The Parable of the Fowl
by Cody Bennett
JW stirred, naked to the wind, in the barebones creek bed and clenched an empty flask as he tottered to his feet in the sunlight and tramped in mud. A cackle burst from the saw palmettos.
It can’t be, said JW. Goose pimples sprouted on his arms. He rubbed his eyes.
A chicken had materialized: a Hamburg, silver-spangled, rakishly-coiffed. It scraped the heavens with its roseate crown, dug its toes into the clay, and stretched its bantam body east and outward to the sun. It arched its back, and long dangling tail feathers tickled a somnolent earth.
Kikeriki! the chicken sang in a musical Old World accent. It fluttered into a catalpa tree and observed JW in the act of gathering his clothes, buttoning his work shirt, zipping his Levis, and donning a camouflage hat he adjusted with a string. He heaved on his snakeskin boots, kicked mud from his heels, creased his hat brim. The chicken blinked and jerked its tufted comb.
Goodbye and fare thee well, said JW. J-Wheezy is out.
He trudged home through knee-high bahiagrass, avoiding cow pies, ant beds, armadillo dens, too; and he crossed over his Daddy’s barbed wire fence by squeezing between the strands.
The chicken escorted him. It lingered in his shadow.
I said goodbye to you, too, said JW. So long.
Wes, get up here! called his Mama from the porch. John Wesley!
His Mama leaned out through the door frame and crossed her arms and glared at him. She wrinkled her nose and squinted like a suburbanite in a barn as JW staggered wearily up the steps.
John Wesley, you reek! she said. Was you drunk last night? Was you?
JW hid his flask in his back pocket and shucked his boots onto a raggedy blue towel.
No, ma’am, he said and wheezed and coughed like a sick hound. I surely was not.
She slapped him hard on his cheek, pinched his ear with her nails, dragged him inside.
Quit your lying! she said. Your Daddy wants to see you. He wants to talk to you.
JW patted his sore face and listened to the shouting from down the hall ― unbearable.
Liz! yelled his Daddy. Lizzie, where’s Wes? You find him? Bring him here now. Come on.
He’s here, Alec, he’s coming! screamed JW’s Mama in reply.
She motioned to her son, and he hung his hat on a peg and followed in his sock feet.
Your Daddy’s been waiting for you for hours, she said to JW. Let’s go.
From his recliner JW’s Daddy nursed a cup of coffee and watched on TV. He was bald, in Wrangler jeans and a Farm Bureau T-shirt, and he wore a Western-style belt stamped with DIXON, the family surname, on the buckle. He shushed his wife and his son as they entered the room and settled on the couch. JW’s Mama sat silently and lent him her support.
Good morning, Wes, we’re glad you come home, said JW’s Daddy. I want you to see this.
He pointed to the screen, to the colorful festivities in Seattle where a cowboy in chaps and a five-gallon hat rode a donkey in the nude, and a flapper twined a snake between her legs and ferried parakeets in her bra. In a bar, slender men in sequin tops and tight leggings permitted dogs to walk them on-leash, and a short mousy waitress in glasses took a lunch order from a cat.
Lord have mercy, said JW’s Mama. God forgive us.
It’s wrong, ain’t it? said JW’s Daddy. Against nature. What say you?
JW didn’t answer. Outside, a tapping emanated from the porch, a sudden rapping sound.
What’s that noise? said JW’s Daddy, as he muted the TV. What was that?
I don’t know, said JW matter-of-factly. Does anyone?
They heard the creaking of the door and pinprick footsteps in the hall. It was the chicken.
Kukeleku! it proclaimed and darted across the room to JW. Kukeleku!
Its talons clacked on the hardwood, and its feathers flitted like shimmering bees above them as the chicken vaulted into JW’s lap and ruffled its haughty wings. Puffed up and peacocking, it rocked its hips, bobbed its head, and jangled its fleshy spurs to an unheard beat.
Kuckeliku! the fowl sang again in a deep, throaty timbre. Kuckeliku!
Wes, it’s making eyes at you, said JW’s Mama. Eyes!
Googly eyes, said JW’s Daddy. Like it
scanned the silent TV and caught the last of the Seattle parade. He sighed knowingly.
Yessir, said JW’s Daddy. Yessir, that is unfortunate. It’s what we expected.
What’s unfortunate? asked JW. What did you expect?
It came right to you, continued his Daddy. Came and hopped into your lap. It knew ―
Daddy, that ain’t true, said JW. I swear to you I ain’t never seen the bird, I never met it!
Wes, cut the crap, said JW’s Daddy. We know what has happened to you. We predicted it!
JW’s Mama balled her fists, punched the couch cushions, and into her sleeve.
Oh, Wes, it’s my fault, she said. I loved the animals too much: you inherited my curse!
You see, Wes? said JW’s Daddy. Think of your Mama. Is she happy about this? Am I?
JW could no longer take these accusations. He held the chicken to his breast and squished together his puckish lips and oozed out a sloppy, slobbering kiss. He planted it upon the chicken’s protuberances, upon its hanging wattles and knobby coxcomb, upon its rubicund flesh.
bon ça! exclaimed the chicken. Sehr gut!
Wes, what did it say to you? asked JW’s Mama. What did it say? Speak English!
JW’s Daddy jerked his recliner’s handle and hurtled upright. He jumped from his seat.
OK, Wes, that’s enough, he said. I should’ve spanked you more; I should’ve beat you.
He unfastened his belt, gripped it by the buckle, and slung it off. It whistled in the air.
Daddy, no! said JW as he ducked behind the couch. I’m 33, you can’t do this! You can’t!
He covered the chicken with his arms. It squawked and began to molt from the stress.
Cot, cot, codet, whispered the chicken nervously. Cot, cot, codet.
Shut up! said JW’s Daddy. Shut it up! You live under our roof, Wes, you follow our rules!
He lunged for his son, pressed him against the wall, spun him and aimed for his backside. He whomped a squirming JW until the boy whimpered, pitiably discordant, like separated calves.
Daddy! Daddy, that hurts! said JW. Ow! Ouch!
You take that spanking, boy, said JW’s Daddy. Gonna bend you over my knee!
Mama! Mama, please! screamed JW. Mama, make him quit!
Wes, it’s too late for that, said JW’s Mama. It’s much too late. You in trouble.
Whole mess of trouble, said JW’s Daddy. Whole heap.
We wanted a wedding, Wes, said JW’s Mama. We wanted younguns. We wanted an adult!
Boy, you listen to your Mama, said JW’s Daddy. Are you listening?
I am, Daddy, I am! said JW. I’m trying!
He reached to grasp the chicken in his arms, but he received another walloping.
Boy, don’tcha even think about touching it, said JW’s Daddy. Don’tcha try.
Ki! screeched the chicken in response. Ki! Ki! It crouched, cat-like, and readied its attack.
JW’s Daddy caught himself mirrored within the eyes of the chicken.
You know what, I will kill this thing if I catch it, said JW’s Daddy. I will teach it!
No! said JW. No, you can’t have it, Daddy, you can’t do it! You can’t!
But it was far too late, for JW’s Daddy snatched the chicken as it leapt ― as it buried its spurs in his side ― and he wrung the fowl’s neck until he heard the dulcet crackling of its bones.
It’s finished, said JW’s Daddy. It’s done. Thank the Lord.
Hallelujah! said JW’s Mama. Good riddance.
Hush up, boy, said JW’s Daddy. Let’s take a look.
He twirled the chicken’s limp and bedraggled corpse by one leg and passed it to his wife.
Fix him up for us for dinner, said JW’s Daddy. Make him good.
I’ll make us some fried chicken, said JW’s Mama. It’ll cap off the day.
Cap? repeated an incredulous JW. Cap . . . cap . . . a cap in his feather . . . .
His voice cracked and a feeling inside him fought like salmon upstream and spurred him into motion. He shot up from the floor and bolted down the hall in his boot socks and high-tailed it through the back door and across the wooden porch. He descended the steps and lurched helter-skelter into the grass and hot-footed his way through the prickly sticker plants. He dashed for his Daddy’s fence, rolled and tumbled beneath the lowest strand and burgeoned from the dirt to run like a rabbit through the dusty fields until he had reached his home in the creekbed’s mud.
Wes! yelled his Mama. John Wesley, you come back here! Come back! Your family…
We knew you would leave us, said his Daddy. We knew it all along, son. We knew…
But JW wasn’t listening anymore. He sprawled in the empty creek bed and wrenched his flask from his back pocket and fitted it to his lips. He tilted it upwards and tippled from it, and whiskey flowed as if he’d never exhausted it, dribbling on his chin and puddling onto his shirt.
He felt a pain in his side, a sharp abdominal sting like from a hornet in his ribs.
Cot, cot, codet, JW said and keeled into the mud. Cot, cot, codet.
He spread his legs, his buttons popped, and his shirt and jeans sailed off into the catalpa tree and perched like buzzards. An egg dropped from his backside and landed hard with a thud.
Ki! Ki! Ki! exclaimed JW involuntarily. Kuckeliku!
He heard sounds from the egg: a cracking. It splintered open. It hummed. It called to him.
It was a splendiferous music ― horns, bells, organs, percussions ― and, as eerily resplendent as a solar eclipse, the Conquering Chanticleer unfurled its silver-spangled wings into a tapestry of darkness and of light. The dancing had begun: the clinking of spurs and the swaggering through open fields, the boogie-woogie-woogieing into the heavens, and the steering of a conga line of birds and beasts and of all the creeping things into the Kingdom of the Fowl.
Is this love? JW asked as he recovered the power of speech. Is it happiness?
But questions were of no importance, and neither were the answers. JW simply swayed and pranced without fear of inhibition or a need to explain, and he waggled to the beat every inch of his stark nakedness and bounced like a flower’s bulb or a wild animal unrestrained by reason.
Something’s going on, he said. It’s something. C’est bon ça!
And with those words JW pledged himself to the Fowl; and, forever afterwards, he could be found jiving to its carefree tune, to that jubilant Old World accent which swirled above homes, creekbeds, and windswept fields in every language and in every land: that primitive noise and astounding cry, that victory hymn and triumphant never-to-be-extinguished song: Kikeriki!