Mother Farmer Chicken Shiner – Steve Passey
November 19, 2021
On a Tuesday night she goes out to the garage to get high and I wait for what comes. She stays out until midnight (I work at six am) and when she comes in, she tells me how bad I am to her, (but that’s fine because all her life everyone has been bad to her) and how I did not keep any promises to her, (but that’s fine because no one ever kept any promises to her) and how I never say sorry to her, (but that’s fine because no one ever said sorry to her) and that I never believe her, (but that’s fine. because no one ever believes her) and that all I care about is money.
On and on and on it goes, every night just like every other. Fine.
I used to go out with her. I’d drink cheap wine while she got high, but I didn’t even get drunk, and she’d just start her litany earlier. I discovered that I can somehow take it lying in the dark because the darkness feels like being alone, but I can’t take when she just sits there, in the artificial light, high as fuck, chanting her mantras, jabbing her finger, and repeating her accusations.
I used to try to defend myself to her by telling her that I am doing the best that I can, so now of course she comes in and tells me she’s doing the best that she can, and I can see her smirking when she says it, even in my quiet dark. My arm aches, my humerus, half way down, with an old ache, and I wonder how is it that I find such women?
At quarter to six in the morning I stop at a twenty-four-hour convenience store to get a coffee. The store is full of men like me, on the road early, going to wherever it is we go and loading up on coffee. The clerk tells us one after another to have a good day and one after another we all say, you too, and then we are off to find the sunrise.
The next morning, I got up and called my mom. I left her a message. Mom. Can I come home?
I know a story about a cowboy from my hometown we called Big Boy Roy sitting in alone in his truck with a gun his mouth in front of his ex-wife Wanda’s house, calling her up on his cell-phone and begging her to come to the window and watch him kill himself. I am not sure Big Boy Roy, or even Wanda, are trying to do or say in that scene, but there is something about motion feeling like action, and in between those two things, the motion and the action, are Roy’s thirty days in rehab, where, sober, he finally figures out just how he’s going to do it. My Grandad’s old over-and-under, a relic of the nineteen-thirties, a .22 long over a .410 under with a busted barrel selector that can’t be fixed because there are no parts to be found still sits in my dad’s gun safe where it is still beautiful to me. I think of Wanda standing there in her own house not daring to breath because Roy is so fucked up that nothing will fix him except dying and the memorials will be kinder than he deserves. She’s backlit by the light in her hallway beautiful and weary like that old gun and she holds her breath and Roy is still Roy. What do the neighbors know? All this stuff is small-town shit, old guns in old safes and the neighbors have their own shit and everybody knows everyone else’s shit. and you can change the names but the stories vary only in the dates in our obituaries where our epitaphs are not what we deserve, but not honest either, which is very fair.
Wanda was decent. I wonder where she is now?
I called my mom again, and again, I left a message. Hi mom, can I come home? Is anyone there? If you’d rather I not, just let me know.
I do not want to spend another night in the garage, with the wine, the weed, and someone who hates me for breathing her air telling me what I’m thinking.
Quarter to six in the morning and I’m outside a twenty-four-hour convenience store amid men like me who are not really like me. A man who sells trucks tells me that he had once sold two brothers, two farmers, two identical trucks on the exact same day. They had money these brothers, inherited money and money made from the “supply managed” commodities they raised. Protected by a wall of quota and subsidy they always had cash. They had the idea to each get the exact same truck. Over the next two years the one brother drove his only a little while. The other drove his more. He drove it hard too. Eventually he drove past the warranty, drove past by many thousands of miles, and blew the motor. The main bearings dropped right off of the block and the internal organs of the motor fell out and lay in pieces not even fit for salvage. He walked into the dealership, closed the manager’s door behind him and told him that what they were going to do was to put through a warranty claim on his brother’s truck (it was still under warranty) but actually install the new motor in his truck, the high-mileage one with the blown motor. He said that if they did not do this he and his brother would never buy again.
The dealer refused and he hasn’t seen the brothers since. It’s been years. He told me those farmer’s farm and still complain like farmers do, about anything and everything, to anyone who will listen. He wonders if anyone actually defrauds warranties for them. He wonders who would do that for them. I can think of a few. Many cheats have to be abetted to be perpetrated. Someone will listen. Whatever it is, someone will do it. Unless it’s restitution. No one ever makes restitution. It’s my dad and my uncle, I think, or why would this guy be telling me this. Even if it isn’t them, it could be. Truthfully, I can’t imagine anyone I know not doing that exact same thing. These are my people; this is my tribe; these are our fathers and brothers and mothers and friends. You best to try and get yours because I’m going to go get mine.
He told me the worst of it was that he knew, that in the chicken and egg business, because that’s what these brothers were in, when the chicks were born their gender is determined as soon as is possible and the males are fed alive into something called a pullet grinder or macerator. Macerator, he said. The chicks drop off of a conveyor belt and are killed by being ground into a pulp. They live a day and die in a second. They never see their mother. They have never eaten. They are macerated, then washed away with a hose down a trench into a sewer. These are the guys trying to fuck us over on a fake warranty claim.
Do you still eat eggs, I asked him?
I love eggs, he said. Love them.
Me too, I said.
My dad and uncle weren’t in the chicken and egg business. It couldn’t have been them.
My dad broke my arm. I was fifteen, and he and my mom were at it again, and I told them both to shut up and he broke my arm. I was fifteen and it was the first time I’d told them to shut up and then my arm was broken.
My mom pulled him off of me and she told me to go.
Go where, I said, go where.
Just get out, she said.
My arm, my arm, my arm, I cried.
Just go, she said.
I don’t know if she knew my arm was broken. I know she found out later, but I don’t know if she knew right then, when it happened.
My uncle, my dad’s brother, took me in. Your dad can be a hard-ass, he said, but I’ve got a place for you here as long as you do your chores, finish your school, and stay out of trouble. If don’t do your chores, if you don’t finish school, and if you get into trouble, I’ll break your other fucking arm.
My dad didn’t live out the year. Heart attack. I did not go home. I graduated from high school a resident of my uncle’s house.
I didn’t call my mother again. I just went home. The most remarkable thing about going home again is remembering how I left and at the same time, wanting more than anything to return. That’s why I sit there in the garage of a rented house with a woman who gets high every day and tells me I’m worthless. I’m not thinking about her, I’m thinking about turning on to Highway 36, and going back to the farm. It’s an amazing thing to stand in the doorway again, to walk in without knocking, and to see my mom’s tight smile while she takes the gun from my hand. She is dressed in the blue and white bathrobe that she has always had, and I am overcome with joy and the world glows and the kitchen light shines. It’s just me and my mom, forty miles from anywhere, this is nowhere, so I’m going to stay here awhile. I have crossed the bridge across the river and gone back home and walked up the long gravel driveway to sit in the kitchen with my mother and tell her about a woman I think I might be serious about, a woman named Wanda that I hardly know, but it feels right to say I am serious. I should be serious. I will ask her if she knew my arm was broken, when it was broken. I want to hear her side of the story. She said to get out, but she didn’t say to never come back.