by Michael Chitwood
He cradles the chicken with his right arm, holding it nested against his mid-section. He takes a booth and puts the chicken beside him on the bench seat. The chicken settles, its feet disappearing under the billow of feathers. Everyone is trying not to be seen looking.
The waitress pours a glass of water but then sits it on the counter and pushes through swinging doors to the kitchen. After a moment, a man with a white paper hat on comes back through the doors and goes over to the booth.
“You’ll have to take that outside,” the paper hat man says.
“What?” the man in the booth asks.
“You know what. The chicken.”
“Why? Don’t you serve chicken here?” The man smiles.
“We can’t have a live chicken in here.”
“So only if it’s dead?”
“You know what I mean.”
“So if I kill it we can stay?”
“The feathers. The feet. There are regulations.”
“Look, it’s a hazard.”
“A chicken is a hazard?”
The paper hat man puts his hands on his hips. His head makes a quick, short thrust forward, not unlike a chicken.
“If it were a dog, could we stay?”
“Only if you were blind.”
“If I were blind, a dog would not be a hazard?”
“The dog helps blind people.”
“The chicken helps me. It keeps me calm.”
“How does a chicken keep you calm?”
“Because it’s calm. See.” The man opens his hand palm up toward the chicken, which sits in a stately roosting posture.
The paper hat man says, “Sorry. You still have to take it outside.”
“Whatever. Put it in your car.”
“I walked here.”
“I’ll get you a box to put it in while you eat.”
“It doesn’t like confined spaces. And I would get nervous without it. I told you. It keeps me calm. It’s my counterweight.”
“My counterweight. I have it to take care of and that takes care of me.”
“Are you on medications?”
“Medications didn’t work. That’s why I have the chicken. It’s alive.”
“That’s the problem.”
“No, that’s the solution.”
“Look, I’ve got a job to do. I can’t keep arguing. The chicken has to go.”
“Because it’s alive?”
The man looks around at the other patrons, who find their food or their silverware very interesting.
The man gathers the chicken in his arms. The chicken is amenable to being gathered. At the door, the man turns and says to all, “Goodbye. I thank you for your kind attention. It is the most that can be hoped for.”
“Chicken” originally appeared in China Grove.