The day long awaited had now arrived. The family gathering had a supplementary purpose to general sociality—the slaughter of an elderly, post-egg-laying chicken: a consumer of crumb, who gave no gift in return (apart from her poop fertilizing the earth). The time had come to end her happy life.
Our car pulls up and we pile out: two babies, a dad, and a blood-thirsty mum (sort of). Becca, her husband, and their three babies welcome us. The dads and children get comfortable in the lounge. I follow Becca to the kitchen. Our planned deed looms large in our minds.
“Wait!” Becca asks, as we stand in the kitchen surveying our intent. “Is it too late? Is it getting too dark?”
Teetering on the knife’s edge of indecision, the challenge mounts…
“We’ve got to do it!” I say, too zealous in my ideals. But an unpleasant deed once forestalled looms greater in menace in future. Besides, we’d been talking about this for months.
Outside stride we, our gumboots on, old jeans, old tops…to impending doom? Perhaps for the poor chicken.
We can do this, we can, we tell ourselves. We can! Rain patters, the sun drops; smoky scents of cosy fire fill the evening air (the fire warms the dads and the babies of course, but not us. We are facing the formidable!).
It’s big, and it’s small. It clangs and it sings; both harmonious and discordant with our humanity. We eat it, so we should be able to kill it. Don’t you think? Yes. It was only right that if we ate meat, we should experience first-hand what was involved in its preparation. We wanted to become aware of the cost.
Pushing through grass towards the hen house, we reassure each other. We’re relaxed. Yes. No impending doom. (Are we trying to convince ourselves? The battle isn’t half over yet).
Ah, the coup.
And upon opening the door…
“This seemed so much easier when they were conceptual chickens,” laments Becca. I laugh a little too hysterically.
Now, which one is it? Some dilly dallying, procrastination if you will, as the one marked for slaughter is chosen. Yes, she’s definitely the biggest. We look her over, hoping this won’t mean one less egg per day…
Dear God, please help the chicken’s death to be quick and successful. We actually pray this prayer aloud.
Holding her tight, we approach the block; the sharpened hatchet; the challenge.
Evening is falling. The air is fresh; we walk side by side with natural camaraderie. We could be ten years old and searching for adventure. We could be fifteen years old, and wildly free (and hormonal)! We could be twenty-something-year-old mothers, forging a path to self-sufficiency; living the life of our literary heroes!
Okay. Here we are.
Attempt one. Hold chicken firmly. Gather the feet, swing chicken upside down … Wait! One problem. The hen spies the dogs bounding the paddock and squawks, heightening their curiosity. Up they jump, all a flutter—confusion peaks!
Good dogs. Just curious. Off to the shed however, for the hen’s last moments must be as peaceful as possible. And we resume.
Attempt two. Gather her feet in my left hand. Stretch out Wing One and grasp with same hand. Stretch out Wing Two and grasp with same hand. She is quiet; she is still. Like a lamb to the slaughter; like a chook to the chopping block. And so, her head is laid gingerly down. But not before a few gentle strokes.
“Poor dear,” Becca says, such tenderness in her voice. “Look, aren’t her feathers beautiful and soft; a velvety, rich auburn? They’re so perfect. So worthy of admiration.”
There was never an emotional attachment before now.
Now, now, we must delay no further. Here she lies. We are ready. But who delivers the final blow?
“Ok, I’ll do it,” ventures Becca. “Ohhhh, no I won’t!”
“Alright, I’m ready,” I squeak. “Eeeek, noooo, I’m not!”
“I’m in the zone, I’m in the zone!” Becca is pumped, jumping. “I’m out! I’m out!” she says with the next breath.
We brace ourselves, we emit foolish squeaks, we clench our fists, we screw up our faces; oh courage, courage, why hast thou forsaken us? Oh, where is the skill of our ancestors? Inner cave woman, be summoned!
If we were starving, but had never known meat to be eaten, would we think to kill, I wonder?
And then, a whirl of resolve—
The axe falls.
The force was not enough!
A split second to realise, to gather all one’s resolve, to clench one’s stomach and (there’s no turning back now):
And now the fight between life and death rages; the wrestle! The resistance! The stupid instructional videos said that death would be instant and pain-free. Quick and easy. But the reality is messier and so frighteningly bizarre! Ultimate squeamishness results from the uncertainty as to the conscious state of the being. If it were dead, it would be dead. If alive, then alive. But the uncertainty? We cannot bear it! It writhes and it moves and it (almost) has no head!
And this is a moment for friendship. We humans each place a hand on each other’s shoulder in a tight grip of support—so as not to fall apart. Oh, the depth of the significance of solidarity! Oh, the glory of friendship, which is built through shared experiences of life and…uh.. chicken death.
Oh, dear chicken, did you ever imagine the reflections your execution would evoke? (No, for your brain had only four pixels. The size of a pea, you say? Indeed. Let us hope she suffered little).
Ah, we stall too long at this land of in-between.
She is dead.
Screams! The urge to vomit…
Subsides. She is dead. The head is hacked off completely to make well and truly sure. Darn, these things are well built.
We have done it. We have crossed the line (so has she). Reassurance. We did great. We did.
Let us pause for our victuals, if one can stomach such things after said event.
And once the babies and (pre-prepared) dinner have been attended to, we somewhat reluctantly return to the task of gutting the chicken. In her nakedness, she is much less formidable. But let us not call it, her. It is it.
Poking around in the still-warm body of a dead chicken is optimum material for a Saturday night, don’t you think? The moments of humid air release from the cavity—puffed up toward the face—could be done without, it must be said. Novices indeed, but how else does one learn, in this modern age of the pre-killed, pre-plucked, and pre-packaged?
There was something that made us laugh from our bellies, hysterically… Was it the way the (gross) neck fell pathetically upon the wet grass? Something like that.
Two tomboyish mothers sit with bloody hands, clumsily pulling out intestines, stomach, liver, who knows what else…and the deed is done. Just in time, for the babies have finished their bubbly bath and bedtime is approaching.
We have done it! We have conquered death, so to speak—yes, this is the stuff of life!
But perhaps next time, let us have a night of music and tea by the fire…unless there is a particular craving for chicken soup.