Hope Is the Thing with Feathers(7)

By: Brandon Witt

He gave me a puzzled look. “Well, yeah. That’d be rude if I just dropped off food and ran away. We’re neighbors. And I’ve got a lot of making up to do. I can’t have the hot guy next door pissed at me for the rest of our lives, can I? That would totally ruin my plans of getting you into bed.”

Again, Raymond Webber left me speechless and unable to even think in complete sentences.

And again, he didn’t seem to mind and just kept right on going. “Like I was saying, we’ve got a bit. I was thinking you might wanna give me a tour of any other animals you have. Just in case others of them come knocking. I noticed quite the setup you have as I walked over. Why don’t you make introductions so we’re all friends.”

A billion reasons rose up within me for why he had no business meeting the animals. For why he wasn’t going to stay for dinner. And how I spent my evenings by myself.

Instead, after more awkward staring on my part, I finally gave a shrug of my own. “Well, I was just getting ready to feed them and shut them up for the night. Guess you can tag along. If you want.”

“Perfect. Sounds great to me!” Raymond beamed. His smile put him just this side of radiant. The fucker. “Now, lead me to these feathered friends of yours.”


AT NINETEEN, I fled our little house in the country. Fled the nearby town of El Dorado Springs. Fled my parents, the church, the assumption that I was going to soon settle down and marry a nice Christian girl.

I ran all the way to Joplin, Missouri. I made it a whole 83.4 miles, give or take. I hid away there for nearly a quarter of a century. I’d come back every so often to see the folks, but those times were few and far between.

Being gay in the city was good, until the AIDS crisis took nearly all my friends, skipping me for some reason.

Even so, it was nice to blend in and have no expectations to be normal.

What wasn’t nice? The city.

It was all noise and smells and people. All over the place. People.

It was exciting for about a week and half after I arrived, and then it got old. I was told I’d get used to it, that I’d grow to love it.

I never did.

I wasn’t born to be a city boy. I wasn’t even born to be a small-town boy. I was born to be out in the gorgeous Ozark hills, surrounded by trees, cattle, and birds.

So I came home. Every once in a while, I got lonely. Not really the right word for it, but close enough. I missed my folks. But their absence wasn’t too sharp. Even with the renovations, they were still all over that house. But, I had to admit, there were times when another body, another male body, would fill an ignored emptiness in me. Just the strum of another soul harmonizing silently with mine.

As Raymond trudged alongside me through the newly fallen snow over the crust of ice below, I felt a strum. For the first time in over a decade. It was quiet. It could almost be missed. But I didn’t miss it. It was there. Just a spark of warmth in my gut. A sigh of comfort and prick of pain. So quiet it was amazing I could sense it, as Raymond didn’t know how to shut the fuck up. All the way from the house and from enclosure to enclosure.

“I’ve never seen such chickens. Ever, and I’ve been all over this country. It’s like a poodle went to KFC and had an orgy.”

I paused in spreading the chicken feed over the ground and stared at him, tempted to toss the kernels at his head and let the chickens do a hunt and peck. “What the hell does that mean?”

He pointed to Claudia, the burnt orange hen closest to his feet. “They’re nothing but fluff balls. They’re like poodle chickens. I think if you stapled five of them together, they’d turn back into a poodle.”

I started to growl at him but then took another look at Claudia. Shit, I could actually see what he meant. It took effort not to chuckle, but it was worth it.

He didn’t stop. “I mean, they’re cute and all, for chickens.” He shook his head. “Now there’s something I never thought I’d say. But besides being cute, there’s not much to them. I doubt you could get a meal out of two of them put together.”

“Seriously? You just ate Faloola. You’re really going to start looking at my other birds like dinner?”

He raised his hands in the air. “No. I’m saying they wouldn’t make a good dinner.” He glanced down again mumbling. “Kind of a waste of a chicken, if you ask me.”

Though he’d said it quietly, his deep voice carried. I felt my temper rise. “You know, maybe not everything is placed on this earth for you to eat. Cochin chickens aren’t for food. They’re show chickens. They’re meant to be beautiful.”

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