42nd Thread: Would you kill me too?
The mistress pointed to the one she wanted. Often my mother would object:
– Take that one, it produces less eggs.
But the mistress never agreed.
– It doesn’t matter. I want the one I showed you, it’s fatter.
Then she would leave. The hen did not know what was coming, but she did not like being grabbed, and tried to escape. My mother instructed me:
– Protect your clothes with an old rag.
She passed in her apron a large knife borrowed from the cook.
– Why does the cook not kill her own poultry? I asked.
– Shh. If she heard you! I’m called back from the fields. I spend the rest of the day quietly here. They let me take the intestines.
– They’re disgusting.
– They’re meat.
– Would you also kill me if you had to?
– No. Hold the legs.
– No, no, no, I will not. Ouch.
She grabbed me by the hair as I tried to escape. I held the legs. First, she jammed the beak and pinched the nostrils. For a little bit. That tired the hen.
I asked her:
– Does it hurt her?
But I could see in her eyes that she was hurt.
– If you stopped up my nose and mouth, what would happen?
– Tighten your grip on the legs, she won’t do you any harm.
The hens have a small head and a big body, I had a small body and a big head like all children. My mother cut off the hen’s head. Blood burst in large spurts, paws tried to claw, wings to fly. My mother was holding the headless hen in her lap where she sat me when I hurt myself or when we did not have enough to eat. Her face, like when I sought refuge against her chest, was both soft and hard. It took a long, long time until the legs and wings finally kept quiet. The head was lying on the side, dead before the body. We use it for the soup.
Then she boiled water if the mistress and the cook weren’t around because it was a waste of coal, they said. She poured the hot water on the body, as we have just done, to make plucking easier. I had to help. It stank, I wanted to throw up. We save the feathers, wash them, dry them for the lords’ bed.
You stick the knife in here, in the belly, do you see? Guts would come out first. It stank even more. I wanted to leave. My mother threw me a sidelong glance:
– Stay right here.
I had to sink the guts in the boiling water and clean them with a stick. Then you must blow water in, to remove everything. My mother said:
– Tear off the liver and heart. Without damaging them.
I looked into the gaping opening. The smell gripped my nose, grated my throat, drilled into my skull like a worm inside a dead mouse.
– Come on, hurry up.
I slipped my hand in, I did not even know what I was touching, hands should not go into bodies. Poop maybe, blood clots for sure, snot, gall. If I slid my hand deeper, would the hole close on my hand? I had to pull hard on the soft flesh that slid under my fingers. My mother laughed at me.
– You’re almost there! We’ll ask the cook to give you the lungs.
Sometimes when she slid open the belly, an egg appeared amid the yellow and pinkish flesh. My mother palmed it swiftly. She whispered:
– Quick, take it and go gulp it down.
I rinsed the egg in boiling water, before my mother could think of scolding me. I crouched behind a wall and sucked the egg. It was good. So bland, you’d never think it came out of a chicken. The ruin that hid showed bits of images made of small pebbles, with ladies dancing, in beautiful dresses and ribbons, musicians, deer. It might have been paradise, I do not know. Barbarians had overtaken what was left of the house, they were our new masters. People say that we too are descended from barbarians. Who knows ? What does it matter these days? The lords are all the same except that the barbarians are a bit harder and we do not always understand what they say. They had installed a chapel in a beautiful room with a rounded ceiling, we went there four times a year. But my mother only attended mass because she had to. She did not pray at home, she said she had her own church and went into the forest every four weeks with her sister or a cousin. They carried fire in a clay pot. They also trapped hare and woodcock. Now that the summers are less hot, woodcocks remain throughout the year. Often they brought back game when they returned in the morning. I would have liked to accompany them, but she told me I had to wait to be a woman. I never went, because the estate was sold to a convent and we got hired on another farm.
You will get the egg, promised, if we find one in this hen! When I returned after burying the shell, the lower body wobbled between the mighty hands of my mother. Its stomach was like mine, although it was more rounded, with an old woman’s skin. Its thighs were like mine, even if they were shorter. Its wings were like my arms, when I am very tired, even if they lacked hands. Its hole looked like mine. Completely.
– One day you will get married, you will have children. If your husband is rich, you will have chickens.
– I will never marry, I will never have chickens.
– Why ?
– I do not want children born in eggs.
But now I like to eat chicken. Only once a year, I eat it, when the master celebrates the feast of his saint, we all eat chicken. We will not savor this hen when we are done plucking. The cook will roast it tonight, and the smell will make the back of my mouth feel the drops of melted fat, the meat still pink under the wings, the crispy skin. I will taste it but I will not feel it in my stomach. But one day, we will, my child, one day.