The Once and Future Chicken

“He’s one of your oldest friends, Ian, you should be pleased that we’re going over there,” Nicky was just taking the flowers she’d bought for Rosie out of the water and wrapping the wet stems in newspaper before sticking them in a bag.
“I know, but roast loin of celery with an endive jus isn’t really my thing.”
“Honestly, you never listen to me, do you! Chas was diagnosed with some full-on anaemia and now they are off the veg and they’re ethically carnivorous!”
Ian brightened up. “Oh, I must have missed that, excellent news! I’m looking forward to the meal to come, what do you reckon, casseroled venison, or liver and bacon? Rosie and Chas always give us a decent meal, even when it was all beans and butternut squash!”
“She said that even though in the future they will have to eat more meat, they are buying the best free-range, kindly raised creatures they can!”
So with Ian feeling much more cheerful at the prospect of the evening ahead, especially since it was Nicky’s turn to drive, they armed themselves with flowers and a couple of bottles of wine and headed out of their village and towards the remote farm cottage where their friends lived.

They were welcomed in, hugged, and Ian gave a surreptitious sniff to check out which delicious aromas might be drifting through from the kitchen. All he could detect was a waxy citrus smell of candles. Within a few minutes they were sitting by a real fire, glasses in hand and exchanging news.
“Nicky tells me you’re no longer vegan, something about anaemia, Chas – did all those greens and lentils sap your strength?” Ian was ignoring the fierce looks Nicky was shooting him, but neither Chas nor Rosie were offended, they were used to his sense of humour.
Chas was having his chakras realigned, he said, or something – afterwards Nicky and Ian couldn’t quite remember whether it was acupuncture or naturopathy, or even colour therapy – but Chas’s practitioner diagnosed that the bad back was something which needed a more conventional diagnosis. A quick visit to the GP, a blood test, and it was clear that Chas was B12 deficient.
“So we’re back being carnivores – and tonight we’re going to have chicken! It’s our first attempt at doing a roast, free-range of course, so we hope you’ll enjoy it!”
Ian picked up Nicky’s expression and instead of being facetious, said they were looking forward to it. “We always have such a great meal here, I’ve been starving myself all day in anticipation!” he said, even as he wondered why there were no cooking smells drifting through. The cottage was tiny, and the room at the back which might have been a dining kitchen, was a work room with the big table doubling up for meal times.
“Talking of roast, I’ll just go and see to the bird, a top up Ian?” and Chas went through the bead curtain into the miniscule cooking area at the back.
It was pleasant to catch up with each other’s news but Ian hadn’t been joking when he said he’d not eaten much all day. He had emptied the dish of peanuts beside him, and would have demolished the Twiglets but Nicky had moved them out of his reach. He was getting anxious about the lack of cooking smells, but maybe they had a different technique from normal, that would be the sort of thing they would do.
Rosie announced she would heat the soup – beans and butternut squash. Oh goodo, my favourite! Ian replied. He was, however, somewhat disappointed at the rather small bowl placed in front of him, and the lack of bread. At least this would keep the wolf from the door, he thought.
The soup was supped the bowls cleared and still there was no sight nor smell of roast chicken, or roast anything else. However, there was a whispered conference in the kitchen between the two hosts.
“Do you think they’ve incinerated the chicken?” Ian murmured to Nicky, but no, his wife replied, there was no smell of burning.
Rosie and Chas returned and the wine bottle circulated and Nicky had another glass of ginger beer and Ian began to describe how the rehearsal by his local Am-Dram group were going for Camelot, and the conversation diverted to Arthurian tales and whether Arthur was buried at Glastonbury, and who had really read T.H. White’s original quartet, ‘The Once and Future King’.
Rosie disappeared back into the tiny kitchen. Chas, Chas, she called and her husband hurried through to help.
“Ah, The Once and Future Chicken is about to appear,” Ian said more loudly than he intended, the several generous glasses of wine, consumed on an empty stomach, had rushed straight to his head. Nicky hushed him, but she too was beginning to feel ready to eat something and she surreptitiously polished off the Twiglets.
Their hosts returned with a big bowl of crisps and a new bottle of wine. Nicky was feeling rather full of ginger beer and asked if she could have a cup of tea, Chas obligingly returned to the kitchen. Rosie, Rosie, can you just come here, darling?
“What is going on?” Ian whispered, “I’m going to eat the tablemats in a minute! Do you think I can fast forward time, and enter that future dining room where food will be on the table, steaming and lovely?”
“Sssh, don’t mention food otherwise I will be fighting you for the tablemats!”
Rosie reappeared, was about to say something, but then dodged back into the little back room.
Nicky had decided that when one or the other next reappeared, she would ask if she could help – there was definitely something awry. She stood up and Rosie reappeared looking flustered, and slightly upset.
“I think our oven is broken, the chicken isn’t cooked,” she said, sad and embarrassed. Nicky followed her into the little space at the back. She opened the door of the small oven, and was greeted by a rush of hot air and at last the fragrance of a bird beginning to roast.
“When did you put it in?” she asked mystified.
“About half an hour ago; the instructions said preheat the oven and then cook it for twenty minutes,” Rosie was very despondent.
Twenty minutes? Twenty minutes?? “Where did you see these instructions, Rosie?”
Silently Rosie handed Nicky the wrapping from the bird as Chas opened another bottle.
“Oh Rosie, it says twenty minutes per pound, and twenty over –  this chicken is well over three pounds – it won’t be ready for another hour!”

***

They had cheese omelettes and some crusty bread Rosie found in the freezer and defrosted. The roast potatoes weren’t ready either, but at least the trifle didn’t need any cooking. Ian and Nicky never mentioned it to their friends again, but often chuckled and reminisced about ‘The Once and Future Roast Dinner’, but Nicky refrained from mentioning Ian’s hangover which followed the evening spent with Rosie and Chas.

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