'Comfort Food' by Austin Eichelberger

The grilled colby cheese sandwiches Dad would make whenever I was sick as a kid; Mom's baked chicken, lightly browned and flecked with herbs, the crisp sheen of fine oil on the skin; cobbler made from the wildberries my sister Naomi and I used to pick in the shallow woods behind our childhood house; a dab of cream cheese icing on my lips like the one from my first real boyfriend's thick fingers, crumbs of devil's food cake clinging to the sugary surface; Grandma's green beans, cooked with ham hock and then steeped in the juices like tea; a mug of homemade chicken broth like a clear, fresh breath on a slushy winter afternoon; the soft, fudgy pot brownies my bunkmate smuggled into summer camp when we were 15; fresh-baked sourdough bread steaming softly as Dad's large, calloused hands tore off a warm chunk and handed it to me; either a venison steak with mashed red potatoes on the side, venison sausage with stout biscuits sopping in gravy, or venison stew every single night in the middle of the frosty deer season, the men smiling about their trophy at each gamey bite; the silky meat of shrimp stirred into spicy red beans and rice like I took to Mom on her first night in the hospital; green peppers, carrots and snap peas crunching sweetly as Aunt Sue and I stood over her kitchen sink, wiping rich soil from our hands and looking out the window at her backyard vegetable garden; ham biscuits, cornbread and chicken-fried steak made just like at Mom's funeral; an olive's salty bite after bathing in a Bloody Mary with extra Tabasco; char of a dry jerk rub, dimples from the sea salt pressed into the chicken's blackened skin; the tart burn of wine that soured just the night before; the blackberries Naomi and I used to crush into fresh syrupy jam on Sunday mornings, Mom's robe cinched at the waist as she stirred moist scrambled eggs and diced red potatoes in cast iron, telling Naomi and I jokes we'd heard a million times while beside her Dad dipped heavy slices of sourdough in yolks, flipped them in a pan, his laughter bright and magic as he acted out the funny papers spread before Naomi and I, or snuck up behind Mom to kiss her neck, wink at us across the stove's aura of warmth, and then pull her toward him, Mom's eyes smiling into his as she turned, her fine hands reaching, running along his shoulders, clasping together behind his broad neck.

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