Wet grass reminded him of something from his childhood, but Scott didn’t know what. He considered that maybe it reminded him of something from somebody else’s childhood, or a TV commercial from when he was young. New York City didn’t have many places for him to walk barefoot through wet grass. The more he considered it, the less it reminded him of anything, and was more a foreign smell and feeling. He practically grew up in rock clubs, not on farms with the roosters that wake you up with their indignant crowing and you know the animal you’re eating on a first name basis.
It was barely 7 o’clock in the morning and the sun was rising in slow motion, an effect he attributed it to the molasses pace of Southern life. She was waiting for him in the barn, where they met two nights ago after her parents fell asleep. At first a clandestine rendezvous at the age of 31 seemed unnecessary and childish, but making love in the straw and the fecund air felt invigorating; taking her with the horses’ black pupils looking on and the pitchforks hanging on the walls was like some kind of pastoral porn in real life. Looking down at his bodies on hers, his tattoos seemed like a violation, a trampling.
He’s had many women before, but this was the first he ever felt a twinge of something more than just flesh on flesh, bones grinding on bones. It’s been awhile since he was excited about the act. More specifically, the person on the other end.
Sandy was wearing a cream dress that went down to her calves and an apron with strawberries on it, absolutely perfect-looking he thought, standing in the doorway with a dimpled smile and pear-shaped breasts. Freckles dotted her nose. A burnt cinnamon color in her hair caught the morning light so that it looked aflame.
“Hey, sleepy head,” she greeted him.
He mumbled a reply and she laughed. He noted she didn’t give him a hug although her parents weren’t around. She was 26. Back in New York, dried lavender framed her doorway. She was a writer, but then again, all his ex-girlfriend’s were writers, at least they called themselves writers, or photographers. They hardly ever wrote or took pictures though. He was a musician. All of his friends were musicians. He was attracted to opposites. He was loud, she was quiet. That kind of thing.
He craved a joint but didn’t bring any down with him. He thought of that White Stripes line, “My left brain knows all love is fleeting/ She’s just looking for something new/ and I said it once before/ but it bears repeating.”
Sandy’s face beamed and her voice sung out, “Ready to catch a chicken?” She was as warm and American as fresh apple pie sitting on a window sil in the noonday sun. God, he wanted to throw her down and kiss her till she couldn’t breathe.
He laughed. “Not quite.”
“Chores ain’t gonna do themselves, silly monster.”
Silly monster, Scott thought, that’s exactly what I am. His mind flashed through a series of memories: post-concert parties, drugs and women, loud fights with bandmates, cops showing up in hotel rooms, pizza at 4 in the morning, singing in the subway….
“Follow me,” Sandy beckoned.
They went around to the chicken coop fenced in with wire. The chickens spilled out of a simple red structure in the middle of it and clucked loudly, reacting to the idea of being fed, dizzying themselves in a tornado of endless hunger and senseless fidgeting.
“Go grab one,” she commanded in a stern yet playful voice.
Scott stood there in a meek expression of ineptitude. “I don’t think you understand what my true talents are in this world.”
“Ha… like Panties of the Funeral?” She joked.
It was his least favorite tune, but the most popular one at their concerts. The one that frat boys shouted out to be played in between songs, and always the one they played for a finale or encore; because after all, it’s the music business. You keep the audience waiting, but always give them what they want in the end. Kind of like women.
He rapped, “Come and suck my death pop, succubus, I wanna feel my breath stop, fuck you the best, carnival carnivore, life’s a bore, I don’t know what you came here for, I don’t know what you came here for.”
When he finished he flapped his lips in a disgruntled little neigh. She grinned at him in her pitying way that made him feel like maybe he could settle down and raise chickens, that maybe there was a different dimension where he wore overalls, and not in an ironic way, where he went to sleep before midnight and woke up clear-headed and grateful.
Yeah, maybe — but their names! Sandy and Scott. He hated the sound of it. Like they’re part of a cast for some teenage melodrama where there’s an alcoholic dad and somber conversations overlooking the ocean while Arcade Fire plays in the background. Damn, he hated Arcade Fire.
She pushed him in the back. “Get in there.”
He climbed over the wire and found himself in a tempest of feathers and beaks. He looked down, trying to figure out which one to go for, presumably the slowest, but this made him feel like a cruel little lord; so he chose one that seemed strong but not dangerous — a medium-sized chicken. This would be the one that will die tonight. If this chicken were a human it would be a man who went to work everyday and made a decent income, one that could afford a vacation once a year for the family, but nowhere lavish, who had a wife who tolerated him lovingly, but never adored him, whose kids were embarrassed of him but still respected him. He didn’t want to kill a drunk chicken or a millionaire chicken. He wanted to kill an all-American chicken.
Standing there, contemplating all this, a large insect dive-bombed into his mouth. It flapped around, hitting the walls of his mouth. Was it a mosquito? Would it soon be probing his tongue, draining him of blood, lyrics? He reflectively closed his mouth and accidentally caught it between his teeth; like chewing on gravel, it crunched and he tasted wings and exoskeleton. He spat it out, disgusted. She laughed. “What, you swallow a bug?”
“Yeah, a big one,” he replied.
“Don’t be a wuss. That’s protein.”
“How do you live like this?”
“You’re such a baby,” she told him.
An image came over him. An idea. “Wait! What if it’s not a bug, but a tiny angel who came to protect us, but got caught in a draft and was pushed into my mouth?” He asked, “And now that I ate it, I’m going to shit angel bits into your pop’s toilet in an hour?” The lyrics ‘angel wings in my teeth – they taste something sweet’ came to him but he didn’t know what to do with them.
She shook her head. “You’re so morbid and crude.”
“Is it sexy?”
She turned her eyes down. “Sometimes.” Scott approached her, reaching out to pull her closer. “But not right now,” she amended, stepping back. “Go catch me a chicken. That’s sexy.”
“You’re such a brute.”
She told him, “Somebody’s got to put you in your place.”
There was no reply he could give. She was right.
Scott turned and plodded deeper into the pen. His boots squished as he walked. Looking down, he realized he was stepping on tons of chicken shit. Tiny pellets that formed a layer of earth. It grossed him out, but he concluded that they would soon kill one of those birds and so the tradeoff was only fair.
“You little fuckers!” He cursed.
She laughed. He loved her laugh. Something stirred. A realization. It wasn’t until just now that he felt the distance they had driven, how far from New York they were, and far from his life, and far he was from… what?
The next concert?
The next thing happened like a bumbling slow motion montage. He bent low, his middle class chicken darted, flapped its wings, he adjusted, sidestepped to his right, it went between his legs, he jerked over to catch it, his feet slipped behind him, then he fell face first into the ground. Splat! The chicken flapped and kicked around. Talons slashed his face. Wings slapped him all over.
“Are you okay?” She asked, half-stifling a snicker. “Them chickens can be hard to catch.”
“Yeah, yea… I see that now.” He pushed himself back onto his feet. “Fuckin’-A.” His vintage Steve Miller Band t-shirt that cost him 50 dollars in the village was ripped and stained. His jeans were stained also. His cheek was festooned with a fresh line of bright red blood. He displayed himself to her, his hands outstretched like a vandalized Christ the Redeemer. Gloriously damaged.
She told him, “You’ll survive. I’ve seen you in worse shape.”
“I guess you have.” He laughed. Now it was personal. “Alright, let’s catch a fucking chicken.”
It wasn’t easy. Scott didn’t think it would be. It took maybe ten, fifteen minutes to finally corner his chicken and wrap it up in both hands. When he did though, he was surprised that it didn’t put up much of a fight. Why wouldn’t it fight back? Doesn’t it have any sense of danger? If some much larger creature came up and grabbed me, Scott thought, I’d go down kicking and screaming. I wouldn’t just hold still and let myself be carried off, but that’s what he did with the chicken, carried it off to Sandy like a present. He felt like the chicken was trusting him, and that made this grisly task particularly unnerving.
He realized, while stepping over the chicken wire, that he was grinning like a fool, from a weird mixture of guilt and glee — like a silly monster — and the ultra vibrant violet headband in her hair made him happier than he had a right to be. Like it was sending gamma waves straight to his dopamine.
He told her, “Here’s your chicken, motherfucker.”
“Oh, really? It only took you twenty minutes,” she shot back, dimples like watermarks on her cheeks. “Now you have to fucking kill it.” Curse words in her mouth look like screws when there should be nails.
He scoffed, “I’m punk, but I’m not that punk. Let your pops do it.”
“It’s a test,” she said.
“You’re testing me?”
“Fuuuuck,” he groaned.
Scott didn’t want to do it. He had rage. Rage because his mom was an alcoholic and his dad was a ghost on a Harley Davidson somewhere in Arizona. Rage because he was small in size and never got attention until he started singing in a band. Rage because it seems like the world rewards the rich and beautiful and ignores the ugly and awkward and those without platinum credit cards. He was full of rage, but not against chickens. Not against things he held in his hands, not when he felt the soft down of their feathers as they stayed docile like a faithful pet. He looked down at the chicken and it peered up at him, asking, ‘what? what? I’m a chicken. I don’t understand. What are you doing with me?’
She told him, “If you do this, we can meet in the barn tonight.” Then she pulled down the top of her apron and dress and exposed her right breast to him. The nipple was dark and surprisingly erect. Mysterious. He wondered if she could control that by some sort of mind power.
He was helpless…
“Baby, I’ll murder this chicken for a piece of you,” he growled. “The whole fucking flock. Murdered!”
She corrected him. “It’s not murder, it’s food.”
“Tell Morrissey that.”
“Fuck Morrissey!” She said with a smile.
“God, I love you,” he blurted out. But he said it the wrong way. He said it like he meant it. Not like teasing banter. It oozed out like pus from a pimple.
Her smile faded. Her eyebrows turned in a ‘V’ toward her nose. There was a silence that enveloped them. A terrifyingly delicious, uneasy knowing-ness wrapped them up in a shawl of no-turning-back. They stared at each other in a confused, ethereal haze.
He’d never said anything like that before — not in a way that was earnest — and even though it came out at this weird time, covered in mud, with blood thickening on his cheek, a live chicken dumbly staring on, they both knew that a truth slipped out.
She spoke delicately. “Just take its neck in your hand, and swing it like a towel. You know, like you were waving it at a basketball game.”
Scott didn’t turn away. He kept eye contact with her. They were locked in the moment. Words jammed up in his throat. Finally, he broke the link.
“Okay,” he said, meaning something other than ‘yes, now I understand how to kill a chicken.’
“Okay,” she repeated, understanding what he meant and meaning the same thing.