The food scraps are out of the freezer. Potato peelings. Giblets. Onion skins. Dug-out pumpkin pips and flesh, the ghosts of hollowed-out Halloween lanterns. Chicken bones. Carrot peelings. They all end up in the large stainless steel pot. A few cloves of garlic, skin on. A dash of mother apple cider vinegar. Four mushrooms. Eight grinds of coarse sea salt. I nip out the back door, pluck some sage, bay leaf and rosemary sprigs from the garden. I cover the lot with cold water. This process is magic. First a fast, furious boil. Next, a slow, gentle simmer. With a few stirs of the wooden spoon, what was once waste becomes liquid gold. A glistening broth brimming with goodness. All it requires is time, patience and a willingness to pay attention.
Lately I feel as if I’m melting. Heat rises within me without warning. Rushing up my torso, breaking into sweat-beads on my brow. I look no different, feel cool to touch. But inside I am boiling. It reminds me of birthing, this heat-wave. The intensity rising to a peak. A moment’s grace where you catch your breath before falling back down to a minute’s peace. These hot flushes are much the same, though lack the feel-good hormones that make birth bearable. No beautiful baby-sized package arrives at the end either. I don’t yet know what gifts, if any, this transformation will bring.
The changes began a few years back. I ate the same. Still walked daily. Yet, somehow, my belly began to stretch the fabric of my skirts a little tighter each day. Months later, I wondered if I might be one of those women with a cryptic pregnancy. The ones who go to the emergency department with piercing acute abdominal pains. On examination, the doctor informs them, you’re five centimetres dilated and in labour. It was a ludicrous idea; I was still bleeding monthly and had none of the usual symptoms. But my expanding waistline was baffling.
Tiredness began to sap me in the late afternoons, around the time I needed to focus on fixing supper. I’d always thought I’d be a young mum, but it never worked out that way. Instead, I am raising a family when my body is slowing down.
It was not only the weariness and weight gain which worried me. My hair was wispy with a couple of bald patches at the temples. I had palpitations. Odd lumps and bumps. Cramps. Easy tears. Irascibility. Lackadaisical libido. An inability to find the names for everyday objects. I felt as if I was flatlining. My G.P. arranged a free-for-over-forties healthcare check. Tests and blood results came back normal.
For best results, simmer on the lowest heat for six or more hours, until the soft bones crumble when pressed between your fingers. It’s a subtle process, this metamorphosis. In the darkness, the long, slow simmer draws the vitamins, minerals and collagen from the bones. This breakdown is where the goodness comes from. Once done, I let the pot cool overnight on the counter. Straining it sooner risks burnt fingers and a steamed face. The following day, I put the metal colander in the large blue bowl and, bit by bit, transfer the liquid. It’s a fiddly, laborious job, but it’s the best way to get the most out. Much of the stock dribbles straight through the holes. Some gets trapped between the peelings. From time to time, I give it a squish with the wooden spoon. Smoosh the scraps against the sides. Eek out as much of the juice as possible. Next, I transfer the glossy stock to my enamel milk pan with the handy spout. I pour it all into recycled coconut oil jars, careful not to spill a drop (though I usually do).
Whilst lying with my youngest one night, my foot seized up. The cramp worked its way from my bent big toe to my calf. Jumping out of bed and standing on the floor was not an option; my son was drifting off. Instead, I flexed my foot as best I could. Flattened it against the wall, then pressed it on the mattress. There was nothing more I could do—not if I wanted my son to stay in bed.
I imagined there was a creature inside me wanting to burst through this tough old skin. Slough it off. Slink away, raw and reborn. As I lay there, I wondered what my body was trying to tell me. Stand your ground, I heard, which, given the fact I was lying on a bed in the dark, made no sense. In the end, the best I could do was ride the wave. Breathe through it. The spasm wouldn’t last forever. It, too, would pass. And in the darkness, a slow body softening. A loosening of tension. A surrender to this primordial process of change.
This story won Runner Up in WOW! Women on Writing’s Quarterly Creative Nonfiction Contest in April 2019