SmokeLong Quarterly

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Story by Alicia Gifford (Read author interview) October 15, 2004

Lila loves those stupid chickens and she’s got all kinds: Leghorns, Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Dark Brahmas, Auracanas, China Silkies and Golden Laced Wyandottes—a mixed flock laying every color egg there is, out back in the coop and pen she built herself. She sings hymns to them and clucks softly as she slips her hand under their warm bodies and takes out the eggs that she scrambles, over-easies, quiche Lorraines and sells to neighbors and the co-op.

When Sylvia, her Silkie goes broody on her she calls Randall Fox for advice and he tells her to put the bird in a separate pen with nothing but feed and water and an active cockerel to mate the broodiness out of her.

“You wouldn’t happen to have a cock like that would you?” I’m listening in on the extension and hear her tone, dulcet and creamy and I know there’s trouble.

Randall brings over a cockerel that mates Sylvie until the chicken is bald and barebacked and all the broodiness is fucked out of her.

And when Vern at the P.O. tells me to take the afternoon off because Elmer Peck got drunk and ran the mail truck into a ditch in Porterville I pick up a bunch of daisies at the Super Ten to take home to do some wooing and some screwing.

Randall’s truck is parked in my driveway, his cockerel is banging Sylvie in the pen and inside the house, Randall is doing much the same to Lila. She’s clucking and cooing and he’s oohing and aahing and it’s all I can do to keep my hands off my shotgun and blowing them apart but instead I sneak out the back door like I don’t see nothing and head over to Bert’s and order up some whiskies and try to keep my heart from splitting open like a dropped melon.

Marvin Keene comes in bragging on how he’s trapped a young bobcat, he wants to see if he can tame it, keep it as a pet. Everyone in the bar rolls up their eyes. Marvin hasn’t been right in the head since the lightning strike.

“Cat like that must be hungry,” I say. I have to close one eye to lose Marvin’s twin.

“I’m bringing home some gizzards and organ meats,” Marvin says.

“Reckon a cat like that would love some chicken.”

“Reckon,” he says, working a toothpick around his mouth—which is weird, being the lightning charred the teeth out of him.

But good enough for me. Marvin’s got the cat tied up and sacked in the back of his Ford Ranger.

“I’d like to treat your new found pet to chicken dinner,” I say.

“Gracious,” he replies.

We head to my house, everything dark, chicken in the main house sleeping, chickens in the hen house sleeping.

We get the bobcat out, still in a burlap sack. We set him in the pen and cut his ties. He’s stunned, staggers around a little, and then gets a whiff of pullet.

It doesn’t take long, with scarcely a peep out of them, that’s how surprised those chickens are. We listen to the crunch of bone under a lopsided waning moon.

No way Marvin and I can wrestle that cat into submission so we just open the gate and say adios as he lopes out with a belly full of poultry.

Marvin takes off then, leaving me in the pen with the bloody carcasses and I sit there amid the gore and feathers trying to remember exactly how this was going to win my wife back.

I haul myself in the house and fall dead asleep on the sofa.

In the morning I wake up to her shrieks. “God’s punished me,” she wails. “I’m a Jezebel sinner. He’s taken my chickens and damned me to hell.”

I gather her in my arms, her warm, damp smell still full of sleep.

“I’ve been a bad wife, Luke,” she says, rubbing the little bald spot that’s appeared back of her head. “But I promise to you now, I’ll make up for it.”

“I don’t need to know more than that,” I tell her, and I mean it.

The bobcat hangs in the woods next to our spread. Sometimes I see his scat left bold out in the open and I feel his yellow eyes on me when I walk out and tend to my tomatoes. Those days I go by the Super Ten and buy him a couple of roasters and send one over to Marvin, too, with love from Luke and Lila.

About the Author

Alicia Gifford writes fiction as hard and as fast as she can. Her work is published or forthcoming in a number of places including Narrative Magazine, Confrontation, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Barcelona Review, Mississippi Review Web, NFG Magazine and other journals. She hopes to have a collection of her short stories ready very, very soon. Contact her here.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This story appeared in Issue Six of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Six

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