General Fiction posted September 22, 2014


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Patricia gets a new bird

The Cockerel

by snodlander


To Aunt Pat
"Ola, Miguel." Patricia closed the door on her car and strolled towards the fence. Miguel looked up, placed the egg in the basket and nodded.

"Ola, English Patricia," he replied.

Patricia smiled. She'd lived in Portugal for twenty years or more, but she was still 'English Patricia'. "How are you?"

Miguel shrugged. He was never one to show his hand. Patricia got on all right with him, but he didn't have many friends in the locality. His reputation as a skinflint was only matched for his reputation as a hard bargainer. What nobody denied was his expertise with chickens.

"Got a moment?" She held up a couple of small beers. Miguel shrugged again, as if he could take the beer or leave it, but he straightened up and sauntered over. They pulled the caps in unison and took a swig. Patricia leant on the fence and looked at the hens. Miguel turned and followed her gaze.

"Plenty of eggs?" she asked.

Miguel grunted and see-sawed his hand.

"You know I bought some hens a few months ago? Just for me and Dave's breakfast."

"I heard."

"Well, they've stopped laying. Any ideas?"

Miguel sucked on his teeth and stared into the distance. "All of them?"

"Pretty much."

"How does your cockerel seem?"

"Cockerel? I don't have one."

He sighed, the way Dave sighed when she asked him why a web site wasn't doing what she wanted it to.

"That's your answer then. Females, they're lazy. They don't make an effort unless there's a male to impress." He grinned as Pat bridled, but she held her tongue. After all, it was she who wanted the favour.

"So I need a cockerel?"

"All hens do."

"Where can I get one?"

He gestured at the fenced off yard. "I can spare one."

Patricia took another swig and pushed back her floppy hat. Now the hard work began. "How much?"

Miguel shook his head. "No, you can't buy one, not in Portugal. You have to take one."

"Sorry?"

He eyed her suspiciously. "You know it's our national symbol, right?"

"Of course."

"So for a man to sell a cock, it's an act of treason. It's selling your mother country. To give one away is to give up your birthright. No, you have to take one. That's the way it's done. Go, go, take one."

"Really?"

He gestured at the yard in reply. She opened the gate and ventured in. Miguel had fifty or more birds, but even Patricia could tell the difference between the hens and the cocks. She crept up on one. It ran from her, squawking. She darted after it. It could run faster than her. She turned and chased another into the corner. Trapped, it turned and ran at her. It zigged, then zagged. She zagged and zigged to match it, but then it sprinted through her legs. She turned. Miguel leant on the fence, grinning. He held up his hands.

"I can't help you. You must take it. It's the Portuguese way."

She snarled and noiselessly cursed all the stupid rural superstitions she kept running into. She turned in a slow circle. Word had got out. Every cockerel stared back at her, wary, suspicious and evil. All except one. It had its back to her, pecking randomly at the sand that passed for soil in the Alentejo. She crept up on it as silently as she could. It was a trap, of course it was. It knew she was there. It was toying with her, and would run laughing just as she grabbed. Still she crept nearer. She reached out slowly, freezing as it stopped pecking. Then it continued and she struck. She turned to face Miguel, her face beaming in pride that she had managed to outwit a chicken as she held it out. Miguel clapped his hands twice in a languorous salute. Patricia walked back, cockerel held at arm's length.

"I can have this? Really?"

Miguel shrugged. "It's the way it's done." He opened the gate and Patricia approached her car. Her key was in her pocket, but she didn't want to release the cockerel. The car was only a year old, hardly a mark on it. She looked at the bird in her hands. It was docile enough now, but how would it react to being on the back seat? She didn't have the heart to stuff it into the boot. She turned to Miguel.

Miguel bent down and held up a cage. Well, it was roughly square-shaped, chicken wire nailed to ancient bleached matchwood. It had to be a cage.

"Ten Euros," he said. Ah, so this is where the negotiation started.

"For this? I can get a chicken gutted and dressed for three."

"I'm not selling you a chicken. I'm selling you a cage."

"I'm not into antique collecting, Miguel. Five."

"Then put the bird back. Eight."

"You could have got seven if you hadn't drunk my beer. Is it good, by the way?"

Miguel shrugged and drained the bottle. "Okay, six." He opened the cage. Patricia hesitated, then shook her head in resignation and placed the bird inside.

---

Lydia came out of the house, drying her hands on her apron.

"What did she want?"

"A cockerel," said Miguel.

Lydia held her hand out. Miguel shook his head.

"No, I didn't take any money for it."

Lydia frowned, then spun on her heel and surveyed the yard.

"You sold her the cursed one?"

"I told you, I didn't sell it. Besides, she chose it, not me."

"You can't do that. Phone her. Tell her you made a mistake."

"You want it back?" When Lydia made no reply he shrugged and turned. "I got business in the village," he said, stomping away. The vende had beer in the fridge, and he had six Euros burning a hole in his pocket.

---

Whatever trauma humans went through moving house, it didn't apparently apply to chickens. The cockerel stood in the middle of the yard where Patricia had released it. A couple of the hens had already noticed and fluffed up their feathers, strutting to and fro like seniors still waiting for a date for the prom. The cock affected a nonchalant air, pecking at the dirt as if he wasn't the only male around. Patricia grinned. She'd seen his like before.

"No eggs still?" Dave slipped an arm around her waist. "We could buy them from town."

They'd been down this route before. "Only townies do that, Dave. How are we meant to be accepted if we put on airs and graces?"

"Airs and graces? I meant buy ordinary eggs, not golden ones."

She laughed and shoved him away, then she turned back to the chicken pound. "One week, girls, or it's frango and chips."

---

Patricia sat bolt upright, sleep confusing her. She'd been dreaming of the old days back in England. Outside the cock crowed, loud and raucous, and she knew that was what had woken her a second ago. She shoved Dave beside her.

"Babes, wake up."

"Huh?"

"Wake up. We've overslept."

"Wha'?"

"We've overslept."

He groped for his watch and squinted at it. "Jesus Christ, Pat, it's two in the frigging morning." He turned over and stuffed the pillow over his head.

Pat lay down and closed her eyes. Stupid bird. Perhaps she should get it an alarm clock.

She had just drifted off, and now she was back home. She was a girl again, and she could smell Mum's porridge wafting from downstairs. And then the cockerel crowed again. She opened her eyes and hit the light on the digital clock. Two forty-five. And again at three thirty. And four. By the time dawn lit the room she had lost count of the number of times that damned bird had woken her. What was worse, Dave had slept through them all.

---

They watched the cockerel peck at the soil. It had been three weeks since Patricia had had a full night's sleep. Even Dave had been woken up a few times. And it wasn't just them. The neighbours had thrown her dark looks. The whole village must be able to hear the cursed bird.

"An insomniac chicken. Who'd have thought?" she asked.

The cockerel strutted forward and pecked at the soil again.

"Still, it's working. Eggs for breakfast now."

It strutted forward again, pecking at the bare ground.

"You know, I'm not so sure it's an insomniac," said Dave, staring at the bird.

"What are you talking about? It crows at all hours of the day and night."

"Mmm. Still, I think it might be a bit more than that."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, look at it. There's a bowl full of corn there, but what does it do? It pecks at the sand."

"Maybe it's not hungry?"

The cockerel strutted forward.

"No. You know what I think? I think it's blind."

Its head jerked forward and it head-butted the side of the hen house. It staggered back, paused, then turned and pecked at the soil again.

"Blind?"

Dave shrugged. "If it can't see, how does it know when the sun rises?"

---

Patricia woke and stretched. For the first time in for ever she felt relaxed. She rolled over and draped an arm over Dave. He shifted in his sleep, grunted and patted her arm.

"Whasa time?" he muttered. She turned and squinted at the clock. Then she sat bolt upright, suddenly awake.

"Oh my God, it's gone eleven."

"Yeah? Okay, okay." He rubbed at his eyes. "Eleven?"

"Past eleven." She jumped out of the bed, grabbed her robe and threw it around her

"Coffee?" murmured Dave.

Patricia stepped out of the house. Something was wrong, though she couldn't put her finger on it. So they had slept in. It wasn't the end of the world. That wasn't it. Something wasn't right. What? But there were things she had to do. The dogs to feed. The lawn to water. But first, breakfast. Coffee and eggs. She stepped into the front yard.

The cockerel lay in the middle of the yard. Its head lay a metre away, too neatly severed to be the result of a dog or fox. She stared at the carcass for a moment, then turned and trudged back into the house.

"Leave me twenty Euros before you go," she told Dave.

"Twenty? Why?"

"I need to go buy a cage today, and those five Euro cages just aren't worth the money."



Recognized


I'm fresh back from a fortnight holiday in Portugal, where lives my Aunt Pat. The basics of this story are true. Only the detail has been changed to make it more interesting.
Vende - village bar
Frango - cooked chicken
Pays one point and 2 member cents.


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