Southern Legitimacy Statement : Adam Van Winkle was born and raised in Texoma on both sides of the Oklahoma-Texas border and fried okra is one his favorite things on earth…
Snake In The Chicken Coop
“I told a lot of dogs a lot of lies, my friend, but I’m tellin’ ya the truth now, Blondie,” Kenneth Honeymoon slurred as he spoke at the big Labrador. “I ain’t gonna lie—“
The dog gave no regard, lying under the elevated footrest of Kenneth’s ratty twill recliner. It was a fair exchange as Kenneth didn’t really look to Blondie either, instead staring at his bloated and chaffing purple feet then back to the TV.
“—if I could screw one of these old movie redheads just once in my life, I’d die a happy man.”
A pair of house slippers, moccasin style, sat next to the dog on the ratty carpet. A slit was cut into the sides where the foot was inserted to allow Kenneth’s eggplants to fit inside. Maureen O’Hara was on the TV screen under the trailerhouse’s southfacing window acting as bitchy as she could in a wet slip covered in chicken feathers in Technicolor. John Wayne chased her with a small cast iron shovel of some sort.
Kenneth took another swallow of Old Milwaukee. A hollow and flat knock sounded at his thin metal front door. He hadn’t heard anyone coming up the little rickety wooden steps. Hadn’t heard a vehicle approach where his trailer sat at the back of his parents’ pasture. Kenneth figured his baby brother Lendell was coming for a beer. He usually came out on Saturdays with his wife and her son to chore the farm and tend the cattle. Lendell made a habit of stopping in Saturday afternoons to visit and drink with his brother when he was done with work for the day.
“’M-in Lendell,” Kenneth said in a rough gurgle.
The door opened and there stood Ike Dyson, Lendell’s stepson.
Kenneth was startled, set his beer down on the TV tray sidetable as he tried to sit up in the chair.
The old yellow lab did nothing more than let his ears perk some until he heard the boy’s familiar voice and let them fall again.
“Oh,” Ike said startled himself to see no folding chair with his stepdad and a Coors in it. “I was lookin’ for Lendell, seen the tractor here in the back pasture,” he managed.
Ike was scared of his stepuncle. He did not fear him. He was scared of the anxiety he created. Kenneth Honeymoon seemed the saddest son of a bitch on the planet. And he kept hanging around as some reminder of all that can go wrong in a life.
As Ike’d pieced it together in learning his stepfamily’s history over the years, Kenneth’d been hit with late childhood polio. It’d caused a permanent hump and all manner of perennial health problems. His feet were monstrous and bloated all the time and he could barely hobble. Somewhere in there he’d managed to secure a jeweler’s license through correspondence and a little shop with its own apartment or something like that in town. He even courted a woman. When she broke off the engagement it seemed he just give up totally, sold his shop in town and bought a trailer and threw it out here in the back of his parent’s property and drank up his disability check. There was an occasional ragged church woman that smelled like cooked cabbage and her ragged daughter who smelled like cooked cabbage that visited at Kenneth’s mother’s insistence out of care for her lonely boy on the back lot. As Ike’s mama said it though when the only Honeymoon around was her husband Lendell, “that woman was only chasin’ Kenneth’s government check to buy her cigarettes.”
Kenneth had flakes in his hair, kept a scraggly beard and a bloated beer gut under the hump in his narrow shoulders and slump in his chest. His fingernails were long and dirty and she smelled foul, like stale beer and piss. Even on the couple of occasions he’d managed to show up for a family holiday dinner and he had showered, he simply smelled to Ike like foul soap. His eyes were always red and full of water.
Ike hated the hot and sticky afternoons after he’d spent the day doing his assigned chores on the farm when his stepdad forced him to sit around Kenneth’s trailer while the two brothers got drunk and sad together and talked about their dead daddy and how rough he’d been on ‘em growing up, but how much they missed him and was proud to be his boys just the same. Sometimes they griped about their oldest brother, David, with the recurring conclusion simply that “David’s just an asshole thinks his shit don’t stink.” Lendell made Ike sit in the trailer because he’d “be underfoot” in the kitchen in the big house with Lendell’s wife and mom working and he’d “tear the hell up outta something” if he was allowed to roam and play on farm equipment.
“I thought you was him,” Kenneth said, trying to smile and remember how to talk to children and swallow the phlegm in his throat at the same time.
The strained expression Kenneth offered helped none to settle Ike. Ike Dyson was tired and hot and smelled like cow and was just rooting that Lendell and his mom would declare work for the day done in time to get home for Ike to watch Saturday night wrestling on the little black and white TV in his room at his stepdad’s house.
“Oh, sorry to bother you,” Ike said meek and hoping to scramble away as soon as possible.
“No bother, you can come on in if you wanna wait here for a while for him. I probably got some cokes somewhere.” Kenneth’s voice was low, strained, full of phlegm despite the attempts to choke it down.
Ike imagined warm, flat storebrand Dr. Pepper knockoff. “Oh, no thank you,” he said, his youth lacking nuance to cover a hint of disgust as he closed the door on his stepuncle as quickly as possible.
Lendell had been in the back pasture. The old ’53 Massey Ferguson sat there on the fencerow across the field from Kenneth’s trailer. He’d seen a trail that looked like horse hair and hooves going down into the brushy creek where the Honeymoon property cornered against the Henderson and Dutton properties. He decided to do the neighborly thing and go into the brush on foot and flush the Henderson’s loose mare back toward the property line and back through whatever fence had torn down over there and repair it.
As it happened the mare must of already found her way home or the trail was just old. Lendell made it through the brushy creek and to the other side and up on around behind the tank on the front lot near the Honeymoon farmhouse and never saw the horse or down fence.
He decided to go ahead and gather eggs from the ducks and chicken coop around the tank on the front lot before heading back on foot to the back pasture to get the tractor and have a beer or two with his brother. Agatha, his wife, and his mama must still be in the kitchen in the farmhouse canning squash and tomatoes from the day’s pickings as Lendell does not see them on the porch or in the flowerbeds where they tend to drift when food preserves are done.
Lendell had been married to his second wife a couple years now and she still found his family’s old farm ways charming. It would be a couple years more before she’d tire of it and the strife her presence had brought when she’d married into the Honeymoon family. Before Lendell’s drinking and lack of direction were no longer tolerable in her vision of herself, no longer covered by his general charm, and only heightened by his asshole brother David and drunk crippled brother Kenneth. Before she began to resent Lendell’s dad’s dying demand that the farm had to stay with blood and Lendell’s second wife and her boy couldn’t get none of it. Ike wasn’t a real grandson. Lendell’s share had to go to his son Dick from his first marriage. David busied himself with his own family’s affairs, Kenneth just set and drank and lived off disability all day and Dick just did drugs all day, no farm work. Agatha and Ike spent more time taking care of the Honeymoon farm than any Honeymoon besides Lendell, and maybe Lendell’s mama whose age slowed her greatly. It would never work in the end.
Lendell didn’t know any of that now, but did have his dead dad on his mind. The chicken coop’s door was made from an old faded road sign promising Whitesboro, Texas was a mere seven miles away. Many barn and tractor shed and chicken coop pieces and panels had come from downed road sings Lendell’s daddy collected from his highway depart road construction job he worked to pay off the farm of his dreams.
Lendell thought how funny it was when Agatha’d showed him how much money folks would pay for old weathered signs and doors and barn pieces and shit at trade shows. When Lendell asked her what the hell for she’d said they bought them as antiques and decorations, to hang up in their bathrooms and TV rooms and restaurants and insurance offices.
“Ain’t that some bullshit,” Lendell’d said, “my mama hated them old road signs Daddy used to build with. Called the barn and tractor shed bum shacks.” Lendell imagined now the barn and tractor shed and chicken coop were worth more as broken off pieces than as they stood.
Lendell went into the coop and heard a shuffle of dried straw in the corner. He froze. The dozen chickens were in their boxes on the wall, oddly quiet.
Lendell glanced at the corner where he heard the movement and caught sight of the black tail disappearing in a smooth motion into the crack of the baseboard in the corner. Water moccasins were still bad this year. Lendell gingerly pulled the old hog gun revolver of his daddy’s he carried in season when snakes were bad.
Lendell took a couple of cautious steps and crouched as the chickens gave low, nervous clucks. He squinted into the corner.
The moccasin had coiled itself into the impossibly small triangular separation where the baseboards met in the corner of the coop.
Lendell raised the big revolver, cocked it, and steadied his arm and eye as best he could. His arm still shook and strained from the time it’d been caught and cut-up when he tried to clean out a thrasher.
The moccasin seemed to swell and contract its coil and move in place. It made no noise.
Lendell took aim and fired.
The gun’s loud whipcrack was chorused by ricochet and the slam of the chicken coop’s door.
Lendell’s young stepson, Ike Dyson, appeared inside the doorway as Lendell pulled the trigger. He too froze instantly as a big caliber bullet buzzed loudly across the bridge of his nose. It crossed so closely he felt the heated wind of the bullet’s force. The bullet splintered the wall of the coop and lodged there. Ike felt his heart fall through the bottom of his feet and felt for an instant that he would vomit.
Ike had wandered the same way back up to the front lot, taking the shortcut through the brushy creek. To kill time and make sure his folks would leave as soon as possible so he could catch wrestling, he had decided to make sure the eggs’d been collected.
Now his young eyes watered and overfilled as he tried to catch his breath. A bullet almost went through his brain. He would have been dead. Or maybe just crippled.
“Oh shit oh shit!” Lendell said in his own panic and scrambled up and over to Ike.
Seeing his opening, the moccasin shot back across the dirt and straw floor and through the split wood on the other side he originally entered the coop through.
“You ok? You ok?” Lendell kept saying everything twice in his panic.
As he grabbed Ike to look him up and down he breathed hard and Ike could smell and feel the sour Coors Lendell’d already sneaked during the workday.
“Yea yea,” Ike said in the same panicked doublespeak. He wished he were instantly in his room by himself in front of the little black and white, watching Vader and Ric Flair in the squared circle. He blinked hard trying to make it happen. It didn’t work and only caused another avalanche of water from his bottom eyelids to spill over. He opened his eyes as Lendell finished looking him up and down and met his stepdad’s watery eyes.
“I was tryin’ to kill a snake. Damnit!” The curse was at himself, not the boy.
“It’s ok. It’s ok.” Ike said now feeling he needed to console his stepdad.
“No, your pants,” Lendell said and looked down as he shut his eyes.
Ike looked down and felt the wet and warm as he saw the dark spot down his leg.
“Your mother’s gonna know. She’s gonna kill me,” Lendell said, still in a heavy breath.
Ike tried to quell vomit again as foul beer and piss smells filled the hot chicken coop’s air in front of him and the heat from the bullet’s wind returned to his face.