The stink of scorched feathers and the bumpy, scaly chicken feet bombarded my senses as Dad thrust the bird at me. The body was warm, too warm. I didn’t care that he said the carcass was that way from being dunked in the scalding water. Loosened the feathers, easier to pluck, whatever.
The live chickens huddled and clucked and jumped at the far end of the coop, but only a few would escape Dad’s reaching arm. Squawks from the chosen victim grew loud—until the strike of the ax. Running like a chicken with your head cut off is true, but there’s also obscene gymnastics with shooting blood that gets gummy on the gravel in the summer sun.
Instead, Dad nailed the bony chicken feet to the fence post after he chopped off the heads, and the things bled out shuddering against the post. Dad said, “At least the meat won’t get bruised.”
I know Mom was there—she came in the kitchen later and scolded me and my sister for arguing about who had to clean all the butt pieces floating in the cool tap water—but my memory can’t place her at the scene. Maybe she snuck off for a Winston, thinking, no cursing that the damn chicken coop was what had sold them on the property. Nobody in the family would have admitted this place was supposed to be the cure for his drinking.
“Good country living and hard work,” my dad said.
Dad was sober this day—family day. I wonder now if he was trying to convince himself or the rest of us.
No time to think. There were chickens to pluck. LeAnn and I stood side by side. I watched her lead—she was the big sister. But, God it still felt like I was plucking a live chicken.
I pulled feathers one by one. At this rate, I might have one plucked by Christmas. Dad looked over and headed my way.
“Jesus Christ! It’s not gonna hurt you.” He grabbed my hands and rubbed them all over the chicken.
I threw the chicken into the air. I heard the thud as I ran toward the house, “AHHHHHHH!”
Similar chicken thuds and screaming came from my sister.
These were the good times.
Melissa Fast is a nonfiction writer from the Midwest with an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. During the day, she spins words as a public relations professional. In her free time, she slugs French-press coffee and plays with words in hopes of making sense of her surroundings. She was selected as one of the winners of the 2017 Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Awards from the South Carolina Writers Association, and her work has appeared in Minerva’s Rising, Bluestem Magazine, and Brevity blog. She is currently working on a memoir.