Mr. X: Mary usually does the carving but tonight since you are our guest, you could do it, Henry. All right with you?
Henry Spencer: Of course. I’d be happy to. So I just, uh… I just cut them up like regular chickens?
Mr. X: Sure, just cut them up like regular chickens.
—-David Lynch, Eraserhead
Commemorative Air Force, Wings Over Dallas, Dallas, Texas
I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.
I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.
Here’s another one for today (#85) Getting closer! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.
Thanks for reading.
Like Regular Chickens
I raised another basket of legs and thighs out of the fryer and hooked the wire to let them drain back into the sizzling oil. When the buzzer went off I dumped both baskets out onto the steel tray, shuffled everything around and slid them under the banks of heat lamps.
“Dark meat up,” I shouted.
Chuck had set this job up for me after they fired me down at the country club. It wasn’t as bad as it looked, though I hated the smell of greasy chicken, the uniform and especially the hat. The days went by fast and after my dad had cut off my allowance I needed the cash for walking around money. Actually, my father had offered me my allowance back. I don’t think he liked telling his friends that his son worked down at Chick’n Lick’n. I told him to go to hell.
With my paycheck the week before I had even been able to make the last payment on my car. It was a rolling piece of crap, the air conditioner had never worked, it make a strange growling noise whenever I made a left turn, and I had to put in two quarts of oil a week, but it was mine.
“Hey Sam, get over here, there’s something I want to tell you.”
“Elena, what is it?”
“Sam, what was your mother’s maiden name?”
“Decker. She was Brenda Decker. Why are you asking?”
“That’s what I thought. My dad has known her family for ages. Sam, there’s some guy out front. He’s been in for a couple days now. Says he’s from out of town. Says he’s looking for Brenda Decker.”
“That’s pretty weird… But maybe not. Brenda Decker, that’s a pretty common name.”
“Not that common, not around here.”
Elena and I walked out to the front. She pointed out an old, fat man, his head shaved. He was wearing overalls and sweating something awful, sitting in a booth off to the side, shoving fried chicken into his face.
“Elena, I’m taking my break, I’m going to go talk to him.”
I walked out around and up to the guy’s booth.
“Mister, I hear you’re lookin’ for Brenda Decker.”
“That’s right kid, ya know ‘er.”
“An old friend of the family.”
I’m not sure why, but I didn’t want this guy to know that Brenda Decker was my mother.
“I’m Sam,” I said.
“Brush, Brush Holland.”
He stuck out his hand. I gave a quick shake and sat down across from the guy. He still had bits of chicken in his mouth.
“I’m on break, I don’t have much time.”
“Well, where is she?”
“I’m not sure right now, but I can find out, maybe. First, how do I know that this is the right Brenda Decker. There’s a lot of ’em out there.”
“Sure, son. That’s her maiden name, her married name is Holland.”
“Well, then that can’t be her. The name is wrong.”
The Brush guy then described her. It was my mother, exactly. He had her age right, her height, weight, even the way she talked and walked. He said he hadn’t seen her in a long, long, time, that she’d be older, a lot older now. But he knew her, I was sure of that. It was my mother he was looking for.
“Well, I don’t think I know the Brenda you are looking for,” I said.
“Are you sure of that, boy.”
He stared close and hard. I don’t think he believed me.
“You hear anything, you give me a call, now, you hear. I know where you work.”
He handed me a slip of paper with a cell phone number and I told him I had to get back to work. It was hard to concentrate and I burned myself on a fry load of gizzards. The day went slow, I kept sneaking a look out front to make sure Brush Holland wasn’t back. He didn’t show.
“Mom, I met someone down at work. He said he was looking for you. He called you ‘Brenda Holland.’”
My mother looked like someone had hit her in the back of the head with a baseball bat. Her mouth opened and her tongue came out a little, her eyes grew wide.
“I need to sit down,” she said. “Sammy, can you bring me a glass of water, some ice. Maybe put some vodka in it.”
I went to the kitchen and when I came back she was sitting on the couch, her shoes off, her face ashen. She took the drink wordlessly, raised it and drank the whole glass down.
“Do you need some more?” I asked.
“No, I’m fine,” she said, pulling a cube out of the glass and rubbing it across her forehead. She did not look “fine.” She did not open her eyes or raise her head but asked me in a strange, calm voice, “Was it Brush?”
“Yes, Brush Holland. Mom, why did he use his last name for you?”
She was silent for a long time, but began to shake, slightly at first, but her hands began to tremble more and more until she couldn’t even hold the sliver of ice that remained in her fingers, with a tinkle it fell and shattered on the hardwood floor. Then she said is a low voice, so quiet I could barely hear.
“Because he is my husband.”
When she said that she let out a long low moan. I had never heard a human being make a sound like that before, it was like something an animal makes, maybe a farm animal, maybe when it realizes what is in store, mabye when the slaughterhouse is in sight. She moaned and trembled and then wept.
I didn’t know what to do. I sat there, across from her and couldn’t stop staring at her there. She didn’t look like my mother any more. She looked so sad, but so beautiful, like she had been dropped there, crying, on that couch from some spaceship, dumped on this planet with her sadness and grief as her only baggage.
Slowly, the weeping slowed, then stopped. My mother sat motionless for a while, then she seemed to relax. Her head raised and her shoulders unhunched. The color returned to her face. Finally she opened her eyes and looked straight at me. He eyes grew wide and she looked surprised, like she was seeing me for the first time, like I was a strange boy that had showed up in her living room. Finally, her face relaxed and I even saw a little flash of a smile for a second. Then she sighed a little exhalation and began to talk.
“Oh, Sammy, I never thought this was going to happen. Or, actually, I knew it was going to happen. It’s just that, I guess I hoped it wouldn’t, though, deep down, really deep, I knew it would.
You see, Sammy it was so long ago, so long ago. I was only sixteen. Things at home were, oh, Sammy, you can’t imagine. I was so miserable; I was scared all the time. I had a boyfriend, it’s been so long, even his memory, Sammy, I can’t even remember exactly what he looked like.”
“No, no, he was later. This was Dwayne, a boy from school, we ran away. He had a car, we barely had enough money for gas. We were going to Las Vegas, we were going to get married, he was going to work in construction and I was going to dance. We made it to Arkansas, and the car broke down. And then… Dwayne was drinking, he was being stupid, it was dark, the fog… the train, it was so fast. Well, see, he died. I had nowhere to go, I was alone, I could not go home.
So I did the best I could. I got a job in a chicken plant. It was awful. The chickens would come down and a machine would cut their heads off. I had to take the bodies and plop them down on a cone, so the rest of the machines could cut them up. Thousands of chickens, tens of thousands. The smell. It was cold, too, my hands would ache. At night, I couldn’t wash the chicken smell off.
And then. And then there was Brush.”
“What kind of a name is Brush?”
“It’s an Arkansas kind of name. He was the supervisor, the manager. He noticed me right off. You’ve met him?”
“Well, then you know. I guess he’s old now, he wasn’t all that young then. But I was. I was young, I was pretty. He had his eye on me. I was trapped. I had to get… had to get out of there. He had his eyes on me. I had no choice.”
“You married him, didn’t you.”
“Of course I did. I had no choice. No choice. You can’t imagine.”
“How long were you married?”
“Oh, almost two years. I thought the chicken factory was bad. It came to a point I couldn’t stand it, could take it no more. All I thought about was killing myself. Finally, again, I ran. I paid cash for a ticket and when Brush was out cold drunk I hitched a ride to the bus station and was gone. I switched buses at the next town, and switched again at the one after that. I knew he’d try to find me, but I figured if I ran far enough…. So I came here, started some junior college. Then I met your father.”
“When was that?” She saw me starting to count on my fingertips and actually let out a clear chuckle. I realized it was the first time I had heard her laugh in years.
“Sammy, don’t worry, Brush isn’t your father.”
“So you left and you divorced him. That’s not so….”
“Well you see, that’s the problem.”
“I never divorced him. I just ran. I just ran.”
And then she looked sad again. She looked so so tired.
“Mom, you look awful. You need to get some sleep.”
“Sleep? How can I?”
“Go upstairs and forget about it. Forget for now. I have an idea. Let me try something.”
My mother looked hollow. I took her by the hand and led her up the stairs to her room. She drifted through the door and I pulled it shut. She looked so worn out, I knew she’d be able to get some sleep. I didn’t want to think about what dreams she would conjure up.
I didn’t have time to think, I had things to do.