The Woefield Poultry Collective (6 page)

BOOK: The Woefield Poultry Collective
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There was nothing I could do about those things before the party, so I returned to my preparations. I layered thin slices of fresh cucumber onto slices of crusty local bread and spread the aioli I’d made on top. I cut the sandwiches into quarters and stacked them onto the only two matching plates I could find. I arranged the cheese and fruit on a rustic board I’d found outside and washed and disinfected. The effect was simple and charming.

I hadn’t had Seth purchase flowers because the flower industry is incredibly destructive, especially in Africa, but I gathered interesting Salal leaves and grasses and put them in water glasses. These I placed throughout the kitchen and living room. The effect was pretty and unpretentious.

The doorbell rang at 3:00 p.m. exactly. I pulled off the tea towel I’d tucked into my skirt and opened the door to find Earl standing on the porch.

He’d washed his face with extra ferocity so it was almost as red as his neck. The overall effect was reminiscent of an angry, underweight turkey. He had on an old-fashioned white button-down short-sleeved shirt and wide orange suspenders holding up clean green work pants. I tried to imagine what process of elimination he’d used to decide that this was the perfect outfit for a memorial social. Perhaps Earl had no other clothes. It’s often that way with country people.

He gave me a single scornful glance and walked into the living room, sat down on the couch and turned on the TV.

“Can I get you a drink?” I asked.

“Love one!” boomed a voice behind me. A woman craned her head, atop which was balanced an enormous pile of bleached blonde hair, through the doorway.

She came in, followed by a man in a brown suit that strained too close around his middle. The hair that ringed his skull was cut into a sparse, Friar Tuck pageboy. It had been dyed the same mole-brown shade as his suit.

“You must be Prudence,” said the woman. “It’s so nice of you to invite us to your party. I’m sorry you couldn’t come to the funeral.”

“So sorry,” added the man.

“I’m Doreen. I’ve known your uncle forever.”

“Forever,” said the man.

“This is my husband, Marshall,” said Doreen. Marshall nodded, as though he couldn’t agree with her more.

“We run the Sundowner’s Memorial Gardens. Where your uncle is laid to rest.”

“Oh, of course. Thank you. Please, come in.”

I ushered them farther into the kitchen and only then did I notice the third person. He was thin and pasty and wore a dark, oversized suit and a mournful expression.

“Hello,” I said.

“This is Ted,” said Doreen, who looked around like a newly installed dictator sizing up a predecessor’s palace. She didn’t offer any further explanation of Ted’s relationship to my uncle.

Ted had moved into position near the sandwiches. I could tell he wanted one.

“Please, help yourself.”

He grabbed one and stuffed it into his mouth. Then he made a face and spit the bite into his free hand. He put the rest of the sandwich, bit section and all, back on the plate.

“I think that mayonnaise has gone off,” he said.

“That’s aioli,” I explained. He nodded gravely, like he’d suspected as much.

As soon as he looked away, I removed the remains of his sandwich from the plate.

“I’ve got coffee and tea and homemade iced tea,” I told them as I went to answer the door again. It was three minutes after three.

“Seth,” I called upstairs. “Can you help me serve the drinks?”

There was no answer.

I opened the front door and found a plump lady with a round, pretty face standing there. “Hello,” I said, “you must be …”

“Sally Spratt,” she said. “And this is my husband, Dean.”

Dean Spratt, who looked a bit like his namesake, Jack, made no effort to smile or say hello. He was tall and had mottled cheeks and a pinched expression.

“Please come in.”

I pointed them toward the sandwiches and was about to start pouring drinks when the doorbell rang a third time.

This time I opened the door to a man with the spare, rawboned appearance of a person who works hard every day. A long mustache drooped beneath his nose and he had on a vivid Hawaiian shirt in shades of burnt orange and violent yellow. He was accompanied by a tall, broad-shouldered woman.

“I’m Brady,” he said. “This is Yolanda, my sister.”

“Brady’s a writer too!” said Doreen, the funeral director’s wife, coming up behind me.

“Writer, my ass,” snorted Yolanda.

Brady seemed transfixed by Doreen’s words. “You’re a writer?” he asked me, eyes wide.

“I’m sure I remember Harold saying his niece was a writer,” said Doreen.

“Well, I wouldn’t say I was a—”

“What have you written?” interrupted Brady.

“She wrote a novel,” said Doreen. “I’m sure Harold told me he had a niece who lived in New York City who wrote a novel.”

“Been published?” Brady asked.

I was feeling rather on the spot.

“Sort of,” I said, thinking of Mama Said’s shabby offices.

I stepped back and walked right into the yielding expanse of Doreen’s tremendous bosom.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“A published writer,” said Brady, following me in. “Don’t that beat all. What the hell are the odds?”

The fact that I’d had one young adult novel published by an obscure press had certainly never garnered this kind of attention in New York. It was actually sort of gratifying.

We walked into the kitchen, where everyone was standing around the table, staring suspiciously at the sandwiches.

“I don’t know about that mayonnaise,” Ted was telling everyone.

In the living room behind us the television flickered. Earl showed no signs of getting up to join us.

I set about getting the guests drinks and answered questions about the mayonnaise and my writing career.

“What kind of mayonnaise did you say this was?”

“You ever meet that Grisham guy?”

“It tastes kind of funny.”

“She said it was called Yowly or something like that.”

“Saw him interviewed on TV once. Seemed like a helluva nice guy. No swearing in his books.”

“I think I heard about this once on the cooking channel.”

“If you ask me, it’s gone off.”

Once each of the guests had a drink, I tried to change the subject.

“It’s so nice of you all to come,” I said. “I’d love to know how you all knew my uncle. I never did get to meet him, although we wrote letters back and forth for several years.”

They all looked down at the floor, except Ted, who’d picked up another cucumber sandwich and held it a little way from his body, studying it as though afraid it would bite him if he let it go.

“I met the old man, I’m sorry, I mean your uncle, a couple of months
ago when his toilet backed up. Made a hell, sorry, heck, of a mess,” said Brady.

“I never met him. I just came because Brady’s giving me a ride to the casino after,” said Yolanda.

“We held services for Harold,” said Doreen. She patted her trembling mound of hair and then stopped herself from reaching for a sandwich, making a little moue face as she did so.

“We followed his wishes to the letter,” said Marshall.

“Your uncle used to come through my till,” said Mrs. Spratt. “At the Price Mart.”

“I came because the wife was worried no one would show,” said Dean.

Sally Spratt ignored her husband and continued. “Your uncle came by the store all the time. He was a very nice man. We’re going to miss him.”

I looked at Ted. “And you?”

He shrugged.

“Ted comes to all our funerals,” said Doreen. “Some families appreciate having extra mourners.”

“So none of you really knew him?” I struggled to understand how a man could live in a community for so long and remain completely unknown.

“Hmmm,” said Brady, nodding. They all swayed back and forth, like trees in a stiff wind. Well, all except Dean Spratt, who’d edged over to watch the TV.

There was a long moment of silence. Then Brady asked if I’d ever thought about teaching a writing workshop.

“Are we going to eat those?” asked Ted, pointing at the two strawberry shortcakes on the counter.

“Hell, yes,” said Seth, stepping into the kitchen. He’d exchanged his hat for a bandana worn Axl Rose style, and his eyes were hidden behind mirrored wraparound sunglasses.

“Everyone, this is Seth. He’s helping around the place,” I said.

The ones who were listening nodded.

“It’s too bad about … you know. Prudence’s uncle. Kind of a fucking shock, eh?” said Seth.

There was something odd about him. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Normally he was so contained. Nearly inert. And now he was expansive. I wondered if he was drunk and then told myself that he couldn’t be. It was 3:00 on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Before I could speak to him, Sally Spratt came over and said how nice it had been to meet me.

“Are you sure you won’t stay for some shortcake?”

“We need to get home. Our daughter’s waiting.” She hesitated for a moment, then seemed to make a decision. “I was wondering. Sara—our daughter—she belongs to a poultry fancier’s club. But she can’t keep her birds at home anymore. We live in a strata and a couple of neighbors have complained. I don’t suppose you’d have room for them here?”

“Chickens?” I said.

“Stinky damn things,” said Dean Spratt, without turning away from the TV.

“We don’t really have any place to put them,” I said.

“Sara will get things set up and teach you everything you need to know.”

I told Mrs. Spratt to have her daughter drop by so we could discuss it.

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” said Mrs. Spratt. “Sara’s been so worried about those birds. She’s very involved in her club.”

“Pain in the ass,” said Dean Spratt.

When they were gone, I found Seth talking to Yolanda in the kitchen. This too seemed out of character. He hadn’t struck me before as much of a talker. He was trying to get her to admit that she followed celebrity news.

“I don’t give a shit about them people,” she said, tucking the last of a piece of shortcake into her mouth, leaving a blob of cream at the corner.

“Yes you do,” said Seth. “The truth is, everyone does. That’s why what I do matters.”

“What you do?”

“I cover celebrity gossip on my website. I also have a heavy metal blog.”

“So you don’t got a job,” she said, quite reasonably.

“That’s where you’re wrong!” said Seth.

“How much do they pay, these websites of yours?” asked Yolanda, signaling to Brady to bring her another slice of cake.

“Numbers are so reductive, man,” said Seth. “Ask me how much the sites have the
to make. Especially the metal site.”

“Maybe we’ll see you at the farmers’ market,” said Doreen to me. “The Four Corners Market in downtown Cedar is quite famous. There are a lot of productive little farms around here.”

My heart swelled with excitement. When I went to the local market I wasn’t going to be buying—I’d be selling.

“Absolutely,” I said.

“So what
your plans for this old place?” asked Marshall and Doreen together.

They held their coats over their arms, preparing to leave, and Ted the professional mourner stood behind them, nodding solemnly.

“I thought we’d start with a few chickens,” I told them.


When my parents told me that I had to move my birds, I didn’t say anything. In Jr. Poultry Fancier’s Club they tell us that leaders are Even Tempered, which means they don’t get mad even when everyone would understand if they were. The other thing leaders do is Take Action. I’m beginning to think I have some leadership qualities because even though I might feel mad, I try not to show it. Not like my dad. Since he lost his job he’s mad all the time and he doesn’t care who knows. He doesn’t have very many leadership qualities. I think I must get mine from a distant relative.

I am also good at the Take Action part. Mr. Lymer, our Poultry Club Leader, said that I’m a “very forceful young lady”, which is the same as saying I take action a lot.

When my parents told me I had to move my birds because some neighbors complained, I just got up and went to my room. I didn’t tell them this was what we got for moving to Shady Woods Estates, where the houses are all packed together and there are rules about everything. I didn’t tell them that my chickens are the nicest part of Shady Woods, which they are. I didn’t mention that the word
is extremely ironic, which I learned about in English last semester, since there is no shade anywhere on our streets. You have to have trees to have shade and there are no trees left here. It’s also kind of ironic that I’m only eleven and a half and even I know this. The bush my mom planted in front of our picture window is the biggest tree on the whole street.

By the time I got to my room my stomach was hurting a lot and I had to drink some of that stuff the doctor gave me. I think me being so brave about having to move my birds got my mom sort of worried, because a couple of days later she came to me and said she’d met someone who had a place where I could move them. Then she drove me over there and it turns out it’s pretty close to my school. Shady Woods Estates is in the middle of a bunch of farms. It’s the only subdivision in the neighborhood and my dad says it’s the “shape of things to come,” like that’s a good thing. My dad used to work in a bank before he got in trouble for misappropriateness and he doesn’t understand anything, especially not chickens.

My mom stayed in the car and told me to go and introduce myself to the lady who owns the farm and tell her about my birds and what they need. I think Mom just wanted to be alone in the car. Sometimes, when my dad and her aren’t getting along, she goes outside and sits in the car in the driveway. She hasn’t done it as much since we moved to Shady Woods because the neighbors stare, but when it’s dark she sits out there all the time. I guess in some ways my mom is not much of a leader either. If she was, she’d do more than just sit in the car by herself.

So I had to show the lady at the farm and her friend my binder. She’s pretty and young and smiles all the time. I told her what my chickens will need. We’ve been doing public speaking at Poultry Club, so I’m good at talking to adults. The lady, who had brown hair and eyes and no makeup, but was still kind of glowy, like people on TV, said she liked my binder, the one with the prize-winning Rhode Island Red picture glued on the cover, and she liked my hat, which I won in a poultry husbandry and knowledge competition. She said she could “accommodate” us, which I think meant that she would build a coop for my birds and do everything I asked. I gave her the plans I drew last winter. I got the highest mark of all the Division 3 juniors. Mr. Lymer said my drawings looked almost professional. That’s because I did them over thirty times until I got one perfect. I didn’t tell the lady, whose name is Prudence, that at home my chickens live in a garden shed. I didn’t want her to think that I don’t care about them. It’s just that my dad didn’t
want me to have chickens in the first place. He says they’re filthy. My mom let me get them after he got fired. She’s the one who said I could keep them in the garden shed. Then my parents had a big fight about it. That was around the time my stomach started to hurt quite a bit.

BOOK: The Woefield Poultry Collective
12.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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