by Louis Gallo
Chickens, cages of live chickens and roosters at the Indian Market on the triangle leading into Bayou Road, across from St. Rosa de Lima, its bells reverberating through the neighborhood at all hours. They make the trek often, his mother, grandmother, sister and two cousins. Bulbous black flies buzzing everywhere, rotary fans, the putrid wafts of decaying shrimp and catfish. His mother picks out the bird. A tall, emaciated black man unlatches the cage, clutches the bird’s talons, drifts toward a fifty-gallon rusty drum onto which he hooks the feet with wire loops. The knife, which seems part of his hand, deftly slices off its head. The drum is full of heads.
But this now dead chicken lurches, snaps the wire loops. Headless, it zigzags in frenzy on a floor silted with sawdust. No one says a word. The chicken is a demon charging straight for the boy. Blood spurts and splatters out of its neck. The boy freezes as the chicken closes in, then he bolts out the screen doors, knowing he will run forever, until they find him.
The boy drops his sack of kumquats as he flees past Joe’s Butcher Shop and the French bakery that always smells like anise. It was his job, to hold the kumquats, a stalk of sugar cane and a sweet potato. But he’s too scared and now drops everything, the sugar cane too, almost tripping over it into the cobble-stoned street.
He stumbles on the now split flaming red yam, charges again, dashes into a thicket of honey suckle, recoils, gasps, brushes himself off, then runs past the Rivoli Theater, boarded up now because of the ax murders. He’s out of breath and collapses on the banquet in front of an unpainted, dilapidated duplex, an emaciated old woman in her frayed bathrobe gazing from a wicker rocker. She fiddles with the pink curlers in her metal gray hair, coughs.
‘You all right, boy?’ she cries in a voice thin as tissue. Their eyes meet, hers full of rheum, his tears.
‘The chicken!’ he screams.
She spits a wad of char into the galvanized bucket beside her rocker, looks the boy over through thick cataract lenses.
‘Who the chicken?’ she cackles. ‘That be the Avenging Chicken, the Apocalypse Chicken, Christ Chicken, the Chicken of Destruction?—you got feathers in your hair.’
Just then the boy hears his mother’s voice call his name. He spins on his heels and speeds towards her and the family. She soothes him, takes his hand and proceeds to lead the group down the street towards their home a block or two onward.
As they pass the wizened woman’s porch the boy glares smugly in her direction. He clutches his mother’s fingers tightly.
‘Puck puck puccccccck,’ the old woman rasps.
Louis Gallo’s work has appeared in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth, Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review, and many others. Chapbooks include The Truth Changes, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review. He was awarded an NEA fellowship for fiction. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.