Emma Parrish is a recent college graduate living in Nebraska but wishing to be in the mountains. She is pursuing an MA in Appalachian Studies and plans to continue to write silly fiction.
Walt brought home a rooster today. He just brought it home, carrying it under his arm, all red-feathery with its dinosaur feet.
“Oh God,” said Linda from the table. “Oh God, Walt, take it away.” She lit a cigarette. “Birds make me shudder.”
Walt put the rooster on the table in front of Linda, set it down on its dinosaur feet. Cluck, it said. Linda shuddered and blew smoke at the rooster. “Oh God, Walt, I simply can’t handle a bird.” Linda was dressed head-to-toe in black. Linda is usually in anguish.
Walt said, “It’s a fine-looking rooster, it is.” It was a fine-looking rooster. “It is,” I said. We stood by the table and admired the red-feathery rooster. Linda shuddered.
Walt said, “I found it downtown by the courthouse, on the lawn. In the rain. It was all alone—no collar or anything—so I took it.” Walt is a plumber, we think. Every day he leaves the house in a grimy denim uniform. Maybe he’s just out walking around, finding stray animals.
“Oh, Walt,” moaned Lina, “This rooster belongs to someone. You’ve kidnapped this rooster!” She whimpered. I thought the rooster looked right at home. It was ruffling its red feathers and looking around, interested.
Karl came in from the back and stood with us by the table. Karl used to wear ponchos, but last year he went to jail for robbing a post office. Now he plays the blues and puts grease in his hair. Karl is full of shit, but at least he can play a righteous tune.
We all stood there and stared at the rooster. It clucked again and sat down, right in the middle of the table.
“Hey,” said Karl, “look at that.” Walt said, “I found this rooster by the courthouse.”
“Hey,” said Karl. “Hey.” He grinned at the rooster. We were grinning at the rooster, too—except Linda. She blew smoke at it again and whimpered. It was pretty clear that we were going to keep the rooster.
Then Tim came in and stood by us at the table. He looked at Linda, and at us grinning at the rooster, and said “now just what in the hell is this?” but nobody answered him. We don’t talk to Tim.
We’ve had the rooster for about a week now. Walt named him Dr. Nick.
“Oh, Walt,” moaned Linda, “You simply can’t give a title to a bird. He won’t appreciate it.”
“I’m not sure,” said Walt, “He seems like an interested rooster.” He does. He follows us around the house, clucking, ruffling his red feathers. Walt talks to the rooster. “Dr. Nick is not judgmental,” he says. Karl plays blues for the rooster. He says the rooster’s favourite song is “Sweet Home Chicago.”
Even Linda doesn’t mind the rooster. It sits on the table next to her, and she looks at it for long periods of time. Sometimes she whimpers a little, and whispers “Dr. Nick” and shakes her head. She has mostly stopped shuddering, but is still usually in anguish. She blows smoke at the rooster. “How about that, Dr. Nick,” she says. She thinks nobody is watching.
Only Tim hates the rooster. He calls it That Thing, or Bird Brain, or Cocksucker. He thinks Cocksucker is especially hilarious. “Get it,” says Tim, “Get it? ‘Cuz it’s a cock.” We don’t talk to Tim.
So today, Tim came home angry while we were at the table and Karl was in the back. “Did you know,” he shouted, flailing his arms every which way, “Did you know that Bird Brain here belongs to the mayor? The goddamn mayor! And here you morons are, giving it names and singing it songs!” He slapped a newspaper on the table. The headline said:
MAYOR MCNALLY’S ROOSTER KIDNAPPED
SUSPECTED HOSTAGE SITUATION
“Oh God,” said Linda. “Oh God, Walt, you stole the mayor’s rooster. You kidnapped it.” She whimpered vigorously. “I can’t cope.”
“Hey,” said Karl, who had come in from the back. “Hey.” He ran a hand through his greased-up hair and looked at the newspaper.
According to the article, the rooster was Mayor McNally’s most prized possession. He had brought it with him from the family farm. “Dr. Nick is not a possession,” said Walt. “He deserves equal rights too.” Walt is full of shit. The rooster had been living with Mayor McNally for four years. Occasionally, the mayor brought it with him to work. Its name was Clarence.
“That’s old for a rooster,” said Karl.
“What kind of stupid name is Clarence,” said Walt.
Cluck, said Dr. Nick/Clarence.
Tim snorted and said, “Don’t you morons get it? We have to give Cocksucker back to the mayor.”
Walt whispered, “Don’t call him Cocksucker.” We don’t talk to Tim, but sometimes we are forced to whisper.
All of us looked at the rooster on the table who looked back at us, interested. Nobody said anything. According to the newspaper, Mayor McNally is offering a $2000 reward for the rooster.
“That’s a lot of dough for a rooster,” said Karl.
“Clarence is a stupid name,” said Walt.
Cluck, said Dr. Nick/Clarence.
We just looked at each other, thinking about $2000 and the rooster. He looked at us with his big curious eyes, all red-feathery. “Dr. Nick,” whispered Linda, nearly in tears. Then I started laughing—just laughing at the rooster and all of us standing there, staring at him. Then pretty soon all of us were laughing except for Linda, who was in tears, and Tim, who stood there with his arms crossed. It was pretty clear that we were going to keep the rooster. It was pretty clear to Tim, too, because he shouted “Goddamn Cocksucker,” and stomped out the front door. We laughed even more after that.
We’re still laughing, sort of, but now we’ve got to figure out what to do about the rooster, seeing as we’ve essentially got him into a hostage situation. This is not the first time Walt has brought home a stray, but it’s the first time we wanted to keep one. There have been others—the dog, the goat, the rabbit, Tim. We didn’t really like any of them, but they all ran away, except for Tim. We wish Tim would run away, because he’s kind of a jerk. But he has no place to go. Tim will do anything for $2000, especially if it involves getting rid of the rooster. So far we’ve only been supervising the rooster at all times. It’s not much. Walt says, “What if he misses the mayor? What if he’s not happy here?”
“Balls, Walt,” says Karl, “He loves us.” Then he starts playing “Sweet Home Chicago” again. We’re all more than a little fed up with this tune.
* * *
It’s now been another four days since we found out that Dr. Nick is actually the mayor’s rooster. Nobody is doing anything, except for Linda. This is quite something, because Linda doesn’t do anything and never has. “Not one single thing,” she always says. “I wasn’t meant to work.” But Linda is working now. She’s got all these lists on the table—pages and pages of lists. She talks on the phone a lot now, quietly, and she’ll occasionally cross something off one list and write something on another. Earlier, I was standing behind her trying to make out what was on the lists but she told me to go to hell. At least she’s doing something. The rest of us just walk around, supervising the rooster. Tim stomps in and out of the house from time to time with steam coming out of his ears. I’m beginning to think it will never end.
* * *
Today, when I was standing behind Linda trying to read her lists, she announced “It’s going to be all just fine—I’ve got a simply smashing plan.” Then she told me to go to hell. Then Walt left, as usual, but he was grinning like he had a simply smashing plan, too. I went to the back to see if Karl knew what was going on, but he wasn’t there, and neither was Dr. Nick. Walt came back a couple of hours later. I was sitting at the table with Linda. She had put away all her lists. She really wasn’t meant to work. “LINDA!” hollered Walt. “EVERYBODY! KARL!” He was out of breath, looking something wild. “EVERYBODY!”
“For God’s sake, Walt, what is it?” asked Linda, but she didn’t sound anguished, as usual. She was almost smiling. Walt shouted, “TIM! TIM, GET IN HERE!” This was unusual. It’s been years since we voluntarily talked to Tim. Even more unusual was when Tim got in there, right on cue—and he was holding Dr. Nick. “I’ve got you morons now! I’ve got Cocksucker here and I’m going to get the $2000 and you morons are going to get arrested. Locked! Finished!” he was jumping around with something like glee. But Walt kept on grinning, and Linda didn’t seem to be in anguish. I thought, what the hell is wrong with these people?
“What the hell is is wrong with you people?” I hollered, but nobody had a chance to answer because right then there was a loud knock on the door.
“Well, what do you know,” said grinning Walt without looking at the door, “it must be the police!”
It was the police. One of them seized Dr. Nick, and the other seized Tim. “Tim,” he said, “You are under arrest for the abduction and hostaging of Mayor McNally’s beloved rooster Clarence.” Tim had steam coming out of his ears. “It wasn’t me!” he shouted. “It was these morons! It was Walt! It was Karl! It wasn’t me! Do I look like I would steal this cocksucker?”
“Yes,” said the other policeman, “You were holding this cocksucker when we arrived. You’re finished, buddy! Locked! Take him away.”
The police took hollering Tim and Dr. Nick away, leaving the rest of us standing around the table. Walt was grinning. He took a big envelope out of his pocket and slapped it on the table. “Hey,” said Karl, who had come in from somewhere other than the back, “Is that what I think it is?” He was grinning. Even Linda, who never does anything, was grinning. “What is it?” I asked. “What do you think it is?”
It was $2000, which Walt had gotten from Mayor McNally for telling him that Tim stole his rooster. That was swell. But Dr. Nick was still gone. “Dr. Nick is still gone,” I pointed out. Right on cue, in walked Dr. Nick with his dinosaur feet, all red-feathery. “Honestly,” said Linda, “do you really think I did all that work just to get rid of him?”
“That other bird hates the blues,” said Karl.
“It made me shudder,” said Linda.
“That other bird is judgmental,” said Walt.
“McNally will never know the difference,” I said.
So here we are. Walt goes out every day in his grimy denim, Karl plays “Sweet Home Chicago” in the back, Linda sits at the table in anguish. Dr. Nick follows us around the house, clucking, ruffling his red feathers. He’s a fine-looking, interested rooster. Everything’s gone right back to normal, except that we never have to talk to Tim again.