When I was younger, I lived in a chicken coop. The smell of chicken shit still permeates my dreams from time to time. Other times, I dream of anthropomorphic octopi who wear polka dot swimsuits and sip paper-umbrella-accessorised mojitos. Did you know that, literally translated, the word ‘mojito’ means ‘little sauce’? ‘Ito’ is a diminutive, you see. It makes things smaller. ‘Gatito’ is a chicken. ‘Paragüita’ is a cocktail umbrella. The word for a nestling child is ‘niñito’. And that was me – a niñito, a tadpole, a scrag of bones and gristle. I was a starveling who got sent out to the chicken coop because I wouldn’t eat my vegetables. My parents said it would teach me appreciation.
What you learn in the chicken coop is this. One – chickens’ beaks are sharp needles. They use them to assert their authority. That is where the term ‘pecking order’ comes from. Two – chickens ‘get in a flap’ at every rustling movement. They are like the cartoon bully who blanches in the face of an even bigger bully appearing on his patch. Three – hens emit an almost incessant cluck. They get restless when they are selecting a nest box. They fret about the placement of the straw. It is enough to make you want to wring their necks when you are sleeping in amongst them. Four – chicken shit has a smell that stays with you long after you’ve left the brood.
* * *
The day I wouldn’t eat my vegetables was the first time of many. I was five years old. Further chicken-coop-banishment offences included wetting my bed after a spider-infested nightmare, knocking a tacky china vase from its kitchen sideboard perch, and serving my father a mug of tea without his customary three sugar lumps. Each trip to the chicken coop came with a lesson to learn, like self-control or respect. Mainly, I learnt that my place in the ‘pecking order’ was right at the bottom – beneath my two older brothers, beneath the dog and the cat and my dad’s Cortina, beneath the television set, and even beneath the fifteen chickens. I was the runt that couldn’t throw a ball properly or run in a straight line. ‘Good for nothing’ was what my father called me. My mother used to smack me round the back of the head for staring into space.
When it came to corporal punishment, my father favoured the buckle of a belt strap whipped against anxiously clenching buttocks. My brothers learnt from his example. They liked nothing better than to clobber me in the gut.
* * *
There was one time I remember when I didn’t want to watch a movie that had been rented from the local Blockbuster. The red-circled number on the case was an eighteen so I was far too young for it. I didn’t understand most of the grown-up language or what was happening in the scenes where a gangster and his mistress appeared to wrestle beneath a crisp white bedsheet. But the amount of blood was horrifying. Graphically, at various points through the movie, it was pooled on the ground. There was a scene where a crow pecked a woman’s eyes out. Another crow emerged from the innards of a frostbitten beggar. When it got too much, I tried to slide off my chair.
‘Where d’you think you’re going?’ asked my father.
My tear ducts seeped moisture. A stifled gobbet withered in my mouth. ‘I…’
‘This is family time and you’re not to spoil it by being a cry-baby.’ He threatened to tie me to the chair if I didn’t stay in place.
What you learn in the chicken coop is this. One – the rooster is a vicious bastard who’ll peck your eyes out at the first sign of weakness. Two – the alpha female is complicit in everything because there are other hens nipping at her heels. Three – a cockerel’s principal drive is to displace the rooster. He does this by shoving his weight about. He does this by picking on the pullets and the chicks. Four – chicken shit has a stench that makes you want to chunder.
* * *
Small things set masterpieces into action. ‘El whiskicito’, the small whisky that sets an addictive personality on the path to enlightened thinking. ‘La ideita’, the wisp of an idea that fuses inside the fatty tissue of a human brain. ‘El corazoncito’, the trembling heart that turns to tarry black after a lifetime of meekly cowering in the shadows.
Click, click, click and we are all returned to that living room where a seven year old’s nightmares were gorged on age-inappropriate cinematic exposure. This time, though, the chair-tying threat has been carried out and my father has the same terrified look that all chickens get when a bigger bully appears on their patch. There are roundels of sweat at his armpits and I bet he’ll wet himself before the end. My mother is clucking incessantly as she always does. I give her a slap to try and shut her up. I think how pleasant it will be to wring her neck and see her squawk her last.
I’ve got ‘un cuchillito’ (little knife) in my hand. I’ve got ‘una memorita’ in my head of a time when my father locked me in the chicken coop for three days straight. It pissed it down the whole time I was out there. I missed two days of school and got a detention on my return for not completing my Spanish homework. ‘Una pepita’ (a seedling) of resentment was born in those three days. It germinated in the deluge. The next time I felt the bite of my father’s belt buckle, it sprouted shoots of hatred; thoughts in effervescent chlorophyll of future revenge.
Chlorophyll – I used its dictionary neighbour to knock my parents out; a dab of it on a handkerchief, creeping up behind my father whilst he sat lounging in his underpants. When he came round a few moments ago, he looked surprised to see me. My mother had the expression of a broiler who knows its time is up.
* * *
All that is left now is to commit a little devilry – ‘la maldadita’. It is but a ‘peccadillo’ really. If you think about it, it is only what you should expect from the chicken coop – cockerel rising up to take its place, alpha female exposed for the heartless bitch that she is.
The inspiration for my retaliatory sequence is soaked in the blood of an eighteen-stamped Blockbuster video. As I use the knife to cut ‘une grietita’ (a chink) in my father’s wattle, I get a sense of profound satisfaction. It is in the way he flinches. It is in the way he yells out when I slice his index finger clean in two. Luckily, the neighbours are used to ignoring the odd sounds that emanate from the chicken coop. That’s good because my mother’s screaming is like a parakeet on crack.
I won’t bore you with the details – the fact that I turn it into ‘un juegito’ (a little game) or the fact that I revel in doing things ‘despacito’ (slowly). What I will say is that the amount of blood is horrifying. It gets everywhere from the nicotine-stained drapes to the dog-chewed cushions. There is a splatter of it on my shoes which I wipe off with disinterested disdain. I feel giddy at the sight of the two parental corpses slumped in their chairs. And the only other thing that penetrates my skull is the smell of faeces, my father’s bowels having given out just as I was pecking my knife into his flabby hackles. It smells worse than chicken shit.
Outside, almost on cue, one of the hens emits an inquisitive little cluck.
MATT KENDRICK is a writer based in the East Midlands, UK. His stories have been published by Fictive Dream, Lucent Dreaming, Reflex Press, Spelk, Storgy and Collective Unrest. Further information about his work can be found on his website: http://www.mattkendrick.co.uk. He is on Twitter @MkenWrites