‘What’s he doing out there?’ Jill says, as the tall figure of their father passes by the window.
‘No, seriously Brendan, can you come have a look? He’s being weird again.’
‘He’s always being weird. Just ignore him.’ Brendan’s playing Fortnite. His eyes don’t leave the screen.
Jill gets up and goes to the window, sticking her face near to the frame so she can get a better angle. ‘See, see, he keeps walking around the house, looking under it from time to time.’
‘Just ignore him.’ Brendan throws the Playstation controller on the couch.
Jill turns around to look at him and the television, ‘Lose again, did we?’
‘Because you won’t shut up.’ He finally looks up at her.
‘Yeah, soooo sorry about that. Do you want to come look now? He’s really being a freak, like I’m really worried about him.’
‘He’ll be okay, just let him be,’ Brendan says with exasperation, starting a new game.
‘You never want to deal with anything do you?’ Jill looks down her nose at Brendan. He’d lost weight. Always long and skinny, he now seemed gaunt. Was that because of their mother too, she thought?
‘Well, if it’s got anything to do with him, no I don’t, okay,’ Brendan thumbs click away, his body swaying and jolting like he’s in the simulation he’s playing.
‘He’s our dad, Brendan, you could at least try to give a shit, just for once.’
‘Look, he could be the fucking Prime Minister for all I care.’
‘Well, I don’t even know what you’re doing here today. I’m surprised you’re not at Jackie’s.’ Jill had thought he would be going out. Brendan had just had his hair cut, super short, but his beard still struggled in its patchy stubble, like every other twenty-year guy she knew. Someone really needed to tell them it looked ridiculous.
‘She’s gone to Melbourne, to her father’s for a few days.’ He pauses, throwing the controller down again, ‘See, I don’t know why he couldn’t have just done what every other dad in a bad relationship in town did. I mean, I don’t get why they just didn’t break up when they had the chance. They never liked each other, him especially. He hated her.’
‘He didn’t hate her, Brendan, they just found it hard to live together. And I’m glad he didn’t give up on mum, or on us, and fuck off like all our friend’s dads.’ Jill leans into the window looking out. Her eyes follow their father, who just went running off down the hill and around the front of the house yelling something.
‘Except that we now have to deal with him acting like a fucking idiot all the time,’ he says.
‘Don’t be an arsehole. It’s obvious how he’s acting is about Mum.’
‘Yeah, right,’ Brendan scowls, ‘See, I don’t get why you always defend him,’
‘And I don’t get why you hate him so much.’ But Jill did know. Brendan took sides, their mother’s. He was the oldest and had always been her special boy and would always take her part.
Jill wasn’t like that, she tried to see everyone’s perspective. Besides, when their mother was still alive, she didn’t understand what her parents fought about. She didn’t want to know. Brendan did. When their parents were quarrelling, he would spring to her defence, get in the middle of things.
They fought a lot. Whenever they spent any time together, Jill could feel it coming. A misplaced comment, a joke that didn’t land, a request that fell on deaf ears, something always sent them spiralling into hours of anger. At first, a hush would come down around them, like their annoyance at each other scared off any sound. It was the dumbest thing. Her parents never realised no noise meant grumpiness, even if they tried to suggest otherwise. Brendan and Jill knew.
‘Okay, I’m going outside,’ Jill says.
‘Suit yourself.’ Brendan waves her away, picking up the Playstation controller.
Outside on the front porch, Jill can’t see her father anywhere.
‘Dad! Dad! Dad!!!’ She yells but there’s nothing. She thinks about doing a circuit of the property but is worried if he were doing the same thing, she’d miss him.
‘Dad!’ She calls again. At this last shout, a few parrots she hadn’t noticed in one of the big gums fly into the bush.
She’d been in this exact same spot earlier that day. Dad had seen a kangaroo and treated Brendan and Jill like they were toddlers again, trying to whip up some excitement about seeing a cute, furry animal, like this might stimulate them. Brendan stayed on the couch staring at him, exaggerating eyes bulging out of his head, like dad had lost it. Jill went along with him but seeing the roo with a joey in its pouch made her think of her mother. Her lips shuddered, her eyes watered, her stomach felt like it was sucking in on itself, and in a second she was bawling.
Her father looked at her, ‘It’s only a kangaroo!’ he said.
About to call out again, her father comes around the corner not paying any attention to her. ‘Dad, dad, what’s going on?’ Jill says.
He looks under the house. ‘Have you seen Foghorn?’ He shouts, not looking at her.
For a second he stops, looks up at her like she should be doing something, ‘She’s gone. I can’t find her anywhere. I let them out about two hours ago, but she went under the house, and now she’s disappeared.’
‘Did you offer her treats, shake the worm bag? That always gets them back.’
Her father turns on her darkly, like he’s talking to Jill’s mother, ‘Of course, I did. What do you take me for, stupid?’
Jill walks back inside. Brendan hasn’t moved from his position on the couch.
‘So, did you get anything intelligible out of him?’ From the nasty grin on Brendan’s face, Jill figures he must have been watching through the window.
‘One of the chickens is gone.’
‘Oh my god!’ Brendan reels on the couch, ‘I’m not going out to help again, not after last time.’
‘Are you still going on about that?’ Jill looks at him.
‘Of course, I am. I was the one who had to pick it up and bury it, remember.’
‘No you didn’t,’ Jill scoffs. ‘I did that. You wouldn’t touch it remember, you only dug the hole. Fuck, you’re such a massive pain sometimes.’
‘Fuck off,’ Brendan says, looking at his younger sister.
She wonders what he thinks about her. It’s not something she contemplates often. It’s more about how he’s always been such a spoilt little shit. Mum always thought he was so special, much like how he thinks about himself now. She wants to bring that up again.
‘There he goes.’
‘What?’ she says.
‘Look, there.’ Brendan points. ‘Fucking lunatic.’
Outside, like a burglar looking for somewhere to break in, their father slowly circles the house, calling out, ‘Leghorn!’
Half an hour goes by. Finally, he comes inside and sits dejectedly on the couch. He’s taken his boots off but he’s filthy and sweating. His shorts, shirt, hair and face covered with dust and dirt. He’s been under the house, Jill thinks.
‘A fox got her, I bet, just like the other one.’ Brendan says, which Jills wants to whack him for. Turning to her father, he simply sits, not seeming to hear.
Brendan tries again. ‘Probably ripped its head off, they’re so fucking brutal.’
‘Can you shut up already,’ Jill glares at him.
‘Cut the language too. Your mother never liked you swearing, and I don’t like it either,’ her father says, a faraway gaze in his eyes. It reminds Jill of the time he had a fight with their mother just after she got her diagnosis. Probably one of their most brutal arguments. For the best part of two days they hated each other and was probably the only time Jill agreed with Brendan about who was at fault in their parent’s relationship.
Their father rises, saying, ‘I’m just going for one more look.’
‘It’s almost dark,’ Jill says, almost following it up with, and too late for the chicken to be out so it’s sure to be dead.
Her father wanders out of the room.
Within seconds, Brendan and Jill hear him shouting, ‘Leghorn! Where were you? God, you had me so worried!’
‘Seriously!’ says Brendan.
Jill springs to her feet but before she can get to the door, their father reappears with a chicken under his arm.
‘Look, look,’ he says excitedly, ‘I walked outside, and she just appeared from under the house.’
As their father holds the bird in the middle of living room it shits on the floor.
‘God, do you have to let that thing do that in here?’ Brendan says, but their father ignores him, laughing. Jill laughs too, going to the chicken to pat it.
Image: Pixabay.com – white cockerel with a red comb staring at the camera with a venomous look on its face.
6 thoughts on “The Chicken by James Hannan”
Very keen look at displacement. Your characters are incredibly authentic–especially 20 year old Brendan, who needs a good slapping as most guys his age require. My grandparents had a pet Chicken named “Shake and Bake.”
Great work again,
(Oh, to Diane, that is one of my favorite headers)
Thank you – yes it’s a very chickeny chicken who looks as though he’s just heard about KFC. Love the name of your grandparents chicken though she must have lived her life in a low degree of dread, particluarly when there were visitors arriving for a meal. Another super story.
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A dusty slice of reality with a mote or two of hope at the end – lovely craftmanship!
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Superb dialogue and a really good vignette into this dysfunctional family where the member who seems to receive the most concern is The Chicken.
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This is very well done.
I’m not a metaphor fan but I really did enjoy this. The whole story is one about loss, coping, loyalty, blame and acceptance.
I did like the line, ‘Her stomach felt like it was sucking in on itself’ That is the best description of that feeling I’ve ever read.
This made me want to find a line about when our knees go funny. (Still thinking!) I wondered why that happened when we saw a nasty cut or leg break. According to what I could find it is the body preparing for a faint – Which makes a bit of sense. That’s probably where the phrase ‘Knees go weak’ also came from but I don’t think that fully explains the feeling!
I was rooting for Foghorn all the way through! (Even though that’s a cock’s name!…But in this day and age, who knows??)
Believable characters, subtle and well-written. Leghorn seems to be a lucky duck for a chicken.
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