The Woefield Poultry Collective (2 page)

BOOK: The Woefield Poultry Collective
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My book deal was largely a matter of timing. He’d met Jeanine at a party, and she’d told him that publishing for teens was like printing money and that she had a friend whose new book was a sure thing. Dan believed her. It was a poetry conference and Jeanine was the only one in attendance who had sold more than two hundred copies of anything.

Jeanine led me to believe that Mama Said Press was a children’s publishing company and told me to send them my manuscript. Dan responded almost immediately with a contract and a low-three-figure advance. I was pleased, even after I realized that I was their only teen fiction author. Dan decided that the market for my book would be ten-to-fourteen-year-old boys. I’m not sure how he decided this. I doubt it was on the advice of any actual ten-to-fourteen-year-old boys. My expectations were modest. I knew that first novels published by small presses are usually quiet affairs. But I hadn’t counted on Dan’s sister, Sherry. She was the publicist for Mama Said Press and she had a raging case of OCD, which she brought to work with her.

Once Sherry realized that, unlike the rest of the Mama Said authors, I would actually show up for readings and other events, I became her sole focus. She booked me to speak at nearly every middle and high school in the state.

Although the teachers weren’t very interested in the subject (there was a glut of global warming books at that moment), they were enthusiasm personified compared to the kids, who were often actively hostile. I was chum in the shark tank at my readings.

I decided the writing life did not appeal. Really, it had just been a way for me to talk about issues that mattered to me: sustainability, local food security, climate change and so forth.

“Your book wasn’t that bad,” said Ruth. “I think you were building.”

I gave her a look and sipped my organic wine.

My book was, according to the lone blogger who reviewed it as part of one of those roundups about what is wrong with young adult literature, “anxiety-saturated but surprisingly dull.” I couldn’t, in good conscience, argue with that assessment.

“So if you aren’t going to be a writer and you aren’t going to marry a hedge fund manager, what’s the plan?” asked Ruth. “You can’t exist on dead worms and flickering solar-powered appliances.”

“You’ll need to come up with other reliances,” added Jeanine, straining to find a suitable rhyme.

They were referring to the fact that the solar panels hadn’t moved me off the grid quite as much as I’d hoped, probably because Leo broke one of them when he fell.

“There’s my allowance,” I said.

“Which is barely enough to pay rent on this place.” The apartment was rent stabilized, which made me an object of envy among my friends. Other tenants in the building were paying between twenty-two and twenty-six hundred. A young Hasidic man had taken a shine to me and rented me the place for five hundred dollars a month, much to his parents’ dismay. That modest rent took up nearly half the monthly allowance I get from my parents’ estate. They died in a car accident on a Florida turnpike when I was twelve. I didn’t know them particularly well because they were addicted to golf vacations and I’d been at a boarding school since I was eight.

“Maybe I’ll move,” I told my friends.

They gasped in unison, their wine glasses frozen in midair.

“Leave New York?”

“Leave this apartment?”

“It’s been done.”

“What will you do?” Jeanine’s hair, which looked like an enormous
and unruly swarm of bees departing from her head, expanded with alarm.

“Maybe I’ll get a job on a farm. Or out in the woods doing something with nature. Maybe I can hire on as a cook at one of those penguin research stations out on the South Pole.”

“Please,” said Jeanine. “You can’t even handle winter in New York.”

“A job doing what?” Ruth asked, her tone as shocked as though I’d suggested getting a job turning tricks in the bathrooms of a family restaurant chain.

“I don’t know. You two have found your callings. It’s only a matter of time until I find mine. Something will work out. It always does.”

“Oh, Prudence,” said Jeanine and Ruth together.

Here’s the great thing. Not even twenty-four hours later, the lawyer called and told me I’d inherited the farm from my only remaining relative, Great-Uncle Harold. Life is funny. One day you’re struggling to make ends meet in Brooklyn, the next you discover that you’re headed to an island off the coast of Canada to make a new life for yourself and the children you would have if you weren’t concerned about overpopulation. It’s the journey that my ancestors made, only in reverse. At least I assume they made a journey like that. My parents were always reluctant to discuss relatives.

I’m just sorry that Uncle Harold had to die for my dream of moving to the country to come true.

S
ETH

It might interest you to know that I’ve lived across from the place my whole life. Let me paint a picture for you in words. People don’t take my skills seriously, but there’s an art to it. There really is. When I was on a roll, I used to update my blogs eight, sometimes twelve hours a day. That’s eight or twelve hours of
writing
. Stephen King is probably one of the only other guys who writes that much. Him and James Patterson, although King’s the only one of those two worth reading. I wasn’t creating books, but there was definitely some storytelling happening. My mother used to call my blogging mental diarrhea, and my former father, Prince of Pubs, used to ask me if I was some kind of pervert because I was on the computer so much.

But back to the part where I unleash my descriptive powers. Now, our house is a dump. I’m the first one to say it. Shaped like a box of Kleenex, vinyl sided, Mom’s old craft projects everywhere, like the boots she painted and stuffed with flowers and then forgot so now there are boots full of dead twigs all over the place. Like the twig furniture she made, thinking it was going to make us rich, only she’s shit with a hammer and nails and the stuff ended up being deadly. You were practically begging for a colonoscopy if you sat on it. My aunt Elsie, a bigger lady, tried out a stick couch Mom made and the thing collapsed and she nearly got a splinter in her no-no hole. She was drunk at the time, so she barely noticed, but I was well and truly traumatized. I can still remember her lying in the pile of sticks, giant white underpants showing because her caftan ended up around her waist. That image is seared into my brain.

In addition to my mom’s artistry, we have the year-round, extra-tacky Christmas ornaments and lights and the puddles of deflated Santa and Frosty next to the Prince’s inevitable fixer-up Firebird. When he moved out, not long after the thing with the drama teacher, my mother took her ball-peen hammer to its windshield. She whacked at the glass for about forty minutes, but all she did was make pockmarks all over the glass and tire herself out. Not quite the effect she’d been hoping for. My mom isn’t in the greatest physical condition. The point is that we aren’t Trump Tower over here.

So keep that in mind when I tell you that our place always, always looked better than Misery Acres, the scaliest scab on the ass of Vancouver Island. I’ll tell you what they had over there. Nothing. Well, almost nothing. You know those movies where Sissy Spacek works her skinny ass off in a dried-up garden while wearing a thin cotton shift with the pattern washed out of it? You know the ramshackle farmhouse she lives in? The one that tilts to the side and has a big verandah and peeling paint and wide stairs and basically reeks of despair and poverty and everything people associate with the poor-ass countryside? Yeah, that was what Woefield Farm was. The house was painted this color that was really more of an
anti-color
. If I had to guess, I’d say it used to be something in the yellowish-gray family. When I was in about fifth grade, they put a big piece of blue tarp up on the roof to stop a leak. The year I would have graduated from high school if I hadn’t dropped out, which is about four years ago now, they put
another
tarp on top of that one, probably because the first one started to leak.

There used to be a barn made of random boards and corrugated tin and whatnot, but that burned down not long before she showed up. The finishing touch was the poor sheep over there that had been living in a lean-to since the barn burned. And that was it, except for the cabin, way down at the edge of the property, which looks over at the house and the field beyond.

The field, at least the part of it we could see, was maybe thirty acres of rocks and scrub grass. The trees at the edges of the property looked like they were hanging on by their last root. Keep in mind that this is
Vancouver Island, for Christ’s sake, not Easter Island. We’re supposed to be a temperate rain forest not a barren moonscape. The property was huge and everything on it seemed half dead no matter what the season. Like it was a nuclear dump site.

I used to look over there and think that I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing turned to dust and fell into a sinkhole.

I hardly ever saw the other guy who used to live there. I knew he was old and that he watched a shitload of TV. The nicest thing on the property was the satellite dish on the side of the house. The satellite company came and repossessed it about a week after he died. He seemed friendly enough, I guess. Once, I was drunk and depressed and sitting by the side of the road just outside our house, and he drove by in his old-man car, a New Yorker or a Pontiac or something. That was back when I was still making the effort to go outside. He asked if I wanted a ride home. That was kind of funny because I was only about twenty yards from our house.

I said no. I was fine. But I was obviously impaired, I guess. The guy, Harold Burns, could probably see that I was a bit shittered, but there was no judgment in his eyes. Most people are pretty quick with the condemning look. He told me to take care of myself and drove his big old car a few feet down the road and then turned up his driveway.

That was about the extent of my interaction with him: He once offered to drive me a few feet to my front door.

Anyway, as you can probably tell, everything changed when she showed up. She really got the ball rolling, so to speak.

E
ARL

She showed up the first of April, I guess it was. I’d been out there thinking about getting to work on Bertie’s shed. I was going to use some scrap lumber I been keeping dry under the last tarp. It was just dumb luck them boards wasn’t stacked in the barn when it burned. The old man had a few one night and went out to inspect the “grounds,” as he liked to call it. I usually followed him, just to make sure he didn’t fall in a goddamn hole. But this time I was watching a show about Canada geese and let him go by himself. He must have dropped a cigarette because half hour later the old barn went up like Satan himself lit her on fire.

There wasn’t nothing in there except a few bales of hay, but the old man bawled like a heifer. Maybe that was what finally did it to his ticker.

Like I said, I was thinking I’d get to work on a new shed for Bertie because that poor old sheep didn’t barely fit in the old shelter we been using since the barn burned. Also, I figure she probably gets cold on the one side because the old man left her half sheared when he passed. He’d decided it was cruel to shear both sides of a sheep at once. He said they liked to get their haircuts in stages. He had a lot of funny ideas like that.

I was coming around the side of the big house with my tools in my belt, heading for the lumber pile, when the taxicab pulled up. I took one look around the corner and right away I thought of the
Antiques Roadshow
. There’s nothing some people like better than digging around in other people’s stuff. I wondered if somebody from the show heard that
the old man left something valuable behind. I didn’t reckon anything on the place was worth a goddamn wooden nickel, but I’m not up on the antiques, so how the hell do I know?

I stayed back and waited to hear her say something. If she was
Antiques Roadshow
I thought I might head back to my cabin and put my town shirt on. Not that I give a shit what people in show business think of me.

Now I seen some things in my day, but I ain’t never seen nothing like her, getting out of that cab, looking like she just landed on the moon and forgot her space suit. Bewiddled, if you catch my meaning. She had on some little shirt and shorts and then these big bloody green gum boots up to her knees like she didn’t know if it was summer or winter.

She was a skinny little thing. Hardly nothing to her, but she was pretty enough. Shiny hair reminded me of a mink, only a little lighter in color.

The cab driver got to pulling suitcases and bags and boxes out of the trunk of the car. He kept looking up at the house and asking if she was sure this was the place. Only he had one of them foreign accents, so he said it kind of funny. She told him the address was right and he asked her if she was sure and she said she was.

The cab driver kept shaking his head and looking at the house.

By this time I was pretty sure she wasn’t
Antiques Roadshow
. No, I figured she’d be some greedy goddamn relative. The old man’d mentioned a few but I never paid no attention to him when he talked. Sure as shit she’d run me off. It was time I left anyway. Never meant to stay so long.

I come around to see what she wanted and straightaway she started talking a mile a goddamn minute. Uncle Harold this and Uncle Harold that.

She was just a little bit in them big green boots. Next thing I know she had a hold of me. I damn near fell over from the shock of it. She reminded me of one of those feral hogs I seen once on the Nature Channel, the ones so fearless they’ll take a run at a grown man.

This bitty girl got me in a clinch and she hung on. The cab driver feller was right behind her, and he had a hold of a suitcase damn near the size of Bertie’s lean-to. He was staring at me like he was about to lose his lunch so I started to feel offended.

I asked her if she was done, and she finally let go.

She told me it must be so hard and it was hard for her, too.

BOOK: The Woefield Poultry Collective
10.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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