You keep the bones.
I learned this as a girl, cleaning after a chicken dinner. With slippery, chicken-fat fingers, I picked and pulled all of the meat from the scaffolding of the bird, putting it in small pile in a Tupperware container.
When it was clean, I moved to throw the carcass away, only to have my mother drop the cutting board she was holding and swoop over to grab it from my hands.
“The meat is what you eat,” she explained, lowering the bird bones into an enormous pot of water, “but the bones are what you taste.” Bits of skin and bubbles of fat floated to the surface.
She wiped her hands on her beige waist apron, turned to me and pointed to the counter. “Now, here, cut up that onion.”
Bill sat out on the porch. We could see the top of his head through the window above the sink. They’d been dating for nearly a year and she still wouldn’t let him have a cigarette in the house. Smoke swirled in opaque gray clouds up and over the yard as we chopped and washed and wiped the counters down.
She cooked for each boyfriend differently, but the stock was the same story, every time.
Today, it’s a butterfly.
Marla is staring up at the flash art on the walls, her arms behind her back. The electric buzz of the needle clicks on and I close my eyes. I’ve never done one laying down before, where I can’t see what’s happening until it’s over. I can only feel the movement over my ribs, inhale and exhale, and watch Marla as she points out an apple with a happy worm poking out of a hole or a sly-looking fox wielding a bow and arrow.
“It’s my turn, next time,” she tells me, tapping her finger on a swallow carrying a rose on its beak, a skeleton riding on its back. I chuckle.
She’s from my old neighborhood, the house beside my mother’s, where we grew up playing kickball in the street and used the sewer cap as home base. She’s from the afternoon I got my first period when she brought me a tall glass of cold Sprite and two Advil. She’s from the nights I crawled into bed beside her on sleepovers and we talked in the dark about what would come next, when we were free of this town. She’s from the fire.
She’s my best friend and she has no tattoos.
The thing with bones is that they don’t burn down to ash. They are not like the flakes of smooth black char that drift down and land on your hair. They burn into porous chunks and fragments and they do not become dust.
We saw it first.
The warm, bright curls of orange with red tongues, licking at the night’s sky. From inside Marla’s bedroom, we looked out and saw it.
I ran toward it, into it, screaming.
It’s hotter and louder than you can ever imagine, running into a house on fire.
In the morning, only the framework of the house remained. Black beams, still dripping from the spray. Halves of walls, an ash-covered toilet. What had been inside was gone: everything and everyone, consumed.
The butterfly spreads her wings over my ribs, burning, and I wince. “It’s because the scar tissue is worse, here,” the artist tells me, wiping down over the ink with a tissue and pausing to see what needs more detail. “And it’s your ribs, it’s all bones right beneath the skin.” Marla leans down close and I can smell her perfume. “It’s beautiful,” she tells me. “It’s good.”
When we are done, I hold my tank top up to my armpit and stand in front of the mirror. Over the pattern of my scarred skin, the shiny ink of my butterfly’s wings appear in motion, like the wind is rippling, carrying her.
It was a fluke, an accident, a fried wire. It was the walls that held Christmas mornings and turkey dinners and movie nights. It was first days of schools and gin rummy at the table. It was lemonade in a pitcher and cookies on the counter. It was dates that lingered after I was tucked into bed and voices that rose up the stairs and through my walls. It was my door opening and the slice of moonlight that cut across the floor. It was pretending to be asleep.
It wasn’t that Bill had moved in and I started to spend less time at home. It wasn’t that after so many years, she finally let him smoke in the house.
You need the bones.
Then you chop onion, carrots, and celery. Use even the leafy part that you usually throw away.
My mother would add parsley to the water, too. And salt. Then she would simmer the bones for hours, skimming any froth that rose to the surface.
The stock will turn murky before it’s gold, and one pot, cooled and strained, can fill five mason jars.
Unless you turn it immediately into soup; then it’s gone in a day.
“How To Make Good Stock” by Melanie Haney has appeared in Issue 39 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Melanie Haney holds an MFA in creation writing from Lesley University. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Family Circle Magazine and numerous literary journals, including Blue Earth Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, The Elm, Quality Women’s Fiction, Relief, and Clockhouse, among others. She currently lives in New Hampshire, where she is a photographer, writer, wife, and homeschooling mother of four children.