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  • The Death of the Last White Male
  • Ruth Ozeki (bio)

The death of the last white male occurred on the very first day of the Chinese New Year, and to make matters worse, it was the Year of the Cock. When Grace discovered the lifeless body, she was filled with foreboding. He was a Silkie, a magnificent bird with showy snow-white plumage, and sapphire blue cheeks, and a powder puff on the top of his head. His name was Gorgeous, but mostly they just called him “The Gimp” on account of the limp he had acquired in a battle with his predecessor, Bootsie, who had been the king of the roost until he died of a mysterious flu-like illness. They had put The Gimp in charge then, and he took over running the white hens, but he was never quite up to the job, possibly due to his crippled leg. He could never quite get on top of things, Grace complained, and after he took over, the number of fertilized eggs dropped precipitously, as did the number of new white chicks. In fact, the survival of the entire white population had been looking iffy for some time now.

Death came from the sky in the form of Buteo lagopus, a rough-legged hawk, pausing in its spring migration to Alaska for a quick bite of lunch. Like a Chinese roadside buffet, Grace thought. All-you-can-eat. She had known something was amiss when she passed the chicken run on her way to the grocery store, and there was nary a bird in sight. Not a cluck to be heard, nor a feather to be seen. Grace thought they had all flown the coop, until she happened to look underneath it and saw them tightly huddled there, a quivering ball of feathery terror. She looked to the sky then, searching for a [End Page 61] cause, and spotted the hawk. It was sitting in a snag, staring at Grace with a nictitating yellow eye.

Of course Grace couldn’t really see the yellow eye nictitate way up in the snag. It was too far away, and her own eyesight was getting worse. Bob maintained that the degeneration was due to all the time she had spent in front of screens. Cathode-ray tube technology was hard on the eyes, he said, so it was only natural, but Grace couldn’t accept this. She had always taken pride in the acuity of her vision. Like a hawk’s.

Seeing the hawk, she thought briefly that perhaps she should stay close to the coop, that she should do something, but instead she continued on her way. She was going to the store to buy nine perfect oranges for their New Year celebration. The chickens would be alright, she thought, and the store was closing. She had just enough time to walk there, and the oranges were necessary for luck.

Bob was out in the forest cutting firewood when Buteo lagopus made its kill. Later, when he came in, and Grace told him about the death of the last white male, he raised his eyebrows at her choice of words, but he didn’t take it personally. Grace tended to fetishize whiteness, at least when it came to fowl.

“And husbands,” her husband added.

“Foul white husbands,” Grace repeated. “Yes.”

“Don’t say things you’ll regret,” Bob said. “Death can strike you down in the blink of a nictitating eye.”

Grace thought about the yellow eye. She thought about the way hawks hover, riding the updraft, their wing tips barely fluttering. She thought about the trembling ball of earthbound chickens below, and about Gorgeous, strutting bravely out to confront his foe and strike terror into the deadly raptor’s mind. A fool’s errand, apparently.

“It’s the end of the white race,” Grace said, mournfully. “Now all our birds will be brown.”

“I like the brown ones,” Bob said. “They have a beautiful, henna-colored variegation.”

“I like the white ones.”

“There’s a reason the brown ones survive, you know. They’re better adapted. If you were a hawk, hovering half a mile in the air, and you...


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pp. 61-68
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