John and Louise are a young newlywed couple embarking on their first dinner party. Understandably, Louise is a bit nervous, as the guest list includes two couples from John’s office. She’s never met them before and wants to make a good impression. John is confident that all will go well; his wife is well-equipped with all the dishes, bowls and cooking implements a bride could wish for, and he has a well-stocked bar.
The chicken looks splendid, if a bit glossy — and if John can’t ever recall seeing evidence of the trussing marking lines upon the bird, then he chalks it up to Louise’s relative inexperience. He stands there at the head of his own table for the first time, holding the carving set in his sweaty hands, joking with the men.
But when he looks down to start the grisly business before him, he is struck with uncertainty. Where should he begin? Where are the breasts? He realizes he has never carved a chicken before — he’s never carved anything. He has no idea where to plunge the fork or where to attack with the knife. All his wife’s hard work could be for naught and he could look a fool. It all looks the same to him beneath that bumpy, greasy skin.
In order to reduce his hesitation and the insecurity he feels it will display, he starts in at one end, where the stuffing pokes out. A slice peels away quite easily — a slice of stuffing, that is — and he becomes engrossed in making fine, even cuts . This is going to be a piece of cake, he thinks.
But it is not a cake, it’s a chicken filled with obstacles — cartilage and bone — the sweet meat curves around. He does not notice that everyone has gone quiet, too polite to utter a word about the difficulties he will encounter not just any second now, but in his whole entire life.
Low-Cost Main Dishes, Family Circle, 1978