It was 4.27 am, or
Jocky Was No more, and Jack Slept More Peacefully

Zack checked the alarm clock. It was 4.27 am. He got up, threw some pants on and went over to the cupboard. He got out his old Winchester, un-cocked it, and stepped out onto the veranda. It might have already been 4.28 when he shot the rooster. He had been meaning to do this for the last 33 years.

Zack was a family man of sorts. He had a wife, Martha, of 20 years, and four kids.

One of them, Tommy, the oldest, had already left the house. He lived at some farm not too far away. He had a girlfriend, but from what Zack could tell they were always fighting. Tommy probably beat her. Apparently, she had also been pregnant but then lost the child. Zack didn’t know too much about these things. He didn’t talk much to Tommy, and even though Tommy talked to Martha, Martha and Zack had long stopped talking. Apart from the essential that kept the household going. As I said, Zack was a family man of sorts. Not that kind of a family man, if you know what I mean.

Then there were the other kids: Rock, 16, Lucy, 14, and Rebecca, 12. They were all still at home. Zack didn’t talk much with them either. Martha seemed to do a good enough job in this respect. Sometimes Zack wondered if he liked his children, but, as hard as he tried, he didn’t really think so. At the same time, he didn’t mind having them around. That was already better than how most of his colleagues at the coal mine felt about their kids. So Zack figured things weren’t too bad at his house. Family-wise, that is. The house itself was terrible. It was like an old wooden shack barely held together by a couple of nails, strings, and a roof that seemed like it’d fall off any day. They needed to get buckets arranged when the rain hit hard. The roof didn’t catch all that much.

They say that the poor whites of the Appalachians are America’s most forgotten underprivileged folk. Whatever. Who says who forgets who and what. Fact is that it’s probably not too flattering to be known as “white trash” to the nation, and even to people versed in either popular culture or intellectual discourse overseas. Even when many of these people seemed to interpret white trash as indigent hipness and radical chic. From wife beaters to Harleys to southern belles to six-packs to Modest Mouse – trailer park romanticism ruled supreme. Zack wasn’t stupid. He knew about that stuff. He picked up on it when students, anthropologists, or even European families on vacation, rolled up in their old Fords, new SUV’s, or rented Winnebagos, acting like they were all his best friends. What did he have to do with these people? And what had they ever done for him? To him trailer park romanticism was the dumbest thing ever invented – after Starbucks coffee. Lattes? Who drank that shit?

Rock was the star of his football high school team. This didn’t necessarily mean all that much since this wasn’t Florida or Texas, if you know what I mean, but since there was hardly anything else going on, it still made for Rock being a sort of local hero. Mainly that meant having younger boys step aside when you entered the pool hall and making out with different girls. This was quite a feat for Rock since he was an outright ugly fellow, despite of the impressive frame that had brought him both the local football distinction and his name (it had once been Derrick). He had turned sixteen about three months ago and now drove around in this boiled out 1972 Chevy, picking up his football buddies and 15-year old girls in tight tops and spandex pants to go down to the creek to have a keg of beer, constantly going on about how he hoped the coach wouldn’t find out ‘cause if he did he would kill him, even though Rock knew that the coach knew anyway, but the talk was part of the game.

By all means Zack should have been proud of Rock, but he just thought Rock was an idiot. Football. What a waste of time. Zack was into fishing. Rock on the other hand thought that fishing was nothing but a big bore. Zack wasn’t fazed by that. Of course that’s what Rock would think since Rock was unable to keep his mind occupied during quiet times as there was nothing in it.

Zack had a much higher opinion of Lucy, the 14-year old, but on the account of Lucy being a girl and Zack not really knowing how to talk to people in general, leave alone 14-year old girls (even, or especially, when they were his own kids), he wasn’t able to tell Lucy that he indeed had some affection for her somewhere. Nor was he able to do anything else with her. He just watched her draw a lot, and he liked that. Drawing was good. And Lucy was quiet. All she ever did was her homework and help her mom in the kitchen and then draw till it was time to go to bed. Zack respected that. If any boy would ever come on to Lucy in the disgusting and sleazy way he had seen Rock come on to girls he would knock the punk out cold. He had pledged that a long time ago. No football playing asshole would stir up his daughter’s life. She was meant to draw. You needed a peaceful mind for that.

Rebecca he hadn’t figured out yet. But she was only twelve. For the time being, he couldn’t really stand her though. She was the kind of family baby that was really spoilt and so she whined a lot, and Zack hated that. But he thought that if you’re only twelve years old things might still change, so he didn’t wanna hate her yet the way he hated Rock ‘cause with Rock he thought everything was lost already and he would be an asshole for life. Rebecca still had chances. So he was patient with her. Or tried to. When things got too much, he just went fishing. Fishing always helped.

Martha he had married ‘cause she had got pregnant with Tommy after a high school dance. There wasn’t much more to it. Such stories tell themselves.

Zack had gone back to sleep for another couple of hours, and when he finally got up at 6.30 he went outside to feather the rooster and prepare him for lunch. The kids all knew it was Jocky they were eating, but no one said anything ‘cause when Zack took drastic measures they knew that he meant business and that it wouldn’t a good idea to bother him with unnecessary questions. Besides, Jocky tasted good.

They had gotten Jocky years ago from one of the many neighboring farmers who had gone to Knoxville or Winston-Salem to try their luck cleaning a country bar, or delivering papers, or, if they got really lucky, land a job in a Denny’s, and Jocky was meant to be a real rooster stud, perfect for breading and all that. It was indeed a big gift amongst the local community, and Zack got it ‘cause years prior he had helped that farmer rebuild his home after it had been completely destroyed by fire and had never accepted a cent for it. But now he had to take the rooster, it was a gift impossible to decline without causing serious offense. And even though Zack, in principle, didn’t give a fuck about causing serious offense, he was still enough of a local kid to know that there were certain things you just didn’t do. Like rejecting a rooster stud even when you don’t really like roosters.

Jocky did his job well, no complaints there. He made his way to the top of the pecking order in less than 48 hours, then covered Zack’s 12 hens easily (so that Zack was able to sell the other two roosters he had needed before), and he was liked by the kids. But, like every other rooster Zack had ever had (or so it seemed to him) he crowed every morning at 4.20. And it wasn’t just some crowing either. For some reason, all of Zack’s rooster always made it sound like the foxes were just about to take all of their hens. And even though Zack never said anything ‘cause he knew that basically you just had to accept this as part of farm life, it drove him nuts, and every morning, for 33 years, he had been meaning to shoot one of those motherfuckers.

What made Jocky the eventual victim was that he had dared come closer to the family’s home than any other rooster before. Once he had arrived on the porch itself, his days were finally and irrevocably counted. Jocky was no more, and Zack slept more peacefully.

(2004)