Rooster with an Attitude



Each After Its Kind

Fiction by Jo-Anne Rosen


This story was first published in Other Voices, vol. 10 (1989), as well as
in chapbook format.

Cover art: “Rooster With an Attitude,” by Louise Franco

About the Author

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I was on a backroad in Missouri daydreaming about California when a storm blew up. I didn’t pull over and shut the windows. I kept on driving. The cornfields turned emerald-green. A violet-black bank of clouds boiled up the sky, slivered with lightning. In the intervals between thunder claps, there was an immense hush over everything. I was as alone as the first man.

It was my first trip out west. The trunk and back seat of the Valiant were packed with tools, books, some camping gear—everything I needed to begin my life anew. I had time to spare, not much money, lots of hope.

Suddenly a sheet of rain swept across the highway. I switched on my wipers and lights and slowed to 20. The fields and sky were now the same murky shade of grey, and I could barely make out the road. Water splashed my shoulders and face, a relief after the long sultry afternoon. I thought about my gear in the back seat.

A moment later a lightning bolt shot down like a long white finger about a hundred yards in front of me, bringing intense color back into the world. It lit up a man in overalls who was standing at the side of the road with one thumb stuck out. For a split second it looked as if the bolt were jumping out of the top of his head. Then a sharp volley of thunder ricocheted around inside the car. I pulled over.

He clambered in and put an empty gasoline can on the seat between us.

“Bless you brother,” he said. “I’m bound for the Esso Station at Four Corners? You going that far?”

“I suspect I am,” I said. “Would you mind rolling up those windows?”

He was a tall, stooped man. He twisted and flapped bony arms till the job was done.

“You moving somewhere Mister?”

“Frisco,” I said. He didn’t react at all. Obviously it was a name that didn’t resonate for him as it did for me. Where was I coming from, he wanted to know. I explained that I had been living in Florida but originally came from Yonkers, New York. He said that he had lived in Polk County all his life and would stay there till the Lord directed otherwise, and did I have a calling to be moving on?

“I have itchy feet,” I said and when he made no response, added, “It could be an indirect calling.”

“He moves in mysterious ways.”

An uncomfortable silence fell between us. I concentrated on the road. The man began to whistle softly, a tune unfamiliar to me, probably a hymn. When I looked over at him, he was hunched forward staring at the floor. Lightning illuminated the car. His Adam’s apple was enormous and it fluttered as he whistled. A drop of water hung from the end of his nose.

He broke off whistling and jerked back in the seat.

“Horsefeathers,” he said. “We’ve sprung a leak.”

“A leak?”

“You’ve got a hole under this mat the size of a baseball and the water’s rising fast.”

“Oh shit.”

A check of the back floor by my passenger—jackknifed over the seat— revealed the tide was rising there too. Water was bouncing hard off the road and splashing up through holes in the floor. And I thought I had lucked out picking up a slant-six in West Palm Beach for three hundred bucks. This was not a Florida car; it was a snowbird with terminal body rust. I’d be lucky if the bottom didn’t drop out from under me before I got to the Golden Gate.

There was no sign of the rain letting up. Then I remembered the plastic litter bags my mother had pressed upon me before I left West Palm, along with a bag of chicken sandwiches I’d eaten on day one and a wishbone. The wishbone was dangling from the rearview mirror next to the giant furry dice that came with the car and had persuaded me to buy it. I pulled a litter bag out of the glove compartment.

“Here you go, pal, start bailing out.”

He stared at at the bag. It had a picture of a mother and baby on it and said "Life of Georgia Insures the South.”

“You can roll your window down half-way,” I instructed him. “The wind’s blowing in on my side. You can fill the bag and dump the water out.”

“Amen,” he said and set to work. He went at it like a windmill, arms flailing mightily. Soon he was singing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and I was chiming in on the chorus and thumping time on the steering wheel for the rest. I made up my mind that his name was Ichabod Crane. And so we drove into Four Corners, Missouri, which is a cross roads with a gas station, a general store and a boarded up vegetable stand. An attendant in a rainslicker filled both the car and the empty can and insisted on Ichabod taking an extra can. He stared mournfully at the two cans.

“Where are you parked?” I asked.

“Half a mile from where you picked me up, down the road to my house.”

“I’ll drive you back.”

“Lord bless you, it’s out of your way.”

“Well, I’m an out-of-the-way kind of guy.”

We drove into the gloomy east. The worst of the storm had passed, thunder and lightning fading away, rain falling steadily but not wildly. Neither of us spoke. Then the bright glare of an oncoming car silhouetted the dice and the wishbone.

“That was a White Leghorn Hybrid,” Ichabod intoned solemnly.

“You seem to know something about poultry,” I said.

“I’m in the poultry business. So was my Daddy and my Granddaddy.” After a long pause, he asked me why I had hung a chicken wishbone from the rearview mirror.

“My mother hung it there for luck.”

“Why, mine did something like it too. Wishbones all over the place just where she left them. But never thought to do the car.”

Ichabod warmed up noticeably. He wanted to know what kind of work I did, and the answer—marine carpentry—seemed to please him.

“I build boats,” I sighed. “And I buy a car that springs a leak.”

“Never you mind about that,” he said. “Jesus respects a man who works with his hands.”

The road into his house was not paved. I could hear mud slapping up under the fenders, and I began to wonder how I’d get back out.

“There’s my rig now,” he said. We pulled up in front of an ancient flatbed.

“What a wonderful old truck,” I marveled.

“Yes it is. Daddy bought her new in ’48. I looked after her real good. Never let the fuel run out before though and it’s the second time this month. It’s a sign for certain.”

He brooded over his gas cans, then he brightened and he spoke with face shyly averted in a formal Sunday-best tone. “It’s a long drive to the nearest motel and the road is bad. You’re welcome to stay the night with me. It’s humble, but you don’t look to be the fancy type.”

I hesitated. Fancy I was not. I had slept in the front seat of the car the night before and was still stiff all over. A bed and a shower were tempting. Taking my silence for assent, he got out of the car and began emptying gas into the truck. I could see a plastic Jesus dangling from his rearview mirror.

“Will you follow me, then?” he called.

“Lead on,” I said. I was wet, tired, hungry, a little curious. Maybe he was a little crazy, but then who among us isn’t?

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