Did I tell you about losing my rooster? No? It was a sad thing, happened a couple of weeks ago.
Skeeter was about eight or nine years old, but still a proud bird, tall and glossy black with feathers that shone an iridescent beetle-back green when he turned just so in bright sunlight. He had wicked spurs on his ankles, scaly gray and pointed, as thick as a carrot, each one about four inches long and as sharp and curved as a billhook.
My wife never liked Skeeter much. She doesn’t like my chickens and she doesn’t like my rabbits and she takes a dim view of my animal husbandry skills. I believe in a low-effort, hands-off approach which she finds offensive. I make sure they are fed and watered and check on them twice a day, so I don’t see what the problem is. But I digress.
The point is, Amy doesn’t like the chickens. But she loves Freecycle. She goes online and pores through the advertisements, looking for free things we don’t need and she doesn’t want. We got both our dogs that way. We were arguing over what our next dog should be; she wanted a small dog, maybe a terrier but I have a bad back and wanted a dog I didn’t need to bend over to pet. One day she said we had to go to The Dalles. We came home with Clementine, a Rottweiler-Lab mix. A few years later we were having the same discussion and we ended up going out to Goldendale and returned with Walter, who is half Great Pyrenees. Amy says she spoils me, but that’s beside the point. If she didn’t want a rooster, she should never have shown me the ad.
We got Skeeter from a couple of gals up on Trout Creek Ridge. They’d bought one of those cute, Amish chicken coops and set it up near the corner of the trailer, by their bedroom. After filling it up with chickens they discovered the rooster’s incessant crowing made sleep impossible. Skeeter was a young cock then, but already mean. The ladies were afraid to go in the chicken yard because he would attack them. They said if I could catch Skeeter, I could have him. I marched into the enclosure and snatched him by the ankles. I held him dangling upside down at arm’s length as I walked back to the truck and latched him in the cage. Those women looked at me like I was some kind of super-hero. Or a fool. Or maybe both. Anyway, it was nearly the last time I got the best of that bird.
Skeeter loved his hens and was very protective. Every so often he’d attack me as I collected the eggs. I’d kick him into the corner of the coop and he’d settle down and behave himself for a month or two, then we’d have to have another heart-to-heart.
He developed into a strong bird and could easily flap his way to freedom if I didn’t keep his wings clipped. Because of my economical approach to animal care, Skeeter enjoyed a good deal of freedom, wandering about at will, eating blackberries, scratching up the garden and pooping all over the deck. The other animals learned to respect his space after he ran the cat up a tree and chased Walter under the porch.
A big part of why Amy doesn’t like my critters is because rats have discovered their feed. We have a regular infestation of vermin. If there is one thing Amy hates more than rabbits and chickens, it’s rats. And if there’s one thing she hates more than rats, it would have to be guns.
Naturally, I went out and bought myself a revolver. A long barreled, shiny, black Ruger twenty-two caliber Single Six. I told Amy I was going to make her a nice fur coat as soon as I got enough rat pelts, but she said I just wanted another gun. I loaded the pistol with varmint cartridges; they were filled with tiny lead pellets, each a little larger than a grain of salt. I’d go out and rattle the metal gate to the chicken yard and when the rats came boiling out of the coop I’d blast away, occasionally killing one or two before they scurried out of sight. I don’t know if it had much effect on the rodent population but it was great fun.
The other evening, after dinner, I decided to hunt some rats. Amy was relaxing on the couch, watching TV. The cat was sleeping on our bed and the dogs were sacked out on the floor at Amy’s feet. I took my gun and snuck out to the chicken coop, tiptoeing across the lawn.
I was just about at the gate, gun cocked and ready, when Skeeter pounced. He’d flown the coop and crept up behind me, spurring the shit out of my legs. I tried to kick him away, but I was wearing house slippers and I only managed to fling one of them across the yard. So there I was, one shoe on, one shoe off with the feathered incarnation of Satan himself slashing my ankles.
I didn’t mean to kill him. I was just going to pistol whip him into submission. I struck him across the face with the barrel of my gun. But it was cocked. And then it wasn’t. Skeeter lay dead on the ground.
I felt kind of bad, but it got worse after I told my wife. You see, Amy had reconciled herself to the occasional gunfire in the back yard with the belief I knew what I was doing and that I was a safe and responsible gun owner. Skeeter’s untimely exit put the lie to that little myth.
“You could have shot the dogs, or the cat, or me! You could have shot yourself in the foot!”
“Now darlin’, that would never happen. I knew exactly where you and the dogs and the cat were, and I would never have fired the gun if you weren’t safely in the house.” I replied, trying to reassure her. And that was true, mostly.
I was chagrinned, and I would have been pissed if I’d shot myself in the foot. I told her I had learned a valuable lesson and the incident would never be repeated. A gun is a weapon. However, a gun is not a club.
I know better than to go back to shooting rats with Amy so upset. The rats know it too and have become audacious and disrespectful, looting the feeders in broad daylight, but what can I do? For now, I am biding my time.
That should have been the end of the story. However, the other day, Amy was looking in Freecycle. She found another rooster. While I was at work she drove to Mosier and got it. He’s some sort of Polish breed, white with flecks of black and a topknot that looks like Billy Idol’s hair on a bad day. We named him after a famous Polish hero of the American Revolution no one remembers and whose name we can’t pronounce. I call him General Wojo for short. Amy says she spoils me and that’s why I love her, but I think I’d probably love her anyway.
The old rat had a gimp in his scurry. His hindquarters splayed out and his back legs didn’t move right. His tail was gone, just a raw stump where it once had been. He was still fast and he still snuck into the chicken coop to steal corn. The younger rats asked why he didn’t give it up, find a safer place to eat. He laughed.
“Life ain’t safe.”
The youngsters heard the booming call of an owl and squeezed more tightly into the crevice beneath the wood pile, trying to make themselves disappear.
“Ya hear that? She got your Gran last autumn. Even with all the leaves on the ground, that bird saw her anyway. Owl ain’t like a gun. She never misses.”
The old rat snorted at the cowering mischief and made a dash for the henhouse door. You wouldn’t think a rat with an ass full of pellets could swagger, but I swear he did.