'Rooster,' a Short Essay on Losing Your Temper by Walter Kirn
Going to war with a rooster.
Photograph by Robert Hickerson
This story appears in VICE magazine's 11th annual Fiction Issue. Click HERE to subscribe.
Within a month of moving to the farm, my father, who worked as a lawyer during the week 40 miles away in St. Paul, bought a few chickens so we could have fresh eggs. I helped him build a little coop for them, against the side of our sagging old red barn. He gave no instructions on how to raise or keep the birds other than to fill a pan with food and gather the eggs whenever they appeared. Nothing could be easier, it seemed. The eggs showed up in abundance, as though by magic, and eating them all became a chore. Since we were surrounded by farms that had their own eggs, there was nowhere to sell the things, so as time passed, I started to toss them away instead of gathering them, pitching them against tree trunks to watch them splatter or hurling them into the woods across the road. They began to disgust me, the way they just kept coming, the products of a biological process that seemed unstoppable, absurd, and wasteful. I lost my taste for eggs entirely. I saw them as strange excretions, not as food.
Around this time, the chickens started escaping. No one was paying them much attention by then, and no one in our family was hungry for eggs. I patched the hole in the coop, but not before five or six hens were living in the farmyard, laying their eggs in hidden, weedy spots where the chicks would hatch unseen and grow at amazing rates into young birds capable of laying eggs themselves. A lot of the hatchlings were roosters, naturally, which are monstrous and hateful and noisy compared to hens. Not only did they wake me up each morning with their horrible, scratchy crowing, they fought incessantly among themselves, spreading bloody feathers everywhere and filling the farmyard with an ugly air of primeval violence. Sometimes I’d pick up a stick and take a whack at one, and it would fly away into a tree, where it would screech at me, tottering on a branch, its head held high, no longer a bird but a kind of fluffy serpent. And where were the hens? They’d disappeared by then, either murdered or run off.
The rest of my family seemed oblivious to the takeover of our farm by the cruel roosters. My mother worked nights at a local hospital and slept during the day with earplugs in, my father was taking frequent business trips to Washington, DC, and New York City, and my brother had a new girlfriend to distract him. I felt completely alone and under siege. The morning cacophony grew louder and louder, the vicious fights in the farmyard ever gorier. I hated the farm. It was lonely and chaotic, a terrible step down from normal-town life, and the roosters were its demonic outgrowths somehow, channeling its direst energies. They sat in the trees and yakked and crapped and mocked me, hopping aside when I pitched rocks at them, mocking, infernal, impossible to hit.
This essay is part of a sub-section from the Fiction Issue about losing your temper. Check out the rest of the essays in the section: