Jody had colored beautifully between the lines. Then he wrote “I hate school” across the top of the assignment. It seemed obvious to him that school was just as hateful to everyone else. But he’d miscalculated badly.
The classroom was ‘time-between-recess’ but recess only came twice a day if you didn’t include P.E. Afterwards, on their way back to class, he’d be insanely thirsty from all the running, chasing, and tackling in a game affectionately called “kill the man with the football” which would become the gold-standard for fun all the rest of his life. In class, Jody would stare at the coke can sweating on his teacher’s desk until the bell rang at 2:45.
After the bus dropped Jody off at home, he’d head next door where Teddy lived. They played in the chicken-yard or in the ditches looking for minnows, tadpoles, and crawfish. Mira, Teddy’s mother, had a couple dozens varieties of chickens, ducks and geese. There were a few giant turkeys and there were cages full of quail for the quail-eggs. Once, after he and Teddy had eaten the last few eggs from a mason jar, and to Jody’s lasting amazement, Teddy’s big brother chugged the vinegar and cayenne pepper solution the eggs had been pickled in.
The chicken-yard had miniature bridges and ponds for the birds. Nests were hidden all around with eggs and hens setting them. He observed the deliberate way the hens set about hatching their broods. The gate to the chicken-yard was attached to a 5-gallon bucket by a rope on a pulley. Jody liked to see the way the parts worked to close the gate secure behind him. Mira would sometimes wait to feed the chickens so Jody could do it. A hundred birds would crowd him, all clamoring for the feed. The geese were as tall as him and the turkey would fan out its tail looking, to Jody, as big as a tank.
“Stand up tall, Jody! Don’t be afraid, baby, let ‘em know who’s boss!” Mira would yell.
With the birds distracted by the feed—rice swept up from around the grain bins—Jody and Teddy would search out the fresh eggs in the hen-houses. There were a hundred different nooks, crevices, and boxes in different hen-houses, big and small. Some birds just nested in the tall grass. They’d find new eggs from the day prior and, to Jody, it was like magic the way they appeared in places they hadn’t been yesterday.
Around Easter-time, there was a craft sale at school. Mira would send Teddy with enough change to bring one or two porcelain eggs home. She put these in new nesting boxes to teach the hens where their own eggs ought to go. One Easter, Mira sent Jody home with a goose egg to “pock” eggs that Sunday—the game where boiled Easter eggs are cracked against one another until one breaks. He couldn’t wait to reveal his secret wonder-weapon. He won every contest but it had made him very unpopular the rest of the afternoon. But Jody couldn’t wait to tell Mira about it and hear her booming laugh.
One afternoon when Jody got to Mira’s, there was a miniature pony tied to her porch. As he approached the quiet, resting little horse, and before he knew what hit him, he’d taken flight, moving bodily through the air. As his breath returned and he realized what had happened, he felt no pain. He knocked at the door, never telling Mira. Why don’t you tell anyone? he thought to himself.
Every morning, after picking up Jody, the bus would stop to pick up Teddy. They would sit together though they never saw each other at school, being separated by a grade. One day, on the bus ride home, Teddy told Jody they’d be moving away. Jody didn’t believe it and forgot about it, instead.
When they moved, weeds took over Mira’s chicken-yard until all her hen-houses, ponds, bridges, cages, even the gate and pulley, were covered up beneath a tangle of brier and choking green growth. It didn’t take very long.