If the Chicken Has Lips
When I was a junior down at the high school, I started dating a chicken.
I know that sounds bad, but really it wasn’t. I had dated a few human girls over my sophomore years (both of them) and it was, in the best of times, uneventful. Once I decided to go the poultry route, things turned around and the level of excitement and adventure went way up.
I broke the news to Bernie, the gal I had been seeing semi-regular. She was sucking on a grape Tootsie Pop when I told her and she drooled all over her plaid shirt.
“You say you are a-what now? Goin’ skating with my sister? Which one?”
Bernie had a lot of wax build-up and she didn’t always hear so good. “No,” I said, “not skating, dating. And not your sister, your chicken — I mean, a chicken. Not yours.”
Bernie’s real name was Bernadette, which I thought was a nice feminine name. But she had to go and change it into a man’s name. I was not into anything kinky at all and I could not get used to trying to kiss a gal with a man’s name.
The chicken that turned my head was named Henrietta, and nobody ever called her Henry or anything like that. She roosted down the road a piece, at Farmer Hoody’s coop. Hoody was a straight shooter and he not only had the best looking, best laying hens in the county, but he kept the drop boards spotless, the whole operation smelled like the south of France in the springtime, and he actually had city folks come by and want to take pictures posing with his girls.
If you were looking for the best chicken flesh around, your search started and ended at the Hoody coop.
After Henrietta caught my eye, I wanted to court her proper and that meant getting the blessing of Farmer Hoody. Several times I stopped at the farm to visit with Hoody and generally I took him a token of country neighborliness (such as a jar of freshly rendered hog fat). By the bye I would meander over to Henrietta’s coop and pay a visit. She was always so proper and shy, but she had a way of giving me a bit of a sideways look that told me there was an interest.
As we moved on into the summer months, I eventually asked Hoody if I might take her for a drive with me into town. He got a big grin on his face and said as long as I kept his pantry stocked with the top-notch lard, I was welcome to stop any time and take her out for a spin. I took her in her crate so as not to appear to be too forward and pushy in our relationship.
We stopped at the Dairy Hole drive-in and got a couple of orders of French fries. I thought it would be bad form to order the chicken strips, I wanted her to see that I was a proper gentleman with honorable intentions. She only pecked at the fries but seemed satisfied with the arrangement.
I carried her crate into Elmer’s, the local night spot where the music was always playing (unless the juke box was busted). We sat at the bar, her crate on the stool next to me, and as I drank my draft beer and she sipped dainty-like at her thimble of tap water, we spent a nice quiet hour of social type parlay. As luck would have it, Bernie, my ex, was there with her date for the evening, Goose Neck Olsen (or else maybe it was Squa Tront Olsen, they were twins and I could never tell them apart in the summertime. In the winter Squa Tront’s nose was always running more than his brother’s).
Bernie saw Henrietta and I at the bar. I was talking to Snub-Nose Pete, who was sitting on the stool to my right, Henrietta on the one to my other right. Snub-Nose actually did not have a nose at all, having had it bit off in a bar fight over ownership of a Desert Brand canvas water bag that had been turned into the bar’s lost and found. Ol’ Snub was just another person around town who had a drainage problem and he kind of gurgled when he laughed but I had known him since my second year of third grade. We had once had a dust up over a minor thing or two but we talked it out, and now we always found something to be pleasant about.
Anyway, Bernie comes over with half of a Big Hunk bar sticking out of her mouth and a half-eaten package of Nibs in her hand. She stuck a Nib through the bars of Henrietta’s crate and said something like, “You want a bite, honey? Oh, oops, my mistake, I forgot you AIN’T GOT NO GOD DAMNED TEETH in that narrow head of yours!” and then she half-snorted, half-laughed and ended up falling down gagging on the Big Hunk. I got up, picked up the chicken crate, and Henrietta and I left right in the middle of it all. It was kind of disgraceful, is the fact of the matter.
I drove the pickup truck out by the edge of Caesar’s Pond and we sat for a few minutes together, looking out the windshield at the black smoke from the oil refinery as it billowed up into the black clouds that lined the black, sooty sky in the distance. You could hear the big greasy water bugs clicking in the nearby sewer lagoon and a couple lighted on the hood, they sounded like somebody dropped a number three carriage bolt from a tall ladder when they hit.
I felt kind of amorous but I did not want to push it on the first date so I just reached my hand inside the crate and stroked Henrietta’s feathers for a bit, and she gave me a couple of little pecks on the knuckle.
It was before midnight when I dropped her off back at Hoody’s coop. She uttered a couple of soft clucks and a coo and so I opened the crate door and she ran into her comfortable little home.
I wanted to give the girl some space and I waited for a whole two weeks, hoping to hear from her or have a message relayed by Farmer Hoody, but to my dismay I did not hear a peep.
The following Monday, after the second weekend with no message, I stopped to see Hoody at his farm. He was out by the woodshed with an ax in his hand, and he had been splitting some small logs into kindling. He had on bib overalls, with immense rings of sweat under his arms. Hoody put on a big smile as he saw me pull my old Dodge Power Wagon to a stop, about halfway between where he was chopping, and the coop. I could not help but get excited at being so near to Henrietta.
I exchanged a few pleasantries with Hoody and handed him another container filled with top shelf hog lard. His face beamed with pleasure. “By the way,” I said, trying to play it cool, “if you don’t mind so much, I would sure like to check in with Henrietta.”
Farmer Hoody kept the smile on his face, but he looked down at his feet and said, “well, I am sorry to say I can’t help you with that today, son.” I stood for a minute, expecting for him to have something more to say, but when that appeared to be it, I decided to press the topic just a mite.
“Is she, is she feeling poorly?” I asked. Hoody picked up his head and looked at me, just for a second. “Well, now, young feller, she’s . . . not here. She’s gone.”
“Gone? Gone where to?”
Hoody scraped in the dirt with his boot. “Damn it, son, you know, you shouldn’t oughta not have talked to me. After you brought her home two weeks ago, and we didn’t hear nothing from you – well I got the impression you was done with her, you know, had gotten all your business taken care of –”
I was not really liking the way our conversation was headed. “Well, now, Mister Hoody, I was just not wanting to crowd the little lady, you know? I was kinda hoping she would reach out to me.” Hoody got a somewhat exasperated look on his face.
“And how might she do that? On her cell phone I suppose.” His eyes were dark and I was starting to lose my patience. “Listen, I demand that you tell me where she went to,” I said, raising my voice.
The old man chuckled and rubbed his big round belly. “Well okay then, since you are making demands, I will tell you that a good part of her is right here.” He patted firmly on his gut. I could feel my eyes open a mile wide.
“What’s more,” he went on, “some of her left the premises with them two Olsen twins, Goose Neck and what is the name of the one with the snot on his face, Squaw or something . . .”
“Tront,” I said. I felt like my face was glowing beet red. “Now let me get this straight. You don’t see nothing of me for two weeks and at that point you got some jar headed geezinslaw type neighbors show up round about dinner time so you just decide that you are gonna COOK AND EAT MY GIRLFRIEND, is that the plan you come up with, is that about it, then?”
I was pretty sure I was about to clobber old Hoody right there on the spot. I could not believe what I was hearing. But I also noticed that Hoody still had the ax in his hand so I told myself I had best take some deep breaths. We continued to talk about the whole business and as
I watched him flipping and spinning that ax around and up and down like it was some kind of a ninja stick from some movie, I did eventually become more understanding of his point. A fella has got to eat, it is true.
I told him, though, that I was having a mighty hard time getting the image of it all out of my mind.
“I just can’t stop seeing you with her,” I said, “you taking her out back of the brooder house and her soft body like putty in your grip; your hands all over her and even up inside and then you just start plucking her, harder and faster and it’s – it’s –.” I was gasping for air.
“Now simmer down there, young feller,” he said in a soothing voice. “It was nothing like that at all, and you have got to stop dwelling on it. What is done, is done, and that is all there is to it.”
He said he was right sorry for it and sorry that I had the image in my mind. He told me even though she had not been much of a laying hen, her flesh was top notch, and then he said he had something he wanted me to have. Sort of so I could remember her fondly. And I was not so sure but I thought on it and finally in the end we shook hands.
Now I am back together with Bernie only I have made it clear to her that I was going to call her by her proper name and she was going to have to be okay with it, or else. And I said she has to cut down on all the sweets and all the slobbering, if she wants to be involved with somebody and have drooling and snot and whatnot, well them Olsen boys was the place for that sort of thing. She pouted a bit but, in the end, said okay to my demands, and we are doing okay if not great.
Bernie, I mean Bernadette, did put her foot down though when it came to my memento from my days with Henrietta.
The first time she caught me wearing the necklace that I had made she really threw a fit. Farmer Hoody had given me Henrietta’s skeletal remains, or most of them, and I had fashioned them into a piece of jewelry. I found it both tasteful and attractive but beauty is in the eye of the one who beholds, as they say. Bernie in particular was upset by the wishbone mounted right in the front, framing my Adam’s apple.
“I may not be as picky as some,” she said, and she looked me square in the eye, “but I am not the kind of gal who is gonna get caught making whoopee with a fella who has got the drumstick bones of his previous girlfriend hanging from a string around his neck. It is just flat too creepy for words.”
I had to admit that Bernadette had made a real good point, and so we shook on it, and celebrated our union by splitting a package of Nibs, and washing them down with a slug from old Snub-Nose’s canvas water bag.