Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode XIII

In previous episodes new girl Millie was low on groceries, money and morale when she stumbled upon a Bay City Food Pantry giveaway. Will the bulging bag be enough to bolster her, body and soul, until unemployment payments kick in?

Missed the earlier episodes? You can find them all hereOr start from the beginning with Episode I and use the “next” button at the top the screen to move between episodes.

The Pork Loin

Two and a half hours after she’d joined the food pantry line, A much-wilted Millie pushed open the door to the Magdalena Arms and lurched inside, carrying her cornmeal mush makings in one hand and a bulky bag in the other. Her overgrown gamine wisps were matted to her forehead and her mask was damp around the edges. Her back hurt from standing and her arm and shoulder were sore from the weight of her new groceries. But now she had food!

She staggered up the curving stairs to the second floor. Music came from Angelo’s apartment across the hall—he was playing Man of La Mancha again. The music was still audible when Millie closed her studio door behind her, but she ignored it, depositing the bulging bag on the little wooden table she used for meals and washing her hands carefully at the kitchen sink. Wiping her hands she dug into the bag, eager to investigate its contents.

A can of mixed fruit was on top, cushioned by a bag of rice. Three large oranges followed, and four small, bruised apples. The can must have dented them, Millie diagnosed. Honestly, whose idea was it to put a can on top of fresh fruit? She fetched a bowl for the fruit and put the can and rice in the cupboard. Then she pulled out two onions and a bunch of celery. Millie frowned at the celery. She’d never been fond of the vegetable. Still, it was food, and she could fry it with the onion and add it to the rice.

At the bottom of the bag there was a mess of little potatoes and five large grizzled carrots. Underneath them was something large, hard, and cold. Millie hauled it out and let it fall on the table with a thunk.

It was an enormous chunk of frozen meat. Millie peered at the label, which read, pork loin. It stretched the width of her table, bulging as wide as Rosie the Riveter’s bicep. It looked like a prehistoric club. She poked it with a dubious finger. It was frozen solid.

Millie was not much of a chef, and had certainly never attempted such a large cut of meat, but she was resourceful, and she had recipe books, even if they were mostly from the 19th century.

But before she dove into recipe research, she had to stow the meat away.

There she ran into a problem. No matter which way she wedged it, the pork loin simply wouldn’t fit into her tiny freezer. 

Well, then she would butcher it, Millie decided. She put some wax paper under the meat, after managing to peel off it’s wrappings, showering the table and floor with frozen crystals. Then she fetched her largest knife, which was still dwarfed by the loin. Cautiously, and then with more vigor, she sawed at the frozen lump. More ice crystals flew and puddled on the table. After a few minutes Millie wiped perspiration from her brow and examined her progress. She’d barely made a dent. And I’ve dulled the blade! she realized, examining her cooking knife in dismay.

What would Flora do? The intrepid pioneer wouldn’t have let herself be defeated by a mere pork loin! She’d have hacked it into manageable pieces with an axe while her sourdough was rising and she was boiling the wash water.

Of course, the whole Jenks clan would have quickly consumed the loin in a single sitting, probably after spit-roasting it over the large fireplace in the dugout they’d occupied on Loon Lake before their move to Bay City. Primitive as it was, the Jenks old-fashioned dugout was probably better equipped than Millie’s modern kitchen. They had not only axes and knives, but ice caves, and a wide variety of large pots, not to mention washtubs, churns and the like.

Millie scrubbed, peeled and sliced a carrot, snacking on the sticks as she studied the obdurate chunk of meat. If she just had a pot big enough to boil the darned loin!

But wait—there what about that old-fashioned kitchen in the bowels of her new home? When she’d collected her keys before moving in, her landlady had insisted on giving Millie what she’d called “the grand tour” of the Magdalena Arms. Millie had oohed and ahhed politely over the communal lounge, knowing she’d probably never use it—she’d gotten enough of communal living growing up.  She’d been more interested in the building’s history as a women-only boarding house, and the landlady, flattered by her interest, had taken her down to what had once been the basement dining hall, a wainscotted room with a built-in buffet, otherwise empty, except for a folding table stowed in the corner.

“We used to have a whole bunch of big round tables, and on Saturdays and Sundays the girls would lounge in their pajamas until almost noon, drinking coffee and eating waffles,” the landlady waxed nostalgic. “I thought about turning it into another couple of units, but it turns out the ceiling’s too low to meet Bay City building codes. Beverly—she’s one of our girls, excuse me, I mean tenants—she said we ought to make it an exercise room. You know, weights and benches and jump ropes. Mats for that new-fangled eastern exercise, yoga. Would that appeal to you?”

Millie had decided to be honest. “Not really.” 

Now she remembered that next to the former dining room there’d been a roomy kitchen—with an equally roomy refrigerator. The gabby landlady had told her it was still used from time to time for building-wide parties. More information Millie had discarded as being of no interest.

But now her brain seized on the neglected nugget of knowledge like a squirrel discovering a forgotten nut. If they used that big old frigadaire for parties, it followed that it was in working order.

She looked at the loin, lying like road kill on her little table.

The solution was simple: she’d stash the meat in the forgotten kitchen’s frigidaire; then later, when the rest of the tenants were abed, she’d sneak downstairs and cook it—boil it, or hack it into hash or something.

Next: Fortunes Rising and Declining

While Jackie’s show has closed, Ramona’s cannabis business is booming! Can the couple survive the strain of these conflicting fortunes?

3 thoughts on “Sheltering in Place at the Magdalena Arms: Episode XIII

  1. This was one of my favorite chapters. For some reason, I feel like I could read about Millie’s groceries and cooking plans all day!

    • I really liked this one, too. It’s not that I’ve grow “used” to the pandemic, but I haven’t see those food lines on the nightly news the way I did back in April and May, and the news is occupied with SO MANY other things right now. This episode hit me the hardest, thus far. I have to wonder why Millie is going to cook in secret though! Maybe it’s just more mysterious that way 🙂

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