“What if I took some chickens?” I ask.
Mom’s sitting on the brick ledge of the screened-in back porch, smoking a black n mild. She never smoked them when I was a kid. It was always a Marlboro Light that she pulled out of the cigarette pouch I bought her for Christmas. But now she smokes black n milds, wears cut-off shorts and a do-rag while she works in the yard.
“What would you do with them?” she asks.
“Just those three little ones,” I say, pointing. “They’d be like pets. I could put a pen in my backyard.”
One of the chickens pecks the other’s feet.
“What would Bill say?” she asks.
“Nothing much,” I say.
She leaves her black n mild on the floor, still burning, and goes inside. She comes back with an old box, almost split on one side.
“If you can catch them,” she says.
I catch the three little ones, like I said I would. They ride in the cardboard box in my backseat, pecking and ruffling their wings. I go over a speed bump and they bounce out of their box and start tearing at my seat covers.
“Damn chickens,” I say, but they don’t care.
When I pull into my driveway, I leave the chickens in the car and go inside to tell Bill about them.
“What’ll you do with them?” he asks.
He’s sitting on the living room floor, playing some first-person shooter game. He has the volume turned off and is listening to The Smiths. It doesn’t sound like killing music, but he blasts away at a group of men in army fatigues.
“Eat them?” he asks.
I take our pet carrier out to the car and try to coax the chickens into it.
“Henny-henny,” I say.
They keep pecking at the seat covers. Black Lycra things, with Dale Earnhardt’s smug face stretched across them. Bill bought them for my last birthday and I never figured out if he was joking.
I drag the chickens out, stuff them into the pet carrier, with much ruffling of feathers, and take them to the back yard where I set up a wire pen. The wires link together at the corners, top and bottom. One of them jabs me under my nail. Blood wells up, dark and purple and I say, “Fuck.” The chickens look at me, from their pet carrier.
That first night, it rains. The chickens don’t have any sort of shelter. They’re in the middle of the backyard, getting drenched. I don’t think they’re like ducks, who are self insulated. I think the water probably seeps through their feathers.
“Bill,” I whisper.
He doesn’t wake. There’s a crack of thunder, but his breathing doesn’t change. He’s face down with a leg hanging off the bed. Doesn’t move.
I get out of bed, put on my raincoat and go outside. The wind blows the rain in my face and water runs down my neck and chest so my pajamas stick to me.
I try to grab one of the chickens and it pecks my hand.
I grab another one and it claws my arm. I didn’t know chickens had these gigantic talons, like some prehistoric beasts. I couldn’t have survived prehistoric times. I couldn’t domesticate raptors. Couldn’t teach them tricks or how to play fetch.
It’s raining. The hood of my raincoat falls off and I can’t see with the water running down my face.
I try to grab a chicken, but I slip in the muck.
“What are you doing?” Bill asks from the sliding glass door.
I’m sitting, leaning against one side of the pen and the chickens are drenched and standing at the other end.
“Chickens,” I say.
He shakes his head and goes inside.
I try to catch the chickens until it stops raining. Then I go inside, leaving my raincoat and clothes outside on the ground, sopped and covered with mud.
I run a bath but fall asleep on the rug by the toilet.
I wake up the next morning and Bill’s gone, already left for work. I’m naked, still covered with mud, and my arms are wrapped around the base of the toilet.
Bill brings home $8.00 buckets of KFC, extra crispy. I try not to think about the KFC chickens, all crammed into a tiny room so they can’t move, their legs growing all sloppy and slanty. I try not to feel guilty when I eat coleslaw and potato wedges.
Bill licks his fingers and breaks a drumstick in half, sucking the purplish-brown marrow out and digging at it with his fork. He scoops up mashed potatoes and gravy with the jagged bone. Little flecks of marrow stick between his teeth and cling to his lips.
I remember reading somewhere that dogs aren’t supposed to eat chicken bones, because the bones will splinter and puncture their intestines. They could bleed internally, have diarrhea or vomit. I wonder if Bill would notice that extra crunch in his pancakes.