Wuchina's Chicken - James Michael Starr

Wuchina’s Chicken

 

MARIE AND SONNY SAT on the landing outside the kitchen door, kicking their dangling feet, their chins propped on the railing as they speculated about the objects bobbing down the Ohio.

They were just far enough away that they knew they could pronounce with impunity the identity of every one. In between, they watched trains of iron ore and scrap roll into the rail yard and, reading out the white lettering that paraded by, argued about where those places were.

Their father came and stood in the doorway behind them, jingling the change in his pockets. Out of sight to the east, somewhere inside the caverns of the steel mill, a locomotive screeched out a grinding stop, making every box car bang into the one before it. The cascading of 70-ton dominos echoed across the river valley.

“So, passerotta,” Tony said to Marie. “If you could go anywhere, where would you go?”

“Anywhere?” she asked, looking back to her right where, downstream, the river disappeared around a bend.

“Go to Texas!” Sonny said.

“Pshh! I’m not going to Texas!” she said.

“Where then?” her father asked again.

“I don’t know,” she continued. “New York. Hollywood. Chicago. Some day Chicago.”

“Some day, but not now?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“She’s letting Dorette Katz go instead,” came Anna’s voice from the kitchen. “The opportunity of a lifetime. Pffft!”

“Mama,” Marie protested.

A fluttering sound, of hacking up phlegm, and of spitting directed their attention to the grassless dirt-patch of a yard next door. Down below, their Polish neighbor, Mrs. Wuchina, stepped out of a shed, barely controlling in one hand a madly flapping chicken. It seemed to think it could fly away and take her with it: though gripped firmly by its neck, it pulled her arm in all directions.

She raised the storm of feathers high above her head, and with a sudden jerk, whipped it straight down, snapping her wrist as one would shake out a dusty rag.

Tossing the chicken to the ground, she turned and disappeared back into her house. The shapeless heap of white feathers lay motionless for a moment, then became a storm again, flapping and rolling around until it was up on its feet and running about, the glassy-eyed head swinging loosely by its broken neck.

It scampered around the yard like an enraged feather duster, bouncing off whatever it encountered–a wheelbarrow, a stack of crates, a clothesline pole–and for a moment became entangled in the white bed sheets hanging from the clothesline until it freed itself again.

Marie and Sonny sat frozen on the porch, their mouths agape, watching as the bird bounced its way through Mrs. Wuchina’s open gate and tumbled down the slope to Railroad Lane. They looked at each other and jumped to their feet to scramble down the stairs. By the time they made it to the alley, the chicken was up again on windmilling legs and already two yards down. They took off after it.

“Do kurwy nedzy!” someone yelled, and they looked back up the slope to see a glowering Mrs. Wuchina standing on her back stoop with a steaming porcelain water tub resting against her belly.

The bird continued it’s wild, careening journey, ricocheting off outhouses and stone retaining walls, sometimes barreling directly into some immovable object that seemed it would bring the episode to a close, only to see the bird bound to its feet once more and go zig-zagging madly down the gravel alley again.

Just as the two thought they might overtake it, a large man in dungarees and carrying a shovel stepped from nowhere into the middle of the lane. Turning one shoulder toward the oncoming chicken, he stood waiting like a cricket batsman, and when the bird arrived, met it with a solid wack.

Marie and Sonny skidded to a halt as he bent over, picked up the limp bird and shook off the dust.

“Graci!” he called out to them, and returned from whence he’d come.

 

 

  

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