by Shawn Mangerino
|There is a chicken on the hood of Tom’s car. And chicken shit.Jacob’s acre of high-desert land is a tangle of scrub brush, stacks of firewood and piles of junk metal. Against the fence is an old flat trailer piled over with boxes and chicken feathers. A wheel-less motorcycle leans against a rusted oven. Feathers and trash are caught in the weeds and in the crevices of the junk piles. The sky is stark blue.
Tom stares at the chicken through his windshield before stepping out of his car.
“You bring it with you?” Jacob asks. He is shirtless. A tattoo spelling Lanie runs the length of his left sagging pec and his chest is smudged by dirt, maybe grease. He holds a copy of The Recycler.
A boy is playing with the chicken. He throws seed on the hood of Tom’s car, and now there are two chickens, their talons clicking against the hood. Now three. The fourth flutters against the fender.
“Git.” Jacob says. He scatters the chickens and the boy with the same gesture and sits on the hood himself. The shocks groan under his weight.
“I had a hell of a time finding you,” Tom says. He brushes dust from his jeans and white t-shirt and stares at the hood of his car where Jacob sits, his gaze shifting from the chicken shit to Jacob’s tattoo.
“Dirt roads can be a bitch,” Jacob says. “Rained a few days ago. Gotta watch the ruts.”
“I didn’t think anyone would want it,” Tom says.
“Aint got a son? You wouldn’t understand.”
“Kid don’t care,” Jacob says. He tosses the Recycler onto the hood. The boy sneaks to it but Jacob waves him off again.
Done with the chickens, Jacob’s boy runs toward the mobile home. He hangs from the porch railing, sun-darkened wood planks on a two-by-four frame nailed directly into the paneling of the mobile home.
“My boy knows he got something coming. Birthday tomorrow. He don’t know what yet. He couldn’t sleep last night.”
“It was great when it worked,” Tom says. He pops the trunk.
“No, no damn it,” Jacob says. He presses the trunk closed and watches his son. “Don’t want the boy to see. Got a box for it in the house.”
“Kid have a name?”
“Yup.” Jacob says.
“Why don’t you tell him to go play,” Tom says.
“He is,” Jacob says.
“Have him play somewhere else.”
Dogs lay in the shade of the car. They sniff lazily and stand only to pee on the tires before retreating back into the shade. Tom tries to shoo one and the dog bares his teeth. The chickens have moved to a different part of the yard. Tom pulls a feather off his shirt.
“Damn birds,” Tom says. “Why do you have chickens?”
“Bird farms,” Jacob says.
Beyond the fence the desert lumps into long hills cut by motorcycle trails. Several long structures rust in the sun.
“Bird flu,” Jacob says. “They came and destroyed them all. That’s the word they used—destroy. Don’t know where these come from but they’re here. The boy likes them.”
Tom’s gaze goes back to the chicken shit on the hood of his car. He pops the trunk again.
“Look. You want it?” Tom says.
Jacob holds the trunk down.
“Tell you what,” he says. “Drive me out the way you come. I can take it out there and hide it.”
Jacob’s body is bulging, damp, and smeared with sweat and dust. Tom can smell him when the air is still. The boy climbs a stack of firewood and watches.
“Thirty?” Tom asks.
Jacob is silent for a time. “Watch for widows,” he calls out.
“Thirty?” Tom asks again.
“Look,” Jacob says. “Can’t do thirty. But I got stuff. Stuff everywhere. Chickens even.”
“We said thirty. The ad said thirty. I drove out here because we said thirty.”
“Aint even seen it yet,” Jacob says. “Might not be worth thirty.”
“I spent thirty in gas trying to find this shit hole.”
“Calm down,” Jacob says. “Like you said. It’s busted. Aint paying thirty. Aint worth thirty.”
“Fuck it then,” Tom says. He shuts the trunk and walks to the driver’s side door. When he grabs the handle Jacob puts his palm against the window and holds the door closed.
“Look,” Jacob says. “Don’t leave. Can’t hurt to look around. It’s my boy’s birthday. Whatever you want.”
Tom tests the door but it doesn’t budge.
“Fine,” Tom says. “Just give me twenty and take it.”
“Got lawnmowers,” Jacob says. “No lawns out here. But I got them.”
“Just give me twenty so I can get the hell out of here.”
“It’s busted and it aint worth nothing because it’s busted.”
“Twenty,” Tom says.
Jacob doesn’t respond. The wind begins to whistle through the scrub brush. Dogs bark in the distance.
“Keep your shit,” Tom says. “I’m going to throw the damn thing away.”
Tom pulls on the door but it still doesn’t budge. Jacob is watching his son.
“Let go of the door,” Tom says.
Jacob’s gaze shifts to Tom. Tom tries to open the door again. Jacob grabs him by both shoulders and throws him aside.
The dogs spring to their feet yipping and growling. Jacob pops the trunk and walks towards it.
“Stay back,” he mutters without looking at Tom.
Tom doesn’t. He tries to shut the trunk and Jacob throws a punch that drops Tom to the ground.
Jacob stands over Tom’s wheezing and crumpled form. The dogs are in a frenzy and yip and scramble, nipping at each other and kicking up dust, running back and forth over Tom who holds his arms over his face.
Neither man moves for a time and the dogs eventually calm and look about.
Jacob walks to the car, lifts the trunk and pulls out an amplifier. He inspects it in the sunlight, twisting the knobs and flipping switches, and then sets it down in the sand away from Tom and the car.
His boy watches from the porch, his small arms wrapped tight around the frame. Jacob nods to him and the boy runs to a pile of junk and pulls a warped electric guitar from behind the shell of a washing machine. Several broken strings flash in the sun as he runs back. The boy sits on the amp and makes what Tom assumes are guitar noises.
The dogs have retreated back into the shade.
“Wanted to surprise him,” Jacob says.
“I’m calling the cops,” Tom says.
The boy dances around the amp. He scoops up a chicken and sets it on top of the amp. The chicken flutters away.
“See how happy he is?” Jacob asks.
Tom watches but says nothing.
“I’d kill you sooner than let you take that amp.” Jacob grabs the Recycler from the hood of the car, slaps it against his thigh and walks towards the mobile home.
The dogs pant and occasionally whine. Ravens fly and squawk overhead. Jacob sits on a step of the wooden porch. The dogs follow, lay at his feet and Jacob scratches each in turn.
Tom picks himself up. He slaps the dust from his shirt. One of the chickens has made its way back to the car and Tom kicks it away. He walks to the open trunk, lays his hands on the hot metal, and watches the boy. Jacob watches the boy as well. Rather than close it, Tom reaches inside and pulls out a plastic grocery bag. He tosses it onto the sand near the boy, slams the trunk closed and climbs into the driver’s seat.
Tom starts the car and the engine drowns out all other sound. The boy is already rummaging through the bag. He pulls out an amp cord, plugs one end into the guitar and then continues to play. The men lock eyes.
Tom backs the car out, the boy looks over, stands on the amp and waves. His smile is as big as the sky.