By Suzanne Rancourt
We told Mumma that it was our sofa and we’re not throwing it out. Me and Daddy always read our paper Sunday mornings on that couch, and since Daddy wasn’t home much, it was one place I knew I could find him. How angry it made me when Mumma dragged the couch out to the lawn. She was crying and screaming the whole time: “You want to spend time with those damn cocks? Now you go sleep with them!”
Daddy had roosters on the old farm after the pit bulls grew too unpredictable, too complicated to transport from meet to meet. So, cock fightin’ was easier (not less expensive), but he always had ‘em right up through the mid ’70s. Some he called Silver Grays; they got really tall, up to three foot. He also had those firecracker Bantams that attacked you as soon as you turned your back. Mumma hated the Bantams, wished the weasels on ‘em, especially after that morning in ‘62 when they flew, spurs first, at Mrs. Dagget and her three kids. She was dropping off her toddlers for Mumma to babysit. Mumma screamed at Daddy that day, too. “Damn cocks drew blood on those babies! You should see the backs of Mrs. Dagget’s legs!”
Daddy listened with his chin on his chest, one hand gripped the neck of the glass milk bottle while his other pulled the half-dollar sized cardboard top off the wide mouth. Lifting his chin, his brown cow eyes watched Mumma while he drank half the milk only to look down at the floor with his last mouthful swishing around his teeth, like he didn’t even hear Mumma. Mumma called Mrs. Dagget and reassured her everything would be fine the next morning.
Daddy and me went outside to feed the roosters and hens. I asked Daddy why the Bantams was always flying into people. Daddy said, “The only thing they know is that they’re smaller than most everything else. They was just trying to get ahead, just trying to keep the upper hand.”
“Is that why Mumma is always fighting you?” I asked.
At first, Daddy’s face got dark, but then he shook his head and chuckled. “I don’t know. I never seen it that way.”
Daddy let me feed the hens and chicks, but he said I was still too small to feed the roosters. Daddy mixed Five Star Brandy with barley “just so,” he said, “just a coating,” and fed each bird individually. He rubbed special ointment on their legs and feet that made them tough and soft at the same time. If Daddy was taking the birds for a “ride” then he would cut special mole skin and wrap it around their ankles so the sharp metal spurs didn’t chafe when he tied them on. Those nights Mumma screamed and yelled a lot.
On one of those nights, I hid on the couch so when Daddy came home and Mumma flew at him, I thought maybe I could help Daddy out, plus, I would get to see him. Kneeling on overstuffed cushions, my eyes just peeking over the couch’s back, I spied Daddy. He didn’t look like himself. His shirt was unbuttoned and sweaty. His dark curls stuck out like the old bed springs behind the barn, Brill Cream dried, no longer held his wild hair. He really needed to shave. I knew he had taken the birds for a ride because he smelt like cigars, brandy, and barley. Mumma flew into Daddy and Daddy was losing. Mumma’s voice was sharp. She struck at Daddy with amounts of doctors’ bills, electric bills, food and house payments. She reminded him that he wasn’t bringing home enough money.
“You’re losing too much money on that damn cock fightin’! And if you come home one more time smellin’ like a French whore, I’ll ring your neck!”
Daddy sat at the kitchen table, held his head in his hands like it hurt, elbows planted on the Formica tabletop. As I watched I couldn’t understand why my Daddy didn’t fight back? He was a war hero, everybody said. He was in Korea, had medals, even though he wouldn’t show me. He didn’t come back the same, Mumma said. She didn’t have time to try and understand it while there was gardening, butchering, a house to keep, and bills to pay.
Mumma raged at Daddy, hurled a plate like a Wham-O Frisbee against the metal kitchen cabinets; it was not Melmac and the shattered spray of shards clattered across the sideboard, an avalanched across the linoleum. Mumma glared, backed away slowly, and went to bed.
I peered across the top of the divan’s low back, an angled view into the kitchen and watched Daddy cry.
“Was Daddy sick?” I asked Mumma really early the next morning while she was beating eggs for omelets.
“Yeah, he’s sick alright. Go wake him for breakfast.”
When I came back, the kitchen was empty except for the smell of omelets, coffee on the table, and the hot cast iron spider on the stove top.
I pulled chair to the sink to look out the window. It sounded like Mumma was dragging the garden hose toward the dooryard. I couldn’t hear exactly what she was saying but she still had her apron on. It was almost 7am, the time when Mrs. Dagget dropped her kids off for Mumma to babysit. Mumma yanked the hose and it snapped right up off the ground like it was electric. She didn’t even stop when she pressed her loose curls back into her hair knot. She cranked the water on full blast, marched to the end of the hose, picked it up with her clamp hands and capped it off with one thumb.
The green hose swelled like a fat grass snake. She waited forever, it seemed, for Mrs. Dagget’s car to pull into the dooryard. I counted how many doors slammed. Mumma looked away from Mrs. Dagget and her brood, she scanned the lawn’s edge waiting, her face glowed with determination, anticipation and dark glee as the Bantam charged up the sloped lawn toward Mrs. Dagget. Mumma waited until the Bantam batted his wings in a flurry of backstrokes; its cackles, hackles, and well-aimed spurs slashed at pudgy legs, arms, and squalling baby faces.
Mumma’s hand shook from capped off water pressure, and just when her white knuckles looked like they would snap, she sighted in on the cock, slid her thumb half off, doubling the water pressure, and nailed the Bantam square in the chest lifting him high enough so I could see him through the window without leaning over.
She blasted his cackling head then back to his chest suspending him as Mrs. Dagget and her young ones slid in through the back door. Mumma pulled the water off the bird as fast as she hit him, and he dropped to the ground, feathers fluttered. When his body of russets and iridescents shook to, Mumma nailed him again and again until he hightailed it to dry ground. Mumma smiled, pressed her curls back into her hair knot, wiped her hands clean on her morning apron.
My Daddy never really got well, and Mumma ruled the roost “out of necessity,” she said. I never had too many moments with Daddy and our couch was a place that was off limits to Mumma. Daddy just patted my shoulder, scooped up a couple bottles of milk, and the Sunday paper and said, “A moment can last a lifetime—good or bad. If you’re gonna gamble, you’d better make it good.”
In our rural decadence, we sprawled across the couch on the front lawn right where Mumma had hauled it, among free-range chickens, June sun, and Mumma’s new water sprinkler.
Suzanne Rancourt is of Abenaki/Huron descent, Bear Clan, born and raised in the mountains of West Central Maine, currently residing in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. She is a multimodal artist with work appearing in Slipstream, Dawnland Voices, The Muddy River Review, Ginosko, Journal of Military Experience, Cimarron Review, Callaloo, numerous anthologies, and translations. Her book, Billboard in the Clouds, was won the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas First Book Award. Her second book, Murmurs at the Gate (Unsolicited Press), will publish in May 2018. Ms. Rancourt is a United States Marine Corps veteran.