By: Rafael Ángel Herra
Story appears in the unpublished book El sexo fuerte (in press at Uruk Ed.)
Texto incluido en el libro inédito El sexo fuerte (en prensa en Uruk Ed.)
Illustrated: Henry González
Selection and Compilation: : Carolina Fonseca
That afternoon, shortly before she died, Grandmother decided to make the best soup in the world. She was nearly blind, but a few days earlier she had glimpsed a white rooster scrabbling near the house and sleeping near an Angel’s Trumpet shrub. She tottered toward the chicken coop and managed to grab the rooster by the wing before it could escape. It was her lucky day. She had always enjoyed the mystery of twilight.
Grandmother discerned brightness even through her blindness. The rooster cast a strange light over that peaceful Monday. When it felt someone tugging on its wing, it let itself be dragged away without putting up a fight. The hens clucked in the coop and then quieted.
Embers glowed in the fire. However old or tough, no rooster can resist the effects of a good soaking in hot water heated over a wood fire.
Grandfather used to help her. First, he would tie the bird’s legs together. A mad fluttering of wings would echo through the house when he wrung its neck. Grandmother would pour copious streams of water over the chicken, pluck the feathers, and once the bird was plucked, singe it over the fire to remove the remaining feathers. Placing the bird on the work surface, she would slice its belly open with a kitchen knife and pull out everything inside: the intestines, the heart, the pebble-filled crop, the liver. She would painstakingly peel away the skin, being careful to contain any spills of a disgusting liquid that would have spoiled the meal. Finally, she tossed the head —hacked off with one slash— into the pot.
But Grandfather was dead and on that lonely Monday, Grandmother had no one to help her wring necks and lift pots. Not having the strength to pour out the water already steaming over the embers, she began to slowly pluck the live bird, all the while cursing the toughest creature she had ever seen. She held it in one hand and snatched at feathers with the other, seeing in her mind’s eye not only a clucking flurry in the chicken coop, but young women at play, just like a time long, long ago, when she had sat on a rock plucking chickens for a party, leaving a colorful carpet at her feet. Her memory simmered with the taste of the soup at her parents’ house, with those happy Saturdays so very many years before, when she had not yet met Grandfather, and her dreams carried a scent of white flowers that would be with her until the day she died. She continued yanking out clumps of feathers and looking into her past, trying to understand why she felt so calm.
She had known suffering, but was nonetheless at peace with herself; it was enough to be able to toss tortillas on the griddle every morning, divvy up the beans and the grapefruit, and plant seeds everywhere. She got joy out of indulging guests with chicken soup.
My grandmother was such a good person that an angel came to help her die, but since she was nearly blind, she took him for a rooster and plucked his feathers. This artless woman was undoubtedly blessed, given that she ascended to heaven in the company of a bald angel who smelled of Angel’s Trumpet flowers, believing that she had cooked the best chicken soup ever.
Rafael Ángel Herra was born in Alajuela, Costa Rica. He holds a PhD from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany and is a fellow of the Costa Rican Language Academy. Mr. Herra taught philosophy at the University of Costa Rica and served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to Germany and UNESCO. He has authored around twenty books, including both fiction and essays. Some of his books have been translated into French, Italian, and German. He was awarded the Áncora Prize by the newspaper La Nación for his work D. Juan de los manjares.