Henry, circa 1936
Daddy just loved Henry. We had a lot of unnamed hens, you know, and some of them ended up on the supper table. Of course Daddy didn’t name dinner. But he did name
our one and only rooster “Henry” and when he went out for wood or what have you he was always checking in with him. “Top of the morning to you, Henry, old bird” he’d say, and we’d all laugh. He
was picked for his plumage, but he was a real tough guy. Daddy was handsome as all get out, too, but when he’d try to be tough, we’d all laugh like the dickens. My daddy was a sweetheart of a man
when he wasn’t drinking, but when he drank we minded him like he was Lord God himself. Otherwise, out came the strap. Didn’t happen too often in those days, not before poor Edith died. Anyway I
think Daddy wanted to be tough like Henry so Mumma would stop her running around. She was gone gallivanting when Edie drowned and we had to say she was up at the hospital so the neighbors
wouldn't talk. Maybe it’s my fault for cutting short his lessons. Daddy could’ve used a little more rooster in him. But not that rooster, not Henry. I tell you—that rooster had the devil in
Henry had no quarrel with my sisters, and he wouldn’t dare tangle with our brother, Zenith. Henry picked me out, I don’t know why, and he hated me. Hated me and only me. When he'd see me step out into our yard, he’d fly over and peck at me, all up my little legs, flapping after me when I ran… I didn’t even know that roosters could fly before Daddy brought home Henry. And he drew blood, the little bastard. My poor little legs were polka-dotted, almost. And of course they all thought it was a riot. Daddy took to sending me out for eggs just so they could watch at the window and howl. Can you believe it? And Henry waited for me, too. He was sneaky. He’d hide along on the path we took from school. Then he'd crash through the bushes and just go to town on my poor little legs. Only ever MY legs. And I’d kick at that devil bird and scream at my sisters to help. But do you think they helped me? No, they just jumped out of the way, the hussies, and stood by hooting, having a wonderful time. Such naughty girls.
I thought the woods gave Henry an unfair advantage so I took to walking around the long way from school, walking on the street. Even when Henry got wise and hid along in roadside bushes, well then I’d have more room to run from him. Thought I had him beat for a while there, too. My legs healed up, and I did like walking alone, seeing the people pass by in their cars. Not too many cars in South Dennis in them days. After a while I just walked that way out of habit and didn’t go nowhere near Henry if I didn’t have to. I bought candy when I could find pennies and bribed my sisters to get the morning eggs for me.
Must have been months later when I was in the outhouse. We had an outhouse, just a little shack over a hole in the ground. And no toilet paper. Lord, no. We used the Sears catalogue if we was lucky, newsprint if we wasn’t. There was two holes to sit on, a big one and a little one for us kids. Daddy sprinkled lime down the big hole when it was hot enough to stink, and it was getting along summertime. I don’t believe Daddy had been in with that lime since autumn prior, so the window was open. Wasn’t no screen, just a small vent. So there I sat on that little hole, all of ten-years-old, minding my own business-- doing my business, matter of fact, when in through the window comes Henry, crowing and clawing like a demon from hell. It was close quarters in that shit house, and he tangled himself all in my hair, my dress. My skivvies were down around my ankles and he was flapping like the devil so I didn’t know which way was up. I couldn’t see to get the door open, could only scream for all I was worth like as if I was being killed.
By the time brother got me out of there, skivvies still around my ankles, I’d been scratched almost to ribbons. I was bleeding, bitten, pecked all to hell, sobbing like a little baby. They gave me some kind of medicine to make me sleep and put me right to bed while they decided that devil bird’s fate. Them girls might’ve still thought it was funny, but Daddy and brother knew that bird must’ve had the devil in him to do what he done to me. To this day I don’t believe Daddy would’ve done away with that rooster if brother hadn’t brought him ‘round to it. He fought on my behalf while I went on about feathers and fretted in my sleep.
I know Daddy loved that bird, but Henry had to die. Of course he couldn’t bear to do it himself. Brother sent Henry up to our neighbor, said he could have the damned thing if he promised to kill it. All our daddies fished for food, and I’m sure them neighbor kids happily had Henry for dinner that very night. I didn’t care. I was glad to start spending my money on paper dolls again. But when I came to the next day and I tried to thank them all for giving that old devil bird the boot, brother looked away from me and shook his head no. Daddy didn’t want to talk about it, not even years later. So it all went on like it was before Henry. Mumma never did stop her running around, and we kids only minded Daddy when he was well into a bottle of that homemade wine of his. Sneaky Pete, he called it. Made it from dandelions, lilacs, whatever he could get. He drank it after someone died, or when Mumma had been gone for days on end. And then he’d set Petey aside and not speak one word of reproach when, maybe weeks later, she’d come home with some story. It went on that way until after Edie drowned and he started buying the store-bought stuff. Daddy replaced Henry right away, but he never did name another rooster.