Day Two of Peak Week at Sacred Chickens!
An Original Story by Roy Peak
I walked into the kitchen and March, my older brother, was sweeping up a pile of salt from the floor.
“Hope you threw some over your shoulder,” I told him.
“Now why the hell would I do that? Then I'd just have to clean up two messes.” He tossed the broom into the corner by the door as he dumped the salt—dustpan and all—into the garbage can, leaving still quite a bit of salt on the floor. Guys. He sat down at the table and ate his eggs while staring into his cellphone. I picked the dustpan out of the can, grabbed the broom and swept up what he had missed. If he noticed what I was doing he didn't say anything.
“I have plans today, so I can't give Uncle Ken a ride, can you take him?” he said between mouthfuls of runny eggs. Uncle Ken, wheelchair bound, had a job making phone calls for the Veterans Association. He used to drive himself in a custom equipped van but he wrecked it last summer. It still sat in his driveway, jacked up with the front wheels off, looking a bit like Uncle Ken did when leaning forward in his wheelchair to watch television.
“I’m supposed to open up the store at ten,” I said, knowing full well that it wouldn't matter what I said. There was no way March was going to do something once he had made up his mind he didn't want to.
“Cool. He has to be there by nine-thirty.” Still staring into his phone. What secrets did it possess?
“Okay, fine. But you're picking him up.”
I left him to his eggs, snagged a soda from the fridge, and grabbed my keys from the hook by the back door. I had less than an hour to get to work which meant I had to hustle if I was going to pick up my uncle and drop him off first. No eggs for me, runny or otherwise. I opened the back door to leave. This was when all hell broke loose.
As soon as I opened the door two birds flew in, chasing each other like crazy into the kitchen, knocking over March’s glass of orange juice in the process.
I screamed,” March What the hell”! and the birds squawked loudly at one another while careening into the cabinets, flopped onto the counter and kicked over the carton of eggs, which March had left sitting out.
March threw his plate at one of them—missed of course—and then grabbed the broom, flailing wildly and screaming like an idiot.
“Stop! Stop, you're gonna break something!” I yelled as he almost hit me in the head with a backswing.
“Damn straight! Gonna hit a mess of birds!” and he swung again, smacking the chalkboard clean off the wall. I yelled at him to stop but he swung wildly yet again, this time making contact. In an explosion of feathers, one of the birds fell to the floor, the other flew out through the still open door. March struck the one on the floor once again with the broom as it lay dazed.
“Dammit, stop!” I jumped in, barring him from getting any closer to the bird and doing any more damage.
“It's not dead yet,” he said, raising the broom over his head, hitting the ceiling light, causing it to sway back and forth, throwing shadows everywhere. I threw a dish towel over the bird and then scooped it up in my hands. March put the broom down and looked at the bird from over my shoulder.
“That’s a starling,” he said matter of factly.
“So you’re a bird expert now?”
He shrugged his shoulders and walked out of the room. “I know things.”
The poor bird was most definitely dead. I wrapped it up, towel and all, in a plastic grocery bag. I didn't have time to bury it so I tied up the bag tight and gently laid it inside one of the garbage cans.
“Sorry, bird,” I said and headed to Uncle Ken’s, leaving March to clean up the kitchen. Yeah, right. Luckily Uncle Ken’s wasn't far, it was already quarter after nine by the time I pulled up to his apartment and Uncle Ken was sitting in his wheelchair right outside the door.
“Hey, Majik,” he said. “I knew you wouldn't let me down. I love your brother but he's about as useless as tits on a boar hog.”
“Agreed. Ready to go?”
He wheeled himself towards the car. “Run in and grab my shoes. They're on the table.”
He didn't need my help so I went inside to get his shoes while he maneuvered himself into the car. No shoes on the coffee table, none on the card table by the couch—ah, there they are, on the kitchen table, upside down and soles up, right next to Uncle Ken’s half finished breakfast of runny eggs and orange juice, carton of eggs still on the countertop, fry pan on the stove. He and March had that in common at least. I put the eggs in the fridge and by the time I got back outside, Uncle Ken was sitting in the car. I grabbed his wheelchair and wrestled it into the trunk of the Impala I had inherited from my dad when he passed away a few years back. It still ran like a champ even though the body was rusting away.
“When you gonna fix up this old thing? Your dad would never allow this car to fall apart like this. A damn shame is what it is.”
“Well it's not dad’s car anymore, it's mine. Besides I can't afford to fix it up with what I make.” I backed into the street and then floored it, tires a squealing. “And it still does that. So there.”
“Whoo hoo!” yelled Uncle Ken as we were both pressed back into our seats from the acceleration. That ended that discussion. After driving Uncle Ken to work and helping him get his shoes on, I was nearly twenty minutes late to work. Finders Keepers was the only thrift store in town and I was its newest manager, which meant I was the one who had to unlock the doors in the morning and lock it up at six every night, Monday through Saturday. Luckily there was only one person standing out front waiting for it to open: Mrs. McDonald, the local nutty old lady. It was Tuesday so our 50% off sale wasn’t until tomorrow. On those days there’s a line to get in a half hour before we even open.
“Sorry I’m late,” I said while unlocking the door.
“No problem, honey,” she smiled at me. “My husband’s taking a nap. I’m just here to get him a pillow.”
Okay… I thought to myself. Mrs. McDonald had been shopping here for years, much longer than I had been employed here. She was always nice, yet kind of nutty. As she shuffled off towards the bedding and linens section I checked the register to see how much cash was left from the afternoon shift the day before. Not nearly enough ones so I unlocked the office and got some out of the safe. Mrs. McDonald was still looking through the pillows and muttering to herself so I made a quick jaunt around the aisles, picking up abandoned items and putting them back where they belonged. I carried an armful of stuffed animals back to their bins on the back wall when my cell phone—sitting up front by the cash register where I had left it—rang. I dropped the critters on the floor--Sorry guys!--and ran to the front. Uncle Ken’s face filled the screen on my phone as I picked it up.
“Hey, Majik! It’s me, Uncle Ken!”
“Yeeeaaahhh... I noticed. Everything okay?”
“Yeah, look, they said they don’t need me this afternoon, so can you pick me up around noon-thirty?”
Mrs. McDonald was suddenly standing in front of me at the register, a large green pillow in her hands. There was a picture of a smiling mermaid on it with the same toothy smile Mrs. McDonald had. Both of them smiled back at me from across the counter like a pair of demented Stepford wives. I turned my back to them while I finished up with Uncle Ken.
“Umm… as long as Dina shows up on time, yeah. Have you tried calling March?”
“I did, honey. He said he had plans. Sorry.” I could tell he was genuinely sorry. Uncle Ken was like that—never fake, always up front with you.
“No problem. I’ll call if Dina doesn’t show up.”
“Thanks! I owe you one!” I hung up and smiled back at Mrs. McDonald.
“Just the one pillow?”
“Oh, one’s all I need, dear.”
“Okay. That’s two dollars and thirteen cents.”
“The sign says they’re a dollar.” She smiled even bigger, bright eyed and beaming.
“Um, the smaller ones are a dollar. That size is a dollar ninety-nine.” She just stood there, clutching the pillow in both hands, her smile getting somehow larger with the second.
“It’s for my husband.” A pause where she continued to stare at me and smile. Had she blinked even once yet? “He’s taking a nap.”
Her smile was now encircling her head like the rings of Saturn.
“Okay, one dollar plus tax, then.” Like I was going to argue with her over a dollar for a crap green pillow with a demented mermaid on it.
“He hasn’t been sleeping well because the woman next door mows her lawn at night.”
She reached Into her purse, pulled out a single dollar bill, laid it on the counter and then walked right out the door. Told you she was nutty.
“All righty then. Thanks.”
I figured that with the way my day was going that Dina wouldn’t show up at all but she surprised me by arriving right on time. Dina was older than me but you’d never know it from the way she acted. She used to play in a band years ago and still partied hard every night regardless of the fact that she had a six year old daughter to take care of. I left her at the thrift store while I ran to pick up Uncle Ken. He was waiting outside the place when I pulled up and ten minutes later we were halfway to his house.
“Cops up ahead,” Uncle Ken said. Even though Uncle Ken used to be an officer, cops still freaked me out. A bunch of patrol cars were lining the road, even a news crew. “Six of ‘em. Damn. Pull over, let me see if I know any of these guys, find out what’s going on.”
“Hey, Stafford!” he shouted to a tall cop leaning against his car, typing into his cellphone. “What the hell? Big sale on donuts or something?” I turned white as the cop’s head snapped to attention, staring daggers in our direction. He started walking over to us, hand on his gun, but eased up and then smiled when he recognized my uncle.
“Haven’t seen you in ages. How’s it hanging, man?” They shook hands through the passenger side window.
“Not bad. What’s the deal here?”
The officer turned and pointed at the house. “Woman who lives here called in that her husband died in his sleep. When the paramedics got here they found her clutching a pillow and talking to herself, and put two and two together.”
“Oh my god! Was it a green pillow with a mermaid on it?” I yelled before I could stop myself.
“Yes. Yes it was. How did you know that?” Officer Stafford looked at me quizzically, leaning down into Uncle Ken’s window to see me better.
“Um, she just bought it from my store. Mrs. McDonald, right?”
“Yes ma’am. Wait right here. I may have to get a statement from you.” He walked toward the sergeant, pointing back at us as he talked to him.
“She only paid a dollar for that pillow,” I said to Uncle Ken when he turned to look at me.
“What a deal,” he said. I couldn’t help but laugh.
I got out of the car to give my statement and I saw Mrs. McDonald in the back of one of the patrol cars. She waved at me with handcuffed hands hollering through the window, “Miss! Miss! I love my pillow! Thank you!” She still had that lobotomized smile thing going on. I tried ignoring her but she wouldn’t give up, getting louder every minute until Officer Stafford had to go over and tap hard on the window to get her attention. She shut up but kept right on smiling.
I didn’t get back home until after seven. March was in the kitchen again, staring into his cellphone while shoveling food into his face. This time it was canned chili he had heated up in the microwave and of course he hadn’t covered it up and of course it had made a mess, splattering all over the inside of the microwave.
“Wha’d you do today?” I asked him while wiping out the microwave.
“Thought you had plans?”
“I did,” he said with a mouthful of chili, staring at his phone. “My plans were to not leave the house under any circumstances whatsoever.”
I stopped cleaning the microwave, rolled my eyes, and noticed the trash was full. “I’m taking this out, then you and I are going to have a serious talk.”
“What—“ he swallowed a big spoonful of chili, “—ever.”
I knew that rolling my eyes again wouldn’t help but I did it anyway and then carried out the trash. Lifting the top off the can I was nearly knocked over by the bird I had placed in the can earlier—the one I was sure that March had killed—which flew out, squawking mad. I was too shocked to scream, and after a few seconds of it noisily screeching in circles around my head and trying to tie my hair into knots it flew over to the old oak tree in the backyard and finally quieted down. I brushed myself off as it sat on a branch, eyeing me suspiciously.
“Guess I can’t blame you for being mad. I had a rough day, too.”
Roy Peak has played electric bass in more bands than he cares to remember for more years than he can remember. He wrote the theme song for the Utica, New York radio show "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" on WPNR-FM. His solo debut album, All Is Well, has been called "Loud, cacophonous, and beautiful by a truly unique artist." His short fiction has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and he writes music reviews for the King Tut Vintage Album Museum of Jacksonville. Roy writes music reviews for the Rocking Magpie among others.