Don’t go inside the chook house without your thongs. Chances are you will step on something squishy and it will make you wince, jerk, scream a little even. Because the floor of the chook house is dirt and chicken poop and bits of rotting vegetables. Your mum has asked you to empty the chook bin. It lives under the sink and all the scraps are thrown into it. The dog wishes he was so lucky. It is a soupy mix of rotting things that the chooks go nuts about.
You are before an awkward age. Maybe ten or eleven. You have no breasts. You haven’t even thought about that. You have yellow terry toweling shorts on with a string tie. They are super short and your legs are like two brown leather straps. When you stand your knees overextend so your legs bow a little and your mum tells you this is an ugly way to stand. But it feels right. If you bring your knees forward you feel like you will crumple.
You love that you can run fast. But your hair bothers you. It never does what you want it to. So different from everyone else’s. Your mother said it went strange when the hair dresser used electric clippers on it and you believe her. In baby photos you have normal hair. Something happened after that. Each hair now like it has had the fright of its life.
You take the bucket down the back yard and the chooks see you coming. They pile up around the entrance to their yard like paper blown. Some cheeky chooks attempt to fly to get to the bucket scraps first but each has had one wing cut so they can only do a flutter. Like a stalling engine. Putt putt. Crash.
Dad does the wing cutting. My sister and I do the catching. Cornered they crouch in fear. Picked up they are light, filled with air. One at a time we hand them to him. As he takes each chook up he calls her darling. He holds a chook under his arm and extends one wing. With hand shears, freshly oiled, he snips the wing feathers and they float off like snowflakes. One of us must rake them after the job is done.
You enter the yard pushing them away with your thong-clad foot. Even in thongs you feel something wet slide beneath it. Ooh. Like you are hard wired to worry over texture. Like the way you can’t eat gristle and scramble egg makes you gag. Then you empty the bucket and their heads go down, their feet start scratching away madly. They’re in chook heaven. Even the ones in the boxes have clambered out and come running. They bust through. Look pumpkin seeds. The vegetable detritus can’t be eaten mostly and just turns old and grey on the soil. It decays. And then dad puts it back on the garden to make more vegies.
You duck your head to go inside their house and search the boxes for eggs. Some are still warm. They fit perfectly in your hand. One at a time. You steal them while they fossick.