WEDNESDAY: Singeing the Pinfeathers

BY DAWN THOMPSON

Copyright is held by the author.

IT’S TIME.

First, catch the chicken. Tiptoe into the bobbing, pecking flock. Pick one, any one. Grab it. Hold it close as it squawks and struggles. You’re sure it knows what’s coming. Run with it in your arms into the woodshed. Lay it across the chopping block. Keep one hand firm on its feet. Turn it so its neck stretches out. Don’t look at its eyes. With your other hand, reach for the hatchet. Aim and CHOP as hard as you can. Hold the headless, thrashing carcass away from you so the blood doesn’t spatter your Sunday dress.

Bled out? Now feather it. Pull backward against the roots. A good featherer can have a bird stark naked in a minute. You’re not a good featherer yet. You’re only eight.

Enter Father. Rolls a section of newspaper into a cone shape, lights the wider end with his Zippo. Taking the denuded body from you, he singes off the short, tenacious sprouts of pinfeathers between its legs.

The smell stays with you the rest of your life.

Into the kitchen. Enter Grandmother. Slicing a neat episiotomy north of the tail, she opens the bird and removes its guts in one neat grab, careful not to break the gall bladder and render the meat inedible. Sometimes she finds an egg. A treasure.

Within the hour, the chicken, once alive and running, is dead and simmering on the wood stove.

The smell stays with you the rest of your life.

10 comments

  1. JAZZ

    Why the hell is vegan propaganda being passed off as flash fiction?
    This, Ed, is a slippery slope … Tomorrow might it be the horrors of abortion.

  2. Nancy Kay

    JAZZ: I don’t think of it as propaganda — in fact, it never occurred to me to. I just think of it as an evocative piece of writing, perhaps a snippet of childhood memory.

  3. Nicosia

    I also know that smell, however I don’t see this piece as more than a childhood memory, well defined. One would have to ask the writer what the intent is and hopefully the writer will respond with, “A writer never has to explain their writing.”

  4. frank

    I suggest that a writer’s first intent should be to tell a story that carries/compels the reader from start to finish. After that, it is all cake and ice cream… Agree? Disagree?

  5. Mary Steer

    I wouldn’t have called this a story, since I don’t see what I’ve understood is the crucial element for storytelling: either a change in the protagonist or a refusal to change. But as a snapshot of childhood I think it works. It’s not everyone’s childhood, of course, which makes it interesting to someone who never experienced this.
    I was extremely surprised that the little girl was sent to kill a chicken in her Sunday best. “Slicing a neat episiotomy north of the tail” didn’t make sense to me either. Things like this that trip me up make me wonder how long a writer spent getting a piece into shape. I know it’s easy to miss stuff when you’ve been over and over a piece – or not gone over it enough. Sometimes an extra pair of eyes can come in handy. Reading aloud is also good. And I know what it is to be so wedded to a phrase you particularly like that you can’t see that it doesn’t serve the piece as a whole. I’ve been all these places – and I can’t say I’m done with ’em, either….!

  6. Nicosia

    Frank: I agree. The writer in this instance has written a compelling piece therefore the reader shouldn’t care about the motive if there is one. If there is a motive it isn’t blatant so what we take from it is our own conjuring. I didn’t occur to me that it might be a propagandist piece, though if it is I think its subliminally brilliant.

  7. Nicosia

    Mary: A story is a journey into a character’s world or a character’s mind. To expect a change or non change in the character by story’s end is unfair to the art. There’s only one rule in storytelling: be coherent and let the reader flow along with you. The character must feel like a real person. If he/she changes, great. If not. great too. If nothing happens except that we experience what the character has experienced that’s fine. The journey is the thing.

  8. Gloria Jean

    Having been raised on a farm where this act of ‘getting supper’ was familiar, I saw the story simply as a slice of farm life, graphic albeit. As a nurse I immediately envisioned the episiotomy being performed on the carcass by Grandma. The smell of burning pin feathers is one that doesn’t go away. Motive? Nah, just someone recounting an experience that has never been erased.

  9. Pingback: RERUN FRIDAY: Singeing the Pinfeathers |
  10. Connie Lynn Cook

    Definitely a childhood “snapshot” memory and one I recall. Never got to wield the axe, but definitely remember those damn pinfeathers and the smell! Well done.

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