The Chicken Rustler
Reservoir Mum is preparing the kids to go out as I’m mixing mince with egg and a few breadcrumbs to make some wicked Tuscan meatballs and when everyone’s gone I plan to put on some cool music, jig a bit to the left and a bit to the right, and cook this meal like a free man.
RM says, ‘I’ll get Arch and Lewis in the car and then come back for Tys,’ but within seconds of her leaving with the two boys Archie is back inside screaming, ‘One of the chickens has got out, Dad!’ and I find myself jumping over Tyson, tearing through the lounge room and bursting onto the front lawn ready for action. My hands are covered in meatball.
The chicken has made its way into the neighbours’ yard and they’ve all come out to help – Jack and Monica; their daughter Margaret; and their thirteen-year-old, completely different looking twin granddaughters Emily, who’s blonde, and Grace, who’s brunette.
Just like all of the houses in our jam-packed 1950s designed suburban street, Jack and Monica’s has a gate at the end of the short driveway, and together we decide to open both our gates so that our large backyards can act as two immense bird traps.
I join them for what should be some easy chicken ushering, but after several attempts at grabbing the evasive harlot and coming up with nothing but the sting of my hands slapping together, clumps of soil and the ringing of the neighbours’ laughter in my ears, I begin to feel just a little stupid, just a little disempowered, just a little borderline psychopathic. My hands are now covered with meatball and dirt.
Jack, who is eighty-five, decides that I need some help and we creep towards the chicken from different angles, but once again she bok-bogaks at the crucial moment and darts between us on her spindlylittle legs. As she heads towards the road I move as if my only motivation is to prevent her from becoming roadkill, but this cheeky chicken’s antics have roused something primal inside me.
I see the bus turn into our street. She begins to gather speed and I step aside, use a swift kick to help the bird onto the heated bitumen and scream, ‘Eat the bus, you feathery crone!’ as the dull thump sends a pillow’s worth of feathers into the air. The bus driver shakes his head and shrugs to make it clear that this is not the first household pet he’s fed to his bus.
I find the image very rewarding but the bus passes by and my fantasy goes with it. Jack is telling me to get back around the chicken, as if I’m a disobedient sheep dog, and we begin to creep forward, pressing our presence upon her like a human glacier. Just when it looks as though she may pass through the gate and re-enter our backyard, RM jumps right in front of her path because Lewis, who has climbed up onto the roof of our car, is leaping into the air like a dancer from the 80s hit Flashdance and is trying to realise all the untapped potential he has in him to fall and kill himself. By the time I have shaken the potential disaster of that situation, Archie, trying to feed the chicken a handful of grass, has chased her back into Jack’s front yard and we have no choice but to start again.
‘Stuff it,’ I yell, ‘We’ve got four others . . .’
RM scolds me and the pressure is mounting as Grace asks what the chicken’s name is while I make another leap at her, landing empty-handed in Jack’s flowerbed, coating my forearms with freshly turned soil and something a cat has backed out. ‘Her name is Tandoori,’ I answer.
My hands are now covered with meatball, dirt and cat shit, and when I recover from my dry-retching I find that Tandoori has made her way onto the road and is pecking a nit from her wing nonchalantly. For the first time I’m aware of her intent to goad, to make me charge at her in a mad, thoughtless rush. It crosses my mind that Tandoori would be just as happy for me to eat some bus so I calm myself, stepping out onto the road only after I have looked left and then right and then left again.
About five metres away from me, Jack is moving towards Tandoori at an impressive pace. He is a bull of a man and I consider gutting the chicken and offering it to him for dinner as a way of saying thanks. We corner Tandoori in the front yard of the house across the street and watch her, both of us panting like hungry heathen dogs. Keeping my rage at bay I take a micro-step forward, and it is just enough to push Tandoori between a mature fern and a set of concrete steps. I reach in and take her, in a way that appears gentle, by the leg.
When I pick her up she looks at me with contempt and says, Bok Bok Fok-off! so I hold the other leg out in Jack’s direction and ask him if he’d like to make a wish. He looks a little confused and I force a dismissive laugh, doing my very best to stop from using my beaten-up, scratched fingers to crush Tandoori’s plump little drumstick into chicken mince. My hands are now covered in meatball, dirt, cat shit and feathers.
‘Jack, thanks heaps, mate,’ I say as a baby’s cry sends a chill through me, and looking up to the porch I see that Tyson has crawled through the open front door of the house and is doing the worm across the concrete. I yell to RM, who makes a mad dash to rescue him, which frees Lewis to start his climb to the top of the car again – and now Archie is climbing too and all I really want to do is listen to some cool music, maybe have a beer, and make some meatballs.
RM finally gets the kids in the car and I wave goodbye from the porch with Tandoori under my arm and ust as I’m thinking I’ve gained control and shown the bird who’s boss, she shoots out a chicken shit and piss mix all over my nice blue t-shirt. I nod at her. ‘Touché.’[G2]
Reasoning that she needs her wings clipped to prevent further escapes, I take a pair of scissors with me down to the chicken pen, flip her over and do some snipping. I throw some pellets down, fill the water and am about to leave when I notice that Tandoori is pressed against the corner of the pen making a hell of a racket. ‘Bit freaked out are we?’ I say, then I notice something odd. The number of chickens in our pen has increased from five to six. I count them several times, look up at the sky, rub my eyes, and then count them again.
There is no escaping it. Somewhere down our street there is a family missing a chicken. I am a chicken rustler and my next-door neighbours are now accomplices in a serious crime.
Once again a bus turns in my mind and gathers speed. I am driving it. When I look to the rear-vision mirror I see the seats are filled with thousands of Reservoir’s missing chickens. Chicken-less residents line the streets with pitchforks and burning stakes, pelting rocks and meatballs at the windows, and in the distance I can hear sirens. I look to my right and Tandoori is there. She offers me a wing and says, ‘Shhhhh,’ so I take the wing in my hand, gently, to signify that I won’t eat it, turn on the windscreen wipers to clear our vision of meatballs, and push the accelerator down hard.