There’s a map bred in the bones of the bird. Before you ingest the chicken wing, you must know the vertices of its hinge, that place where tendons and gristle connect and shake hands. It’s all very scientific.
Step One: The Origin
Find a likely tray of sacrifices at the church picnic. You’re in the fourth grade and according to your mother, you don’t know how to wear a dress without showing everyone your underwear. Chicken bones collect between your knees as you sit crossed legged on the ground beneath the lawn’s sole tree. Rub the mess from your hands on the smocked pink gingham of your skirt because you don’t believe in napkins. There’s already enough barbeque sauce coating your cheeks and chin to simulate war paint. Let the girls from your Sunday school class hover over you like a swarm of horseflies. Their wings will unfurl to note the red stain at your crotch and the matching stain at your lips. They’ll christen you menstrual bloodsucker; unholy dyke vampire. Optional: when you’re done crying, bury the chicken bones in the anthill you’ve been sitting on. Fashion a cross out of two Popsicle sticks.
Step Two: X and Y Axis
When you go to dinner with your parents on your first weekend home from college, let them know you’ve given up chicken wings. Your father will immediately drive the whole family to an all-you-can-eat barbeque restaurant. Straddle a bench at a long wooden table while sauce is ladled over slabs of pork and beef and crinkle cut fries. Eat a dry baked potato while your father points a wing at your face and says no daughter of mine. Let your mother squeeze your arm and whisper that you’d probably like chicken wings if you gave them half a chance. Wouldn’t your life be easier if you ate chicken wings? Your mother says she doesn’t particularly like them, either, but chicken wings have afforded her a stable lifestyle. How can you have children without chicken wings? Your father will pile some on your plate despite your protests, orange grease mingling with the mayonnaise from your coleslaw. Best-case scenario, your mother will eat the wings while your father’s in the bathroom. Worst-case scenario, you’ll feel guilty enough to keep eating chicken wings for the next three years.
Step Three: Fixed perpendicular lines
A friend of a friend will meet you at this New Year’s party. Overhead the fireworks will pop and spray like champagne and everyone will laugh at your jokes, even though you’ve never been very funny. Next to the buffet stands the only kid at the party; a one-year-old someone’s left to fend for himself. He’ll grip a chicken wing in each hand. When his chubby fist pushes a wing past his lips, he’ll gum around the flesh because he only has a few baby teeth. Pay attention: you’ll be the only one who notices when he chokes. Lie him down on the ground, surrounded by dirty napkins and plastic cups and the dregs of spilled beer. Root in his wet, red mouth with a single digit. The throat is a slippery cavern that chicken wings don’t ever want to leave, so you’ll have to do this more than once. More than twice. On the third try, you’ll shout the name “Christ,” though you haven’t spoken to him in years. Hook your finger and angle it toward the vee of bones, snagging upward and reeling. When the wing pops free, let it lie exposed between your legs. Let it die there in the grass while the boy sucks oxygen and his mother leans over him like a smothering blanket. If you’re lucky, the friend of a friend will help you up and dust the mud off the back of your pants. Sit together on the back deck as the numbers count down to midnight and watch her eat chicken wings. She’ll give you the meatiest parts, closest to the bone. Eat every bite. When you finally kiss, mouths sliding together, covered in barbeque sauce, you’ll fall in love with chicken wings all over again.
Kristen Arnett is a fiction and essay writer who has held fellowships at Tin House, Kenyon Review, and Lambda Literary Foundation. She was awarded Ninth Letter’s 2015 Literary Award in Fiction and was named an honorable mention for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. Her work has either appeared or is upcoming at North American Review, The Normal School, Ninth Letter, Superstition Review, Blunderbuss Magazine, Joyland, Grist Journal, Pithead Chapel, The Rumpus, The Toast, and elsewhere. You can find her on twitter here: @Kristen_Arnett