Roosevelt the Rooster
It was a Saturday morning. My father woke me up. Not Roosevelt. He was wearing his old jeans with his old blood stained white tee shirt. I looked out the window at the sky and figured it to be about 4:30. I was going to wake up my brothers but he grabbed my wrist before I could shove Billy and told me to put on my shoes. We didn’t need Billy for this.
I laced up while looking out the window. The funny thing about Roosevelt was that sometimes he’d crow just before the other rooster and sometimes five or ten minutes later. You could tell it was Roosevelt because he had that stutter.
He’d start crowing and then just stop. He’d start and stop a few times before he actually got to a full crowing.
I walked down the wooden steps. The house was still asleep. It smelled like rain in the kitchen. I could see my dad waiting through the kitchen window. The flood light was on over the back door lighting him. My dad was holding an ax I’d never seen before. The light reflected off it.
I turned the knob to the door and stepped out onto the dirt. I could smell wet wood. We walked over to the yard and I expected Roosevelt to hear us and start crowing. Starting to crow, anyway.
When we started walking in the mud out where Roosevelt and Baxter usually were, I didn’t see neither of them. I looked up at my dad and he grinned at me. He grinned like he did right before he gave my momma Clinton the cat wrapped up like a Christmas gift.
We walked past the chicken coup and I saw the sun peeking out over the trees. I expected to hear at least Adam the Rooster crowing. He was always right on top of things.
But it was silent. We kept walking. Back along the fence until it turned from mud to grass again. Back past the end of the fence to where the outhouse was. Back past the outhouse to the shed that John, Billy and I weren’t supposed to go into.
My dad opened the door and pointed inside. He wasn’t grinning anymore. I heard something moving in that shed.
“Don’t be afraid, son.”
After I put one foot in, I wasn’t as scared of something biting me and it was easier to walk in that dark shed. I knew what was in there. Cause me, Billy and John had snuck in there one time. All kinds of knifes and axes and buckets is what I remembered.
I heard my Dad pull the string for the light. Tied up on his side I saw Roosevelt.
“Pa? Was Roosevelt actin’ wrong?” I asked. He shook his head.
“Pa, what’s going on? Why’s he all tied up like that?” He pulled back some of the feathers on Roosevelt’s neck with his fingers and pointed with his other hand to the skin.
He handed me the ax.
“No! I don’t wanna!”
“Listen, boy. You’re not a kid anymore. You need to learn how to take care of things. I’m not gonna be ‘round forever.”
I looked into his dark brown eyes as he wrapped my fingers around the wooden handle. He put his hands on my shoulders and turned me towards Roosevelt. Then I looked into Roosevelt’s black eyes as he wriggled on the block. After a second of looking into my eyes, he stopped wriggling.
My dad lifted my arms up over my head. He grabbed the ax handle for a moment.
“Now, boy — you grip this ax handle tight. You hear.”
It was a Sunday morning. Josie and I were high-tailing it back through the woods to her place. I had my hands out to keep the branches from slapping my face. Twigs were crunching under our feet. If her Mom was awake, she’d be in trouble. If my parents were awake, I was a dead man.
A few hours earlier, we were sitting out by Sherman Lake. I remember that I could make out all the stars without having to look at the sky. The water was that still. And there were at least as many stars out as there were people at the dance we had just come from.
We were sitting on a big rock. My heart was beating and I had some trouble thinking what to say. My mouth tasted gross from all the soda I had been drinking at the dance. I didn’t have the faintest idea what to say. So I said what was on my mind.
“You ever been kissed, Josie?” I said it then just kept lookin’ at the lake. But she didn’t say anything. I was nervous to look at her but even more nervous of what kind of face she might have been making at me, so I looked.
Josie was just staring at me. Maybe she didn’t know what to say either.
The leaves above us rattled. It sounded loud. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the stars dancing on the lake. It reminded me of dancing and of the dance we’d just been at. I remembered how I asked her if anybody’d asked her to dance yet. She’d said ‘No” the same way. And then she took my hand and led me to the dance floor. We stayed on the floor until the band was packed up and ready to go. Then we’d come out to the woods.
Josie closed her eyes. Then I felt her take my hand. I leaned in closer. The tip of my nose touched hers and I stopped. But then I leaned in a little closer and our faces touched and then our lips. We stayed there like that. On that rock, in a pretty similar position for a long time.
And now we were running. Trying to get home before our parents could catch us. Before they knew we was running around all night.
We got to the edge of Josie’s momma’s property and I kissed her one last time. It was gray out and the sun was gonna be up soon.
“You going to church?”
“I’ll meet up with you there…if my pa doesn’t kill me.”
Then I started back into the woods. I knew the way back from Sherman Lake better but I had to make sure Josie got home. She didn’t run around in the woods as much as me. It was dark and I ran for a while.
I turned around and around. It all looked the same. Just trees I didn’t know. I thought about how my pa was gonna paddle me. I thought about what he did when Billy lost his shoe in the lake last week. This was much worse than that. I thought about running away. Going to live on that rock.
Then I heard it. The sun wasn’t up yet, but I heard the crow of a rooster. More like a tenth of a crow. Sounded like momma gargling for a second. Roosevelt.
I headed for it. Then I heard it again. He was up early. He was getting himself ready — that’s what momma used to say about it.
They were soft and I hoped that my daddy hadn’t heard them. I crunched down on branches while I followed Roosevelt’s warm up crows.
As I came out of the woods onto my grass, the sun was just about to peek over the trees. I sprinted along the fence, through the mud to the kitchen door. I opened the door and was up the stairs in what could’ve only been seconds. Roosevelt kept warming up as I ripped off my clothes and put on my pajamas. I climbed into bed and thought about Josie. I thought about how if my parents knew where I was, they’d never let me see her again. I rubbed the sweat off my forehead and listened to Roosevelt warm up some more. Thank god for Roosevelt, I whispered.
On Sundays, Dad slept through the crows until it was time for Church. Momma would be up though. And she’d have us up soon too. I didn’t care cause in a few hours I’d get to see Josie again.
“Dammit! You hold the handle tight.”
I took one more look in Roosevelt’s eyes, then I gripped the handle. I felt my dad’s hands around my wrists.
“Now aim for where I showed you.”
“But Dad, why?”
“We have to son. We need the food. You say a prayer for him at church later. But right now-” I brought my arms down. I aimed where my dad said.
Everything in the shed was still.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED