written by: Andrea Polla
“Kill ‘im.” That’s what my Swedish neighbor said again this morning. At 92 he has taken to riding his small tractor around the village scooping up apples with a metal handled colander. He holds onto the steering wheel firmly with his right hand, leaning his frail body to the left and with gritty determination scores one or maybe two at a time. Watching him makes me anxious; I know not to offer to pick them up for him. I am in no shape to pick up the apples myself anyway. I have a twig of a spine and degenerative arthritis and as the cool autumn mornings creep in it takes me longer to get my body moving. I hurt. I have hurt for many years. I, along with my husband Magnus have twenty-one chickens, both hens and roosters. Buddy is more like an old hound dog than a rooster. He slowly follows me around and sits on the front porch waiting for me to open the door every morning so he can get a special treat. He especially likes peas. Graybee and Buddy are brothers. Graybee once was submissive and Buddy led the flock, then they quarreled like old men and can’t be in the same area of the chicken yard now without puffing up their back feathers and causing havoc. Graybee took up with Marie, our oldest of the hens, and he generally stays with her and their two sons whom I refer to as “the teenagers”. They are far from teenagers now. They are just two unnamed roosters with no mates who follow their parents around. Last year an owl hawk swooped down and tried to kill Marie. My husband was coming out of the side barn with an empty wheelbarrow at the time. A lucky time for Marie as my husband reacted swiftly and whacked the owl hawk in the head and saved her from its wrath. The owl hawk was dazed but then managed to fly away. Weeks later we came home to find our hen Blända dead. She appeared to have been attacked, perhaps by the same eager hunter. Blända means blind in Swedish. She indeed was blind in one eye and probably didn’t see the hawk swooping down with his talons wide open. She is buried behind our little cottage along with another old hen and two mice I tried to save after they’d been tangled in chicken wire. A miniature Saint Francis in ceramic comforts their sweet souls, or perhaps just mine.
“Kill ìm”, he said. Lefty is lame. I really do not know what is wrong with him. He sleeps leaning against a bag of wood shavings that we use to cover the floor of their three-room chicken condo. It’s quite luxurious compared to the average chicken farming quarters in these parts. My husband has made one large room with a wooden slanted ladder so they can march up and out to their fenced-in outdoor play yard. Separated from the others by a white wooden framed door is where the second flock hangs out, the one Buddy has joined since he and Graybee’s falling out. This is where my lame rooster lives, too. I named him Lefty as that is his bad leg. I use my cane or my rolling walker on bad days and go through the old red barn’s heavy black doors and into his little hiding spot. I surmise he has more than a crippled leg. On colder days my spine hurts more. I assume Lefty hurts more, too. He eats straight from my hand canned corn kernels. I try to keep the others away by waving my cane or shouting “get back” so he can eat. I feel better after I know he has some corn and extra attention.
I emerge from the barn and see an old Carlsberg beer box filled with apples by my back door. I can hear my neighbor’s tractor in the distance. It took him a good part of the morning to scoop up so many for me. I can’t lift the box. I can’t lift a liter of milk. I don’t remember much these days. Life is slow for me now. The doctors have told me there is nothing that can be done; they can try and keep me pain-free, but that too has its consequences. My memory is not what it once was. I remember my mother’s smell and every detail of her movements and gestures. I forget I have something in the oven though. I am not supposed to bake alone. My husband is active, but I am proud and take two or three apples at a time inside the kitchen and lay them on the counter. I do this repeatedly until all the apples are inside.
I have trouble to peel them. My fingers are bent and stiff. I look out my kitchen window and see my neighbor maneuvering his old body carefully down from his tractor to his walker which is waiting for him near his farmhouse door. He once was a prominent cow farmer; the windows of his barn are broken out now and piles of wood and broken machinery lay around his land. He raised hunting dogs, too. He shot his last one I nicknamed Dawgy Dawg. He too, was old and sick. Guess my neighbor got one of his sons who lives around here to bury the dog. I heard the gunshot and whimpered. I fed the dog every morning through the fence even though he told me not to. I gave him bacon and my husband’s leftovers.
Getting sick or old and unable to move about easily seems so far away to many of the new families who walk through the village with their cooing infants in carriages. They stop and look at my chickens and the children laugh.
From my high-backed chair, padded well for my spine, I doze in and out from the side effects of the morphine in the warm sunlight shining in through the windowpanes. I think the sun would make Lefty feel better if I could coax him outside.
My neighbor still says, “kill ìm”.
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