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Death of a Rooster
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 lot.” 

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 their chains.  

Jane B. Wilson graduated from San Francisco State University.