Jane B. Wilson
My mother says she loves
animals. Mother has lovely, supple, olive skin which she oils every night
after her bath with Baby Magic. “Baby Magic is good for everything.
I used it on you all, put it in your hair even.” I watched
her every night after she unwrapped her towel from around her breasts and
poured the pink lotion into her tiny hands. When she was married
to Daddy, she bought some toy poodles and Siamese cats and tried to get
into the business of breeding and selling purebreds. The poodles
were so tiny that they never could have puppies somehow. The cats
got out of control. There were so many cats in the cathouse down
in the basement that it sometimes sounded like a torture chamber.
“Siamese cats are pretty,” I thought, “but they’re mean, and they cry a
Mama bought fancy banty chickens
when we moved to the country. She wanted to have real, fresh eggs.
She wanted to go out every morning and get her own eggs to fry for breakfast.
I could just see her dream, her cotton dress, her apron, the soft breeze
blowing through the leaves, her smooth skin glowing in the early morning
sun. But the chickens laid eggs in mysterious places so that Mama could
never find them. They hatched and became more chickens…and more chickens.
The backyard was full of banty chickens, all top-knotted and fertile and
hungry. Out of this mass of birds came a rooster, a really mean one.
He was really small and really
smart. He would hide behind the back door of the house so that when
Nannie or I would come outside, we wouldn’t see him. He would dart
around the door and flog Nannie’s knees so hard that she would bleed…and
cry. Nannie never cried about anything but that, and it scared me.
He knew where I was, too. He’d see the school bus stop, and I would
see him at the top of the hill behind the house, just at the edge of the
woods there. He’d run as fast as a two legged creature could to try
to get me before I could crash through the front door. Uncle
Edward got me a two by four to set by the mailbox. It did stop the
rooster, but it slowed me down. I didn’t really trust the face-off, the
board so heavy and the bird so sly. If I ran at top speed as
soon as I stepped from the bus, I could generally beat him…but there were
a lot of days when it was a close race. Leaving the house was even
harder. I tried to remember to watch for him and figure out a plan
to trick him before I opened the door. Sometimes, I could make it
seem like I was going out the back door, so he’d try to hide there.
Then, I’d run out the front, but I never knew for sure where he might
be hiding, if he had been paying attention or not. The times I left
without thinking, he was always there, and he could get both knees flogged
before I could even scream.
With Nannie and I crying
about this all the time, Mama decided it was time to have the rooster killed.
Uncle Edward and Nannie and Sankie were employed to do it because they
had killed chickens a bunch of times. The only thing was, a person
couldn’t get near him. He planned sneak attacks, then ran.
Uncle Edward and Sankie brought down .22 rifles to kill him from a distance
as he paced back and forth on the ridge behind the house. My aunt
Sankie was as good a shot as Uncle Edward, so they got behind the truck,
used the truck bed as a kind of base, and began firing. The first
shot winged him, stunned him a little so that he ran around confused.
The next shot, Sankie’s shot, hit him right in the neck so that his head
went all the way to the ground, but the rooster was not dead. Not
yet. Uncle Edward shot again, slamming the rooster’s head into the
ground as his two legs continued to carry him forward. His head raised
up, though, and this time he turned on the guns. He came right for
all of us…full attack, his white wings half-raised. Suddenly, I knew
what I had to do.
I had a shovel in my hand,
and my Nannie with me. When I raised the shovel against him, he ran
toward the front of the house, so I cornered him at the door where he had
cornered me so many times. I held the sharp end of the spade against
his neck while Nannie bent over and grabbed him. She held him so
tight that his little triangular tongue hung out of his beak, like a thick
drop of purple blood. As fierce as her grip was, Nannie’s eyes
were filled with tears. Nannie and I presented him to Uncle Edward
for the kill.
Uncle Edward looked relieved
and confident as he took the rooster from Nannie’s hand. He grabbed
it and snapped it in the air over his head, but the rooster remained intact
and alert, staring right back at his killer, his eyes open and blank, like
pieces of dark gravel. Uncle Edward tried again, snapping, swinging
harder and quicker than before. His white body fluttered over our
heads like a dish towel, but the rooster blithely retained his head.
Three bullet holes and a twisted neck never weakened him.
Uncle Edward looked at my
mother hard, then reached into his pocket for his knife. We all sat
there as he sawed the chicken’s head off. The knife must have been
sharp, but it seemed to take forever. Yet the chicken never made
a sound, no sound at all. When its body fell to the ground
and ran on its own through the field, Mama grinned and took its head
from Uncle Edward’s hand. Carrying it like a torch, she said, “Nobody
will believe what a fighting chicken I raised.” As Uncle Edward slammed
the door of the old pick-up that day, I could hear the Dobermans clanking
Jane B. Wilson graduated
from San Francisco State University.