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EASTER / May-lee Chai THE SILVER AND BLACK Lakenvelder was the best. A rooster shiny like marble, a purple ribbon winner if I ever saw one. Big. He could kick a hole in my jeans with his fifth toe, sharp like a diamond. He could run like a dog—straight, not hoppityscattered like the other chickens. He was smart, too. He'd hide behind the alfalfa bales, in the shadows of the barn, behind an empty Purina sack, waiting, watching, quiet. He'd wait for me to turn my back, bend over the metal trash cans we kept the grain in and wham! Attack. Kicking, pecking with his wedge beak, fast and mean. He'd draw blood, then run off quick, before I could kick him or throw the steel scoop at him. He'd hop on a bale of straw and crow. Throwing back his head, sticking out his snaky tongue, looking at me with one round black eye. He was mean, he was beautiful and he was mine. Thafs all that counted. I was going to draw a portrait of him one day for school, but he never held still when he knew I was looking, and I never quite captured his spirit when I tried to draw him. Just another of my resolutions that didn't pan out that year. Like being kinder to my brother, and not thinking ill of my father, and learning to be humble and like it. I was fifteen that spring. I remember very clearly that feeling of disappointment the whole year. I thought fifteen would mean something important, a change. But I felt the same as I had at fourteen, at thirteen. I was the same height—no more growing. I was a little heavier, but I no longer banged my hips on the kitchen table or the sides of the doorjamb. I had grown used to my body. My breasts were still smaller than I'd imagined they'd be, but I'd grown used to them too. Fifteen was shockingly bland. We had seventy-five broilers and one hundred and fifty layers that spring. All of our fields were in PIK-induced hibernation. "Why not let the government pay us for nothing?" Dad said, laughing, as if it were a joke, though we could tell he didn't really think it was funny. Dad worked a double shift at Load King. He expected to be the assembly-line foreman soon. So my brother Jim was the real farmer that spring, mending the fences, minding the Holsteins, selling the eggs. The Missouri Review · 177 My mornings began before the sun rose, in the dark of the barn, with the acrid smell of straw and shit, the warmth of chicken breath surrounding my frozen face, snot running down my chin. I fed and watered the chickens, gathered the eggs, thought about other things—faraway things like school, geometric theorems, conjugations for French verbs and winning a purple ribbon and surprising everyone. I had my rituals. I banged the grain scoop against the metal bucket, let the corn drop kernel after clanging kernel, until the bottom was covered and the corn fell with a tap tap tap. As noisily as I could, I threw the scoop back into the trash can that served as a grain bin. I always gave the trash can a good couple of kicks, too, before I put the lid back on. If anything moved inside, scurried a little with that sound like rustling paper or falling leaves, I grabbed the hammer hanging on the far wall and beat it around the inside of the can. The din of steel hitting steel covered up the sound of the rodent running around inside. Td sing to myself, nonsense syllables, loudly, so that I didn't hear or feel anything as I swung my hammer around the trash can. When I could hear no more scampering inside, I grabbed the scoop, reached into the can without looking, picked up the body, and still without looking, opened the barn doors just wide enough to thrust my arm through and toss it out onto the gravel driveway. Later I took a shovel...


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