Hot Hen’s Milk , a Cold Day in Hell
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Chilled arctic air swept in around my ankles. Someone had opened the door; I turned to see who it was. My heart sank to see Dr. Fukadavich had returned from her field work so early in the day. Working under Dr. Fukadavich had made me come to regret taking a summer job this close to the North Pole.
“Myles,” she sneered, “give me an inventory of what we have in the kitchen.”
I switched brain gears, dropping my focus on editing my photos and did a quick mental walk-through of the research station’s kitchen. “We’ve got three large pots, probably a 16 quart, a 12 quart and a…”
“No, you dip shit. I asked you to tell me what kind of food we have stocked in the freezer.” She shook her head to emphasize my stupidity as she scraped thick, subarctic mud off her boots onto the floor mat.
“We’ve got god’s aplenty of caribou sausage, some ham, a little fish, maybe forty pounds of potatoes, some fresh carrots and onions, white and red, multiple bags of frozen veggies, all kinds of canned goods and the basic sundry items.” My specific listing of items in answer to her vague request for ‘kitchen inventory’ almost satisfied her.
“Myles, you spend too much of my time doing your artsy-fartsy pretty picture-taking; I need you to be more supportive of me and my hens.”
I nodded. “What is it that you are needing from me Dr. Fukadavich?”
“For starters, that’s the kind of attitude I need from you. Now that you understand that, I want to know if you have the skills to make soup from scratch?”
“I can do that. Any particular soup you have in mind? I can make a clear broth and vegetable soup; I can make a meat soup or veer toward a meaty stew. Soups are quite flexible, speaking in culinary terms; most any ingredient can be added to make a soup based on one’s tastes.”
“Myles, it’s not my job to tell you how to cook. It’s against my principles to waste a good woman’s mind on dull tasks like figuring out how to cook soup. That’s why I reluctantly hired you to man my camp kitchen.”
“Is it soup for dinner tonight then?” I asked in a cheery, obedient voice, knowing it would irritate Dr. Fukadavich, but give her little ground to criticize me. I think we both knew it was passive-aggressive behavior, and I should’ve hated myself for it, but it was one of my few outlets for mental sanity, isolated at this research station up near the Arctic Circle.
“Did I say I wanted soup tonight? Are you even listening to me, Myles? I didn’t ask for soup tonight, I asked if you knew how to make soup from scratch.” She put her hands on her large hips, looking at me and telling me with her eyes and upturned nose that I was an idiot. “No, I don’t want soup tonight. Make whatever you planned for supper. But I may want you to mix a new kind of soup from scratch pretty soon.”
I braced myself and asked her, “What do you want to go into your new kind of soup — since I will have to plan ahead if it has special ingredients.” I hoped adding a justification when asking my question would deflect the expected verbal barbs from Dr. Fukadavich.
“That’s a good question Myles; I’ll let you know when the time comes. Let me just say this soup and its unusual ingredient will be an important scientific experiment, so I hope you don’t mess it up. I’ll tell you about it in the next day or two when I’m damn well ready.”
She knocked the sides of her boots against the interior door frame of the prefab building, making a smudge near the baseboards and letting a pile of mud fall to the floor. “Oh, Myles? Remember, we have to share this building with other research teams and we don’t want them to come in here after us and think poorly of our university. This mess must be cleaned up before you go back to your pretty pictures.” Dr. Fukadavich was always snarky and usually mean, but she showed she could also play the passive-aggressive game with me.
After she had given me my orders, the heavy door latched against the weather-seal. “Yes Ma’am,” I muttered audibly, “Will do, Doctor Fucka-DA-bitch.” The twisted moniker was not my invention, but I didn’t mind aptly applying it as I saw her wide ass swing back outside into the gray, rainy afternoon.
I’d been cautioned to think twice before I applied at the biology department for a position as a photo documentarian/cook and general camp laborer. I was warned that I had best learn to properly pronounce the name of the professor doing research on small mammals in the Canadian subarctic. If I got the job, I would report to Dr. Helen Foo-KAD-ah-vik. Everyone suspected her given pronunciation was a tortured screen for the proper syllables of Fucka-DA-vitch. If there is anything to a name, Fucka-da-bitch would do her poetic justice. Only, one dared not utter it within earshot of the biology department’s resident battle axe.
I didn’t heed the counsel given to me. Summer employment for undergraduate photographers was difficult to come by, even as a children’s studio portrait photographer in the dismal bowels of the shopping escort bursa mall. I needed a summer job, so I put in my application. I was a great match to the posted job description: I had a few quarters as a biology major before I switched to photojournalism. I knew basic first aid and I’d learned to avoid studying by experimenting in the kitchen, cooking, and baking to general acclaim. Using the position of field photographer, I hoped to build my personal portfolio with photos from the subarctic summer. This research team assignment could launch my career with a chance to demonstrate what I could do in the remote wilderness of our planet. I needed this summer job, Dr. Fukadavich or not.
I cleared the dishes after serving Dr. Fukadavich and her two hens a dinner of caribou sausage meatballs in scratch gravy, mashed potatoes, and peas. Dr. Fukadavich left the dining room immediately after eating to continue her academic writing, leaving the table without a complaint or a compliment.
The hens watched her through the door’s window, crossing the graveled yard and stepping into her small personal dorm building. Once their graduate advisor was gone, Skottie and Hailey slipped into the back of the kitchen to assist me, drying, and putting away the pots, pans, and dishes. “That was a good dinner, Myles,” said Skottie as she finished putting the plates back in the cupboard.
“Yeah, that was another great dinner,” added Hailey as she wiped the last cooking pot dry. “Myles, can you put this back on the top shelf for me? I can’t reach that high.”
Stretching, I easily slid the pot back in its place. With my arms lifted holding the pot, Hailey swung her hips to give me a playful bump on the rump. Plucking the dish towel out of Hailey’s hand, I wound it into a useful twist and snapped it with a sharp flick, nipping at Hailey’s hindquarters. She yelped and danced not too far away.
Skottie giggled and I turned, letting my towel lick her behind with a quick sting. “Ouch! Myles, what was that for?” she asked with half a smile, half a scold.
“That is punishment for both of you hens. You are bad girls!”
“Bad?” protested Skottie.
“Bad?” chimed in Hailey. “We were helping you with the dishes, Myles.”
Threatening to administer another lashing with my towel, the girls turned their backs to me, bracing for another snap at their asses. “Yes, exactly,” I answered. “You are bad girls for helping me. If Dr. Fukadavich discovered anyone being nice to me, much less any of her chosen hens helping with menial chores, you’d be hauled up by your thumbs and executed for treason.”
Skottie, holding her tensed arms to her chest, relaxed and turned to face me, “I’m sorry you’re not being treated very well by Helen, she seems to have a thing for tormenting males. I’ll admit, if you’re not blessed with the right chromosomes, she can be a real bitch.”
Hailey followed up, “You know, some people intentionally mispronounce her name, calling her ‘Fuck da bitch.'” Hailey threw her hands to her lips after revealing her advisor’s unflattering nickname, giggling nervously as if in saying it aloud, she could be charged with insurrection and thrown to arctic wolves.
“The evil doctor has been riding me hard without letting up,” I complained. “She is always giving me orders and thinking of tiny details for me to work on. I know she is trying to prevent me from taking any photos to build up my personal portfolio. She’s motivated out of sheer spite toward the male of the species.”
Skottie shrugged, “Maybe that’s just what she needs.”
Looking puzzled, Hailey asked, “What do you mean, ‘that’s just what she needs?'”
“Like Myles just said – to be ridden hard. Maybe she needs a good hard riding; the wicked bitch of the north may just be in need of a good fucking.”
Throwing up my hands I said, “It would be a cold day in hell before any cock stayed stiff enough to pump Dr. Fucka-da-Bitch. I don’t see it happening. Who would she hook up with? One of these wooly First Nations guys who supply and run this forsaken outpost?”
Skottie turned her palms up to say, “Desperate measures for desperate times.”
“There ain’t nobody that desperate this side of a frozen-over hell,” I suggested, feeling certain of my opinion.
Hailey joked, “If she did get hooked up with one of the First Nations guys and he rode her hard; would he be a legendary ‘Whale Rider?'”
We cracked up, laughing louder as we tried to quiet ourselves. Skottie threw a barbed comment, “He’d be a legendary beluga rider, riding a white whale.”
We busted up even more. I suggested, “We better go look for a guy named Captain Ahab, the only character to have chased after a great white whale and harpooned it,” bringing on more hysterical laughter.
Skottie caught her breath, “Harpooned her with his ‘Moby Dick,’ that is.” We double over with huge rolling screams of mirth at the subversive lines of humor we were enjoying in the back room.
We recovered our straight görükle escort faces, and I went back to finish wiping down the steel countertops and table as the ladies lingered exchanging small talk. I spun my dish towel into a menacing butt-snapper, “Now git! You two hens gotta go before you get caught being kind to the hired help.” I flicked at each of the girls in quick succession, missing their tight tushes on purpose as they skipped out of range with squeals and giggles.
Skottie leaned against the doorframe between the kitchen and dining area, “Hey Myles, if you put down your fun little hen hiney-whipper rag, I have an idea that might get you out from under the Helen’s boot heel and give you a chance to work on your photography.” I tossed the towel over my shoulder. I joined Skottie and Hailey at the dining table to listen to her strategy.
Skottie, placing both hands palm down on the table indicating that this was serious, “OK, what do you think of this? What if I requested that you accompany me to my field area, telling Dr. Fukadavich that I need to have photos to include in my dissertation to document my methodology? That way you could take some of your personal portfolio-building photos at the same time you’re working for me, and you’ll have something to show Dr. Fukadavich to prove you weren’t wasting her time taking ‘pretty pictures’ as she fears.”
Not to be left out of the conspiracy, Hailey jumped in, “Yeah, I could make up an excuse to get you to come with me to my field area too. After all Myles, you’re hired help and could be useful to a woman of science in need of a general camp laborer, which I believe is in your job description. Am I right?”
I thought it was a great plan. “OK, if you two hens of hers can convince that ol’ rooster neck-ringer of an advisor to spring me from KP, I’m game and I’m grateful – if you can pull it off without her thinking it’s a trick and then sticking it to me because I put her hens up to it.”
“Cluck, cluck,” said Skottie with a smile.
“Cluck, Cluck,” echoed Hailey with an accompanying chuckle. “I know from your perspective it’s hard to believe, but she is actually very supportive of her female graduate students; she’ll be happy to grant our requests, especially if she thinks we are making the boy do our drudge work.”
“In that case,” I suggested, “you’d better have a detailed list of drudge work to submit to her so she can fall asleep with warm jollies, dreaming about the cruel tasks Myles has been made to perform under the midnight sun for her grad students. Any ideas of what’s going to be on that list of drudgery, my conspiratorial hens?”
Skottie offered her thoughts, “Besides the academic, field methods photographs, there is another idea that has caught my attention and sidetracked me from my primary dissertation topic. It has to do with the diet of voles; I’ve noticed some voles eating a specific lichen. It is an uncommon, pinkish lichen that is gnawed off the rocks by these voles. It’s going to take some more research, but my hunch is that it’s only being eaten by female voles and I’m wondering if this lichen diet supplement has anything to do with reproduction.”
Hailey nodded, “Skottie showed me this behavior a few days ago and we mentioned it to Dr. Fukadavich and she seemed to think it was interesting. But she said we’d have to prove it was only females eating this lichen and then we would be stuck trying to tie this behavior to female vole’s reproductive cycle; which would be hard to do in a short field season. We’d have to catch a lot of voles, check their stomach contents, and do analysis on their blood and hormones. That’s when Skottie suggested as a joke that we could eat the pink lichen and see if it had any effect on us.”
Skottie continued, “Helen didn’t laugh at me for that half-joking idea; instead, she thought it would be an interesting experiment, as long as the pink lichen didn’t have any poisonous alkaloids in it.”
Skottie let it slip, “She suggested we make you eat it first and see what happens to you – but I’m sure it was her dark humor and not meant to be a threat. She might be difficult, but she’s not a risk to anyone’s health up here.”
Skottie looked me in the eye to see how I took this offensive revelation. I shrugged, “Just another cold day in hell for me working under the mad scientist of the frozen north. I’ll survive.”
In a rush to move past her advisor’s awkward joke, Skottie continued, “Helen said it could have medicinal alkaloids that were being used by the voles. She would consult with a lichenologist and determine if this pink lichen species had poisonous alkaloids. She hinted that if it was safe, my idea on ingesting it might be a worthy experiment.”
“I guess that explains it,” I muttered aloud. “She came by here this afternoon to ask if I could make soup from scratch with an unusual ingredient to be named later.”
“Sounds like she’s working on your idea, Skottie,” observed Hailey. bursa escort bayan “Scraping pink, medicinal lichen off of rocks sounds like a perfect drudge job for our pretty picture-taking boy, wouldn’t you agree Skottie?”
“It beats scraping her muddy boot marks off the walls and floors in here,” I sighed, thinking of my chance to be outside with my camera.
“Once we free you from peeling potatoes,” asked Hailey, “what kind of subjects do you like to focus on for your pictures?”
“If you allow me to be a snob, they’re photographs, not ‘pictures.’ But thanks for showing an interest in me with your question, almost as if I’m a human,” I answered. “I saw this summer job as a fantastic opportunity to come to the Canadian subarctic and shoot several subjects; I love the wide sweep of the open tundra landscape, weather photographs across the arctic sky can be dramatic and I’ll take a telephoto lens and see what I can do with the wildlife. That’s if those critters cooperate for me, everyone loves animal pictures.”
“Animal photographs, right?” corrected Hailey.
I dropped my head to the metal table, making a hollow sound. “Touché! Caught me. You are one quick and clever redheaded hen, Miss Hailey.”
“What do you think about portrait photography?” asked Skottie in a nonchalant way.
“Depends. Like all subjects, it depends on the quality of the subject. And the imagination and ability of the guy behind the lens.”
Skottie made a “Huh” sound as she looked to the ceiling as if chasing a thought. “Myles, do you think you could enjoy portrait photography? I mean if the subject in front of your lens was of interest?”
“Huh,” I said. “Capturing a great portrait shot is probably the most challenging of subject matter. I would try to avoid babies and children being forced in front of my camera by mothers and grandmothers. But, a guy behind the lens might be able to use his imagination and training to do some interesting work with the form of a naked woman, for instance. Just a thought now that you mention it.”
Skottie smiled, saying nothing. Hailey looked at me and then at Skottie and shook her head, smiling along with Skottie.
Hailey rose to her feet, “I gotta go and finish some of my research notes you guys. Tomorrow starts early.”
“Yeah, sunrise is like 3:25 in the morning,” agreed Skottie. “Sheesh, I gotta grab my beauty sleep while I can; I’ve only got four-and-a-half hours of what counts for darkness at this latitude.” Skottie stood to follow Hailey out the door to their graduate student bunkhouse.
“Goodnight,” I said to them, “get some rest, but as for ‘beauty sleep,’ you two have cornered the market. I’m cooking for some fine feathered hens in my opinion.” Skottie and Hailey tossed their hair and strutted toward the door like fashion models after my comment. “You’re a pair of hot ladies in this cold climate,” I added.
“Hey cameraboy, wanna take a picture – oops, I mean photograph?” asked Hailey as she struck a pose.
“I would; but first I need you to remember to spring me from kitchen patrol with a realistic request to Professor Fucka-da-bitch for a manly field helper,” I reminded them with a melodramatic pleading. “Now git! – but don’t forget.”
The hens swung their hips, taking another playful pose before exiting into the long, lingering twilight below the Arctic Circle. “Thanks for helping with the dishes,” I called after them just before the heavy door latched close.
I needed to prepare breakfast before I went to bed. Opening the freezer, I put some bacon out to thaw and also pulled out a block of frozen milk, placing it in a pot to melt overnight. Milk is an expensive luxury this far away from the nearest dairy cows; milk was to be used judiciously. A guy could get rich if he found a cheap source of milk to supply these settlements on the tundra. Hailey and Skottie liked milk on their sugary breakfast cereals, and they deserved a treat for scheming to set me free and out into the picturesque open field. After setting the breakfast table, I retired to my corner. I stretched out on my cot behind the screened off part of the dining area, my allotted ‘male quarters’ in this northern outpost. I fell asleep with a smile on my face, believing I would be unshackled from my busywork duties with a chance to use my camera.
Three days of tedious chores and abuse from Dr. Fukadavich continued with no evidence that Skottie and Hailey’s scheme was in play. On the third day a new directive was given after dinner, “Myles, you are going to pitch in with some extra duties to assist my hens.” She knit her hands, draping her bosom on the tabletop as she leaned toward me with a hard stare, “This means you need to stop farting around and be ready to cook and clean like always, but you will also be spending time in the field collecting samples for an experiment. These intelligent women here will be able to show you what you need to do.”
She turned to Skottie, “Explain to Myles how he will assist you. I want to hear if he is up to the task.”
Skottie went over the simple idea of scraping a specific lichen off rocks and collecting it in some plastic bags. “Sure, I can do that,” I assured Skottie while being eyed by her professor.
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