Have I Ever Told You About The Chicken?
It’s a white rooster. Big red comb. Bulging chicken eyes.
Dad says some guy at work was getting rid of it. Didn’t want it anymore, so he made a play for it, and the next day the guy brought the chicken in, and that afternoon Dad brought it to the farm.
By now, we were mostly devoid of farm animals — we still had a trio of elk we were raising, but beyond that, it was just them and my dog. We had long cleaved chickens from our roster of animals (which in the past had included cows, pigs, horses, white pheasants, peacocks, whitetail deer, Canadian geese).
I had graduated college by this point and, after spending a couple extra years in Charlotte, had moved back home and was living on the farm in what at the time I called a “carriage house,” but what now I’ll admit was a grungy double-wide trailer. This was, what, 10-11 years ago?
So, all right.
Dad brings home a chicken.
Thing is, the very next day he’s leaving for Colorado. And he’s going to be gone for like, 10 days. It’s in the middle of summer, he’s going there to do some work on the retirement property he bought.
This means that I will be left alone with the chicken.
No big deal. It’s just a goddamn chicken. They’re self-sufficient. I don’t need to attend to the chicken in any meaningful way. In fact, I’ll probably never see the thing.
Fine. Great. Excellent.
Dad leaves, and the next morning at 3:30AM, the rooster trumpets his wake-up call. And sweet fucking shit it is loud. Further, it doesn’t just stop. This isn’t an alarm clock I can snooze. The chicken just keeps going.
It’s not even the nice, measured cock-a-doodle-do you get with some roosters. This is like a banshee scream. This is like a woman being tortured. This chicken brings the shriek of the damned.
Okay, I figure, fine. I can handle this. Just crank on a fan and go back to bed.
Cut to morning. I wake up, go out to either walk the dog or go to work (don’t remember which), and, hey, look: chicken. Standing on top of my car. My car is apparently this rooster’s litter box because my roof is shellacked with chickenshit. Also: rooster talons leave a bunch of little scratches in the paint.
Further, the chicken is kind of passive-aggressive. As you walk away from the chicken, he struts after you, making this low, threatening keen: “Brrrrrrrrrrawwwww.” Then, when you turn around — as if to acknowledge the faintly threatening gesture — the chicken would quick whip his head around and walk away as if to say, “Huh? Wuzza? Wasn’t me. You must be thinking of some other chicken.”
You can put this story on repeat if you’d like, because night in and day out that’s what I got:
Rooster wakes my ass up.
Rooster poops on and scratches up my car.
Rooster makes threatening sounds and gestures toward me and my dog but only when we’re not looking.
By… let’s call it “Day Five,” I’m at my wit’s end with this goddamn bird. All of the world’s ills are now resting square on this chicken’s non-existent shoulders. This foul bastard is the locus of all the hate in the world. Imagine if all my rage and agita is an upside-down pyramid, and the pointy-end is balancing upon (and thus, pointing to) the asshole rooster in question. You almost start to hallucinate. I’m getting paranoid. “This chicken is going to peck my fucking eyes out. He’s going to wake me up. I’m going to fumble out into darkness. And then the chicken is going to fly at my head like a goblin and teach me the meaning of “pecking order” (left eye first, right eye second, then the nose meat).
It occurs to me that it may be time for a preemptive strike.
I first think, “I’ll kidnap the chicken and just… drive away and deposit him in some other poor soul’s yard.” Let them deal with the mad, keening rooster. Only problem is, you can’t get close. The chicken remains at ten feet at all times. You walk, he walks. You run, he runs.
The solution becomes regrettably clear.
And I know it’s a bad one, because my Dad brought this chicken home special. He probably likes this rooster. And here I am going into his house, into the kitchen, and grabbing the .410 single-barrel breach shotgun that sits by the front door.
I get a single shell, pop it into the breach.
Then I go after the chicken.
It’s not unlike the beginning of Stephen King’s Gunslinger, where I track the chicken across a wide expanse, hunting it for miles. Except by “miles” I mostly mean “yards.” The chicken wisely flees me, and I flee after — until eventually the chicken ends up in the field behind the garage.
It’s then that the chicken turns toward me.
“Brrrrrawwwwww,” the chicken says. Threatening me. The rooster’s last stand.
“Sorry,” I say, unsure whether I’m saying it to the chicken or my father.
Then I shoot the chicken in the face. I know. I know! Horrible. But he didn’t suffer. No twitching, no running around. Just — bang, drop, goodnight.
Cut to my father returning home.
I steel myself up — he’s an unpredictable guy, my father. I don’t know how he’s going to react. So I go and I tighten my guts and speak past my gauzy dry mouth and I tell him:
“That chicken, I had to kill it.” And then I tell him all of it: the crowing, the pooping, the scratching. I leave out the part where the chicken was threatening me because I recognize it sounds absurd.
And my father laughs.
“I wondered how long it would take you to kill that chicken,” he says. Apparently, the guy getting rid of the chicken told my father upfront that this chicken was a fucking asshole. And my father took the chicken with that knowledge in mind, also knowing full well that he was going to leave me with the chicken and in proximity of a powerful — frankly unholy — arsenal of weapons.
He just wanted to see if I was going to kill the rooster.
That, good people, was my father. And he died three years ago today.
I don’t know that I believe in any official life-after-death, but I do know that we live on in our legacies, in the stories told about us, and my father is the source of endless stories. He died of prostate cancer around Christmas, and that’ll always leave a mark on the season (and his own father’s death did the same; the holidays always sat beneath a flitting black cloud), but I think that by telling stories to you — and eventually to my own son or daughter — it’s a way to make that a little brighter.
If you want to read last year’s stories — featuring my father as Antler King, as Sex Educator, as Cop Killah — go right ahead: “Eight Stories (And One More).”
Merry Christmas, Dad.