle in the final ingredients, stirring occasionally for a month or three. Notice scars in unusual places. The crook of the arm. Along the left kidney. Pay cumulative medical bills. Testify before the grand jury. Realize that the deepest scars are invisible. To err is human, to forgive is divine. Forgiveness wears more than one face. Debate whether you believe in forgiveness. Write an open letter to a local newspaper to summarize your gratitude. Thank cops, fire department colleagues, medics, neighbors, friends. End with: “We refuse to be defined by this event” even as you get defined by it. Become jumpy, even paranoid, even as people think you should be getting over it. Couch surf, camp, go to motels. Sleep poorly everywhere.
Remove from oven. the two incidents, the small-town reaction, and grand jury ordeal let the feeling of being drained daily wash over you. Inhale deeply of tree-lined memories. You should feel ready to be gone. Move to a different town on the rainiest day of the year.
A lingering question goes well with full-bodied second-guessing with lasting notes of bitter unease.
Plate and serve with a garnish of small town atmosphere, crusty lingering question sautéed crotons. Follow with a tart lemon-lime sorbet to digest the lingering question which answered itself. The aftertaste remains, illegible, beneath the skin, inscrutable. Realize too, that scars whisper all our secrets.
Joshua Hun Baker – Lives in Oregon, where he works for the U.S. Postal Service and hikes as often as possible. His writing has appeared in publications like Gnu Journal, Perceptions, Latitude, and Plazm. In Curious Minutiae, his 2016 chapbook, he pairs poems with photographs.