My Way by Keith Rebec
I was pinched, waist-deep, in the crawl space under my home when the chicken exploded. At first I didn’t know the mishap involved a chicken—the whoosh and pop sounded like fireworks dropped into a kiddie pool—so I wiggled out and set down the can of termite killer. Next door, at Mr. and Mrs. Nowlan’s house, a mushroom cloud lifted from the backyard. When I slipped through their gate, the barbecue grill was on fire, and Mrs. Nowlan lay spread-eagle next to the flames, wearing a sundress and seemingly tire-dead, with her panties showing.
“Mrs. Nowlan, you alright?” I pulled at the dress to cover her bony, white thighs and tried to shake her.
She didn’t move; her eyebrows, a tuft of white curls on her head, were singed.
Then Bill Nowlan came out the door. He looked pregnant without a shirt on and had a fruity drink in his hand with a little umbrella jutting out.
“What the hell you doing, Jim?” he asked. “Touching my wife that way?”
“She might be dead, asshole. Get inside, call an ambulance.”
Bill moved down the steps and turned up his drink. He smiled and chewed some ice cubes, motioned at the barbecue grill still breathing fire.
“She doesn’t look half bad, does she?”
“The grill,” he said, “the chicken,” and scratched the hair on his belly. “Marlene, quit playing. The neighbors are starting to believe us this time.”
“Playing?” I asked.
“Role playing,” he said. “Every Sunday. It’s what we do. A game. It’s better than bingo or church. You ain’t never tried it?” Bill brushed past me and leaned down close to his wife’s face. “Get up, Marlene, honey; you burned the chicken again.”
Marlene still didn’t move.
Bill tried to pull her up by an arm, but the arm slipped from his grasp and she fell back to the ground, limp.
“Move,” I said. I slipped my arms underneath Marlene and lifted her. She wasn’t heavy, maybe a hundred pounds, a little more than pack of shingles. The grill fire had all but died; it only smoked now. “Let’s get her inside,” I said. “See if she needs any help.”
Bill shrugged. He walked over to the grill and, using a large pronged fork, scraped bits of blackened chicken off the charred lid, rolled what little was left of the whole chicken onto a plate.
“How does a woman blow up a fucking chicken?” he asked, and pointed with the fork at a lone wing smoking in the yard. He brushed the last of the bird with barbecue sauce, then followed behind me.
When we got into the house, Bill said, “Put her on the couch. Let her sleep it off. She’ll come around, always does.”
I laid Marlene down gently on the couch, and she stunk of burnt hair and rubbing alcohol. Her chest rose and fell, which confirmed she wasn’t dead yet.
“You want a drink, Jim?” Bill asked and, lifting a half gallon of vodka from the counter, topped off his glass and stirred it with a spoon.
“I’m not sure this is the time for drinks,” I said. “Look at her—she has burns; her face is red; some hair’s missing.”
“That’s normal,” he said, “high blood pressure,” and he pinched and tore a piece of chicken from the carcass, threw the rest down onto the plate. Some orange grease ran down his hand, continued toward his elbow. “It’s too bad you won’t have a drink. I thought all men that rolled in dirt drank.”
Bill carried his glass and the piece of chicken toward the stereo. He set the drink down next to the record player and finished the hunk of chicken. A few times he looked at me, then his wife, as he chewed.
“Watch this,” he said and wiped his greasy hand, the barbecue sauce on his shorts. He hit the power button, guided the tone-arm and touched it to a record. “She’ll get up.”
Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” crackled to life. It began as a soft whisper, so he turned it up, waited for the crescendo.
Marlene still didn’t move. Sinatra was so loud it shook the china, the ice cubes in Bill’s glass.
“Great song,” Bill yelled. “Her and her ex-husband’s favorite,” and he walked over, stood in front of Marlene. “Your song’s on, honey, get up. Let’s dance.”
Her head had slipped off the arm of the couch into a crack between the cushions; her mouth was wide-open and she remained unresponsive.
Bill leaned down and wedged an arm around her back, lifted her. He held her slack body tightly against his; her arms hung, like limp noodles, at her sides and her head swung back. She was a foot off the ground. Then Bill said something. It sounded like do you want to join us, but I wasn’t sure.
“I can’t hear you,” I yelled, then stood up.
Bill turned his feet along with some waltz, spun a few times. Every now and then, he lifted his drink and carried on dancing with her pinned against him. Finally the song ended. He tried to set Marlene down and she moaned, so he lifted her until she was eye level again, held her with an arm.
“Jim, do me a favor and replay that song. I told you she’d wake up.”
I walked over to the stereo, guided the tone-arm to restart the record. When the music began, Bill kissed Marlene on the forehead, turned her limp body in circles again. I moved from their way and went to the kitchen, took the vodka and a chicken thigh, and slipped back into the living room. I sat on the arm of the sofa, made a stiff drink, tried the chicken. I watched them sway in long arcs across the carpet and waited for a turn.
Keith Rebec resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s a graduate student, working on an MA in Writing, at Northern Michigan University. His work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Underground Voices, and Paradise Review, among others.