When Jenny was four, her dad brought home a dozen adorable fuzzy yellow chicks for Easter–Peeps come to life! She was delighted when he said she could raise them, and helped him set up a quasi-chicken coop in the garage of their tract home on suburban Long Island. Jenny fed them Cheerios every morning. Mom was downstairs a lot, so Jenny knew she saw to their other needs.
She didn’t know whether dad had intended to butcher them from the get-go or not, but it seems his hand was forced when several of the chickens turned out to be roosters who woke the neighborhood every morning at 5 am with their crowing. That, and the loud, cackling squabbles that broke out several times a day, necessitated their demise.
She never wondered if dad knew what to do. After all, he wasn’t farm raised. He grew up in the Bronx. So did mom. Jenny just assumed he did. After all, he was Dad. So, she matter-of-factly watched as dad set up a wide board in the laundry room atop mom’s washer and dryer one June day, and she kissed each bird goodbye before dad chopped their heads off. She wasn’t squeamish. No. She was curious, and observant, fascinated as a few ran around the laundry room floor, headless, and others continued to flap their wings, sending a flurry of down and feathers skyward to fall gently after the guillotine had dropped and dad tossed their heads into the slop sink. She was delighted with the chicken foot he gave her, especially when he showed her how to make the claws open and shut by pressing one particular spot.
She tucked the treasure in her pocket, and gave the whole exercise no more thought, knowing that dad said he’d pluck the chickens and mom would be the one to clean the blood spatter from her sparkling white appliances and always spotless cement floor.
Shortly thereafter–at least in her four-year-old frame of reference–six-year-old Joey came knocking on her door.
“Can I play with Jenny?” he asked.
She was so happy when mom let him in. Other kids were gone for the summer at camp and she was lonely, but it wasn’t long before Jenny broke a vase trying to pitch Joey a ball. She’d given no thought to what a baseball could do to inanimate objects, and she had no idea how to make a ball go straight when she threw it.
Mom banished them to the backyard.
“What do you want to play now?” Jenny asked, eager to please the only playmate she’d had in what felt like forever. He proposed follow the leader, and so she trooped after him down the slide, then up it, and then they played Simon Says, which she really didn’t understand and lost interest in. She didn’t have rollerskates, and Joey wasn’t allowed to use his brother’s skateboard, so she was at a momentary loss as to what to do.
And then inspiration struck.
“Let’s play house,” she said. “I’ll be the mommy and you be the daddy.”
Joey agreed, and raked a stick across the sparse grass of the lawn, while Jenny knelt and pulled what she thought were weeds like her mom did.
Joey dropped the stick and dusted off his hands. “There. Yardwork done,” he said while glancing about.
Jenny knew with some certainty he was bored and that she could lose her playmate, and so she hopped to her feet. “Time to kill the chickens!” she said, and explained about the hatchet, the blood, the headless carcasses fleeing the scene. To make it more interesting, she pulled the chicken foot out of her pocket and showed Joey how the claws clenched and unclenched.
Joe paled, looking a lot like the white hens themselves had, and then he said, “Mom’s calling. I gotta go.”