My Sister, Part Four
Chickens are over-bred, dim and ungainly — pathetic birds. You have to chase a chicken a long time before it takes flight. Almost always, you catch it before it flies. Dogs sure do.
At age eleven, I watched a German Shepherd(dog), kill a flock of twenty Swiss chickens in less than ten minutes, with only one bite to each bulging throat. A year later, in Cape Charles, Virginia, I watched an ancient beagle kill three chickens in under a minute — again, one bite to the throat. The interesting thing about these instances was that, in each, the chickens were fully aware that a murderous dog was in their midst; they were certainly aware that they were in the presence of death; yet they didn’t fly away. And they CAN fly — it isn’t pretty, but they can.
William Blake said that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. I know now that modern chickens are hopelessly desperate beings, as desperate as the humans of Kansas.
I don’t go around seeking episodes of chicken slaughter by dogs. But by my own hazy reckoning, I believe I’ve witnessed over a dozen spectacles of the methodical slaughter of chickens by dogs of all sizes and temperaments, all cold and gory situations devoid of emotion.
Why me? It’s just kismet. Personally, I rarely eat chicken.
My sister once had a charismatic terrier named Lucy. She didn’t raise chickens around Lucy — then, my sister had a big white duck that she got for marrying a bucktoothed nitwit. Ducks are tough, they’ll charge you and take a piece out of your thigh. They’ll kick your ass and don’t even have to fly. Lucy knew better. Lucy pretended to ignore the duck, but every time that honking, shitting, attention-starved excuse for a noble bird was in the room, Lucy fixed her unwavering gaze upon it.
Lucy wasn’t yet around when my sister began raising chickens to prove her love for the hirsute Iranian Minki. I think my sister had a ginger cat named Winston at that time. (I’ve seen cats kill chickens too, but only Maine Coon cats.)
Minki ate fried chicken like a five-hundred pound Southern black man who just got out of jail and was back, in his drawers, at his mother’s table: a symphony of smeckings and involuntary bodily eruptions. Minki cracked chicken bones with his teeth and sucked out the bloody marrow. His chin was slick with chicken fat and shreds of chicken flesh dangled between his teeth.
“End of Ramadan,” he said, twelve months a year.
Truth be told, Minki had a lovely set of choppers — big, like Chiclets — glistening nacreous in contrast to his desert-darkened skin. “Try to find us, Jimmy Carter,” Minki taunted, laughing. (My sister has a thing for men with big teeth.)
Watching Minki eat chicken, I’d get mad thinking of the things he did to my sister in bed. Really none of my business, but I’m by nature brotherly. So, at her Thanksgiving table, I asked her what kind of chickens she was raising, referring to species.
“Well, there’s a real mean one,” she said, swinging her glass of wine, “and the rest are all shy and depressed.”
Minki was tonguing on the Pope’s Nose, making Donna Summer noises. My father was at the table, accompanied by his vacuumed then-wife (not our — my sister’s or my or my brother’s — mother; our mother was an insane bohemian). My father’s then-wife — we’ll call her Leona — loves only money and attention. (William Blake.)
Leona asked my sister why her chickens were depressed.
“Well, there’s six of them in a four-foot by three-foot cage, and Minki always goes down there (a rickety flight of stairs to a grim dooryard), and stares at them. He menaces the coop with nunchucks and talks to them in Iranian” (remember, this was during the hostage crisis).
“These are American chickens,” my sister quavered, nearly in tears.
Dad was entranced by a ball game on the new Watchman, still his best friend (Dad would watch another man’s bowel movement if it was on television). Leona’s hair looked like a fiberglass helmet and she was dressed like a Pilgrim.
“Have you heard of fricassee?” said Minki, sucking hard on a wingbone. (This guy could eat an apple through a picket fence. Those chickens must have been terrified.)
“I love Iggy Pop,” said our schizophrenic brother, rubbing his fork on his chest.
“They’re only chickens, sweetie,” Leona condescended.
Now let it be said that my sister hated Leona, despised her. Our mother died when my sister was eleven, a hard time for a girl to lose her Mom. Leona was our stepmother, a woman our father met on an airplane. She served him a tough piece of chicken and his seventh vodka and Sprite with a splash of Chablis and they had a date that night in Chicago. Two weeks later they were engaged. Suddenly, my father started watching the PTL Club and The Hour of Power, started going to an evangelistic church twice a week and worrying about money.
Soon after, Dad brought the evangelistic preacher home for dinner. I did all the cooking back then: I whomped up a big green salad with carefully sliced onion rings, lasagna-flavored (?) Hamburger Helper and roasted chicken drumsticks. I used Shake and Bake. The preacher tucked in heartily. After dinner, he said:
“That sure was good. You’re a little cooking angel.”
When I was doing the dishes, and everyone else was watching Sonny & Cher in the living room, the preacher came into the kitchen and rubbed my fourteen-year old crotch in appreciation of the dinner I’d prepared. “Are you ever lonely?” he whispered in my hairless little ear.
A month later, my sister, my brother and I were in the evangelistic preacher’s church — a “reform” church, it was called — watching my father and Leona be married. My sister kept shouting things — unintelligible and African — and I had to squeeze her arm to calm her down. The preacher stood in as our father’s best man.
“Dad’s a sucker,” my sister said, after the bride and groom had kissed.
The preacher rubbed me like a worry stone at the reception. Two months later he was on the TV news for molesting six kids at a Christian summer camp near Lake Livingston. He went to jail. The kids he molested now have churches of their own.
Soon after the bad news, Dad and Leona moved to Orange County, California. Leona had been married once before in California, and profited financially from that state’s community property laws.
Leona’s mere presence had set my sister’s temper to simmer. Leona’s asinine comments over a prolonged period made my sister boil.
We were raised rich and overly-mannered, Southern-style. Our Virginia family billed themselves as aristocrats, and history surprisingly supported their assertions, but my grandfather always called them “crackers with daddy’s money.” Strangely, even as kids, we recognized Papa’s description. But we said “Sir” and “Ma’am” under threat of a forearm pierced by red-painted fingernails, and my sister wore bonnets trailing ribbons every Easter.
Leona had stretched my sister’s manners to the max.
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