Harry Mac And The Wee Chookie Chicken

When Harry Mac got the job down at Big Geordie’s farm, my dad said they could get engaged when he had been there for six months. Betty said that was a bit too long. Harry had got the job and he was going to keep it and they were engaged now and that was that. Harry came up the road every night and he always brought a few potatoes or a box of eggs and once a bunch of carrots with the muck still on them and then one night, that wee chookie chicken. Mammie treated Harry like he was our great benefactor every time he arrived with the goods. Geordie must like him, Betty said, if Harry gets all that stuff from him. So he’s not going to sack him, is he? And Harry wants to get married. So he’s not going to pack it in, is he? He’s got a good job and he brings the wage packet on a Friday to show us. So, what’s the bother about?

Well, that was Harry Mac and my sister. Harry hadn’t had a job as long as we’d known him and that was a year or two. Well, I can’t actually remember how long it was. I reckon time seems a lot longer when you’re just fourteen than when you are looking back from a distance of quite a few years. So, it may have been just a few months and seemed like a couple of years. Betty had started hanging around at, ‘The Cabin,’ with her mate Eleanor. I looked in there a few times when I passed on my way up the hill to school or to my granny’s house. The door wasn’t open very often and that made it very tantalising. In my mind there was something secret, something wild and untamed about it, something adult. The bikes got parked on the pavement. All the way up the hill they were, gleaming with chrome, big, black and masculine. And Harry Mac’s, black, dull and welded together in his dad’s living room. My sister loved it. The café, I mean. She loved that café. I nagged and nagged at her to get to go there with her and Eleanor, but she just said I was too young. And that just made it all the more fascinating for me. I imagined what it must be like inside. It was huge, with dozens of tables, with five or six people at each of them, leaning in towards each other, conspiratorial, intimate, smoking, drinking frothy coffee and talking adult talk.

Then one day I was passing, and trying to have a look to see if the door was open, so I could have a look inside that dark and mysterious adult place, but trying not to look like I was looking. While I was trying not to look, I nearly tripped over the woman with the broom swishing away on the steps. She had on one of those wrap-around aprons with the big kangaroo pocket on the front and a scarf over her rollers. My mother wore one of those all the time at home. Do you remember those aprons? Mammie got hers every year for Christmas from my granny, stiff and shiny, the apron that is, not my granny, that went limp the first time it was washed. Morrison’s sold them. Great heaps of them on the mahogany counters at Christmas; Paisley patterns, aprons with flowers, and even modern abstract for the discerning housewife with allusions to social grandeur. That wasn’t my Mammie or my granny. They always had the Paisley ones. Mammie kept her wee doots in the pocket. She took a few drags on her Woodbine, then nipped it out and slipped the doot into the pocket for later. One Woodbine could last right through the jobs: brush the floor, a few drags, wash the dishes, a few drags, tidy the beds, a few drags.

So, anyway, there was this woman with her apron and her rollers and her broom, swishing away, swooshing a load of rubbish, fag ends, Coke bottles, chewing gum wrappers and what looked like two week’s worth from a Glasgow midden.

“Watch oot!” she said. Ye’re gonna git covered in rubbage wee lassie.”

Too late, I thought, but didn’t say, because this woman looked big and she looked rough and she looked like she’d follow her words up with action if I didn’t move. I wasn’t about to say anything about the stuff stuck to my shoes, not me. Betty would have said something. She was good with the quick retorts and the tone of voice that said, “don’t mess with me,” whoever you are. Not me, though. I had been practising the parley I imagined they used in the café, but to tell the truth, I always had trouble wrapping my lips around the swear words. So, they never tripped lightly off my tongue. I wasn’t what you’d call a, ‘natural swearer.’ My swearing sounded like someone learning a foreign language from a book, like my friend Jean at school learning her French vocabulary in the cloakroom and absolutely killing me with, Sykes auntie! Soixante to the rest of us!

Where was I? Yes! Wee lassie? Well, she wouldn’t be saying that when she saw me in the dress I was going to wear when I made my grand entrance, with my make-up done and my hair up. I wouldn’t be looking like a wee lassie then.

Well, I looked up at her with my best look of defiance, which was probably quite feeble, I know, but it was my best bad look. Then, without thinking about it, without even trying to get a look, there I was looking. I was looking past her into the den of iniquity where my sister disappeared and closed the door and wouldn’t let me follow her in because it was for adults and I would not be an adult ever, because I was just a whinging wean and always had been and always would be. Well, it was about the size of our living room. Honestly it was. Must have been about six tiny wee tables with three or four chairs crowded round them, leaning over like they’d had a hard night. Probably had with the weight of all that leather and chains on them. And there was a big tin of Nescafe on the dark wee counter at the back. Never knew you could make frothy coffee from instant Nescafe. I thought it was that American stuff, you know, beans that got crushed to bits in a machine. Not Nescafe. That just stayed in my mind that tin, as the symbol of my disillusion. Six tiny wee tables and a tin of Nescafe. Some mystery! Some bloody excitement!

“Ye gonnae ston there aw’ day then, hen? Cos ah’ve goat tae git this midden cleaned for six.” That woman sounded like she wasn’t going to stand any nonsense, and I just thought, well, if she worked in that place, with all those bikers, well then, she must be quite tough herself. I wasn’t exactly street savvy when I was fourteen.

“No, sorry,” I said. Felt like I was showing myself up as a right dopey bitch. “I was just wondering if my sister was in there.”

“There’s naebiddy in there, hen. Kin ye no see we’re shut?”

“Oh,” I tried then, “ She told me you opened at five o’clock,” feeling like I was sounding more and more feeble and less and less adult like the people who sat at those little tables.

“Look, hen,” she sounded like she was getting really fed up then, “We’re shut. Naebiddy’s here, because we’re shut. OK?”

“Um, right, ok, thanks,” was all I managed next and in the absence of any more intelligent banter decided it was time to leave the big woman to her work.

Off I went up the hill, where the bikers were beginning to take up their places, sitting astride their machines, smoking, breathing smoke down their noses, claiming the territory as theirs. Each had a girl on the back, a silent white-lipped trophy in a too big leather jacket that looked like somebody had rolled around in it a lot. To think that I wanted my hair to look like that. Bouffant so high and so heavily lacquered that Marge Simpson would have looked like a hippie. But back then, I did want to look like that, white-lipped, high haired, breathing cigarette smoke down my nose and so tough nobody would bother me.

The reason I mention the café is that it was there that Betty met Harry. Well, I never told Betty or Harry what I had seen, but I didn’t pester anymore to go to The Cabin. I just knew it wasn’t my kind of adult place. Strangely enough, soon after my day of disillusion, Betty and Harry Mac stopped going to The Cabin. I say, strangely, but I don’t think the two were linked in any way, just one of those coincidences that makes you notice things more because you were thinking about something and I noticed after the disillusioning glimpse that Betty and Harry Mac were around the house a lot more or up at my granny’s, drinking Buckfast out of cups because granny kept her glasses for New Year and for visitors that she thought were of a higher social class than we were. I suppose she never saw Harry Mac as being in a higher social class. He did get his biscuits on a plate, but he never got a glass for his Buckfast.

Anyway, yes, when Harry Mac got the job at the farm, he had found a way to make himself very popular with our mother. She was brilliant at making a coupla quid feed us all, but carrots with the muck still on were not a feature of the Saturday shopping bag. They were tied up in bunches at the fruit shop and brought down for the women in high heels who ostentatiously pointed and asked for, ‘A bunch of your best carrots, Mr B,’ sounding all their, ‘ts,’ and pronouncing bunch as, ‘bench.’ Snobby cows! Most of them lived on the same estate as us. They just had the men who spent their lives working overtime at the foundry. My dad used to make fun of them walking up the road with their wee tin boxes for their pieces. Mammie used to tell him to go and get a job down at the foundry because there was obviously money to be made there. She never made the greengrocer reach for the, ‘benches,’ of carrots; she poked through the bargain box and filled a threepenny bag with the best of the bruised apples and bashed-about turnips. I often wondered if my mother had been used to better things before she got married because she always looked embarrassed leaning over that box, same as when she was asking for the broken biscuits at Woolworth’s. So, when Harry Mac started at the farm and came every night with armloads and pocket loads of fresh fruit and vegetables, my mother practically kissed him, though I’m glad she didn’t because he’d probably have stopped coming with what turned out to be swag, stolen property. He told us that Geordie said to help himself, but that night when he brought the wee chookie chicken, well we guessed that Harry was helping himself, but maybe not with Geordie’s approval or knowledge.

The night of the wee chookie chicken is one of those episodes that are like those illuminations in an ancient manuscript. You know, the ones down the side that tell you what the story’s about. They pop into your mind from time to time, these little illuminations that may not be of great significance to anyone else if you told them, but must have been significant to you at the time. Looking back over my life, from where I am now, I see little freeze frames of different scenes, light and bright and colourful, and especially bright is the scene with the chicken and Harry Mac and what he did to that chicken. It was actually a hen, I suppose, since a chicken is a young bird or an older bird once it’s plucked and trussed and wrapped for sale. Anyway, this bird, which I shall continue to call the chookie chicken because that was what Harry Mac called it, was bright reddish-orange. It really was quite big and had lovely feathers and made a lot of noise. Now our kitchen was not the place for a living, hopping, clucking chicken, but there it was, in our kitchen. It was like the big, fresh outdoors, farmyard and straw and smells of animal food and even sounds like the farmer squelching through a muddy yard, had come into the small, square, dimly lit, cluttered space that was our kitchen. It was as out of place there as I would have been in my one pound a pair three and a half inch stilettos in the farmyard.

When Harry arrived that night, the night of the chookie chicken, it was like any other night, really. Harry pushed in through the front door, which was never locked. Well, more like Harry usually fell through the door. Don’t know why, but he always looked like he had pushed so hard he was going to land on the carpet or keep going until he hit the bathroom door at the end of the hall. Harry arrived, dressed as usual in his leather jacket and he was in such a rush that I didn’t notice the bulge in his jacket as I followed him into the kitchen. Harry’s arrival was the highlight of my day. I didn’t have a boyfriend, so I enjoyed the company of my sister’s and they always let me sit in the kitchen with them and even let me play, ‘Postman’s Knock,’ with them when one of Harry’s mates came round and we used the back lobby as the dark place for the snogging.

I followed Harry into the kitchen, ready to put the kettle on and ingratiate myself, earn my place at the table. I had a few stories saved for Harry. He liked my stories about people at my school, the teachers, the pupils from the posh estate where people bought their houses and the cars that came to collect some of the really posh ones. Harry looked for these stories every night, and if nothing interesting had happened I made something up. I had a good one that night and I was ready to tell it. Ian Ray had let off a firework, a Jumping Jack, in the science room and this was one of the best yet.

Well, that night Harry didn’t take his usual place at the table to wait for his cup of tea, he rushed over to the sink and I thought for a minute that he was going to be sick because he leaned right over, while tugging at the zip of his leather jacket, which was odd really if he was going to be sick, but that’s what I thought at the time. As the zip went down, there was a strange sound from the jacket and the chicken fell into the sink. When it stood up, I nearly ran out of there. It looked that big in our little sink and it probably was quite big, probably one of Geordie’s layers, and it started to make loud clucking noises and trying to hop out onto the draining board. Harry tried to keep it in the sink as Betty walked in and had a go at asking him what he was going to do with it.

“It’s for my feckin’ dinner,” he said, spitting the words at her, but this was Harry’s usual way of communicating, nothing unusual there.

“So, how is it gonnae git tae be yer dinner then,” Betty came back with, more than a hint of scorn in her voice.

“Ah’m gonnae kill the wee fecker, is whit Ah’m gonnae dae, ye daft bitch.”

As he turned round to add emphasis to his words with a pointy finger the hen saw her chance and began hopping around on top of the clean dishes on the draining board, sending cups, plates, pots and pans and the dog’s dinner, scattering over the edge and clattering to the floor. Harry flicked some of the dog-dinner slop off his foot and went back to the task of the chicken dinner. The hen decided that the grey light filtering through the mucky kitchen window might be its best route to freedom and leapt onto the ledge. Everything on the window ledge went flying: jam jar with daddy’s paint brushes in turpentine, mug with shaving brush, bar of soap in a plastic tray. Having a rather poetic nature, I noticed the contrast between the living, outdoor vibrancy of the hen’s richly coloured feathers and the rusty window frame running with condensation.

Around about this time Mammie decided to come and see what the noise was about. She stood by the door, taking in the whole scene, and then she reached into her pocket, took out her wee doot and lit it.

“Whit’s e’ gonnae dae wi’ the hen?” she asked between puffs, seemingly not at all bothered or surprised about a large reddish-brown hen hopping over the draining board and shitting on what was left of the dishes. She reached past Harry and under the squawking hen and filled the kettle, lit the gas and set the kettle on to boil.

The cigarette dangled from the side of her mouth. Amazing how she did that. Screwed up the eye on the fag side and talked out of the fag-free corner of her mouth.

“Anybiddy gonnae tell me whit that hen’s daein’ in ma scullery?”

No reply.

Betty got some clean cups from the press and laid them out on the table. We usually made the cups of tea on the draining board next to the cooker, but Betty was always such a practical person, really sensible about things like that. So, she set the cups on the table on the opposite side of the kitchen to the hopping hen. She pulled up two rickety wooden chairs and me and her sat down on the plastic covered seats.

I decided that this might be a good time to start my story about Ian Ray and the Jumping Jack in the Science room. I just hated tense situations and this sure was tense. So, I tried to distract attention by changing the subject, which never was something that actually worked for me, but I tried anyway because I couldn’t think of anything else. Some people laugh when they’re nervous, some people try to make an exit, I change the subject with interesting anecdotes.

I touched Betty’s sleeve to get her attention and gave a little chuckle, “You should have seen what happened in our Science lesson today,” I looked over at Mammie, who was standing by the cooker, trying to draw her in. She nipped out her fag and pushed it deep into the pocket of her apron.

“Look,’ said Mammie, ‘that hen’s makin’ a big mess. Take it back whaur ye got it fae, Harry. Ah need tae git the dinner done.”

I thought maybe she hadn’t heard the start of my story. I decided to wait for a suitable gap to start again.

Meanwhile, Harry had managed to get the hen back into the sink and was holding its head under the water gushing from the cold tap, trying to drown it.

Mammie leaned over the sink.

“Where did ye git the hen, Harry?”

The kettle boiled with a loud whistle, which made the hen squawk even louder than before and struggle to wrench its head from Harry’s grip. Betty got up from the table and made the tea. She poured four cups and got Mammie to sit down. Mammie plonked herself down, but she was not going to be silenced with a cup of tea.

“Harry, Ah’m askin’ ye a question. Whit are ye daein’ wi’ that hen?”

I chuckled a bit to attract attention and launched in once again with my story.

“Did I tell you about what happened in the Science room today?”

Still thinking that somehow my story about the fireworks was going to suddenly make everyone sit down for a friendly chat while Harry just got on with the slaughter in the sink.

They all ignored me. I sipped my tea.

“Whit dae ye think Ah’m daein’ wi’ the hen? Ah’m fixin’ it fer ma dinner.”

“Ye could at least gae Mammie some ae that chicken, Harry,’ Said Betty. She always was good at getting on Mammie’s good side. Wee sook!

I just felt guilty then because I hadn’t even thought of asking for some just for Mammie. I had just been thinking about how I would have liked some nice roasted chicken.

“Mammie’s been good to you, Harry,’ I tried, as an attempt to be as unselfish as Betty and not as selfish as she and Mammie thought I was.

“Oh,” says my mother, “Ah wis hopin’ ye’d brung it fur dinner the morra. Long time since we hud chicken fur oor dinner. That hen’s big enough for us aw’ tae get a bit.”

“The three bloody witches speak,” shouted Harry, turning round and spitting downy red feathers at us as he spoke. “Double, double, trouble, trouble,’ he sneered at us in a grim parody of what he obviously thought was a clever thing to say.

I felt sorry for Harry. He sounded silly and I liked Harry. I thought about Harry coming out with this bit of his own brand of Shakespeare in other company and I thought they’d make fun of him. I didn’t like the idea of that happening. Better coming from me, I decided, someone who liked him.

“I think, Harry,” trying not to sound patronising, “you’ve got that a bit wrong there. Which witches are you talking about?”

“Which witches,” he said, “Which witches? Well, the High School expert speaks.”

It was cruel the way he mimicked what he thought was my snobby High School voice. Yes, I was speaking differently from the others in my family and my street, but I had to get by at the High School, didn’t I? I had to start pronouncing my ts and saying you not ye and definitely not yous as a plural. I had to go to the toilet and not the lavatory and I had to drink lemonade and not ginger. It was just difficult to swap back when I got home. I sometimes wondered if he asked me to tell stories about my school just so he could laugh about my snobby voice.

“Well, Harry, I do know that if you are thinking of Shakespeare, that’s wrong what you’re saying.”

“Who the hell bloody cares about Shikespeare,” said my mother. Oh mother! “I just want to know if we get some ae that chicken. We huvnae hud chicken fur a long time, Harry an’ you’ve hud yer dinner here every night fur ages.”

Yes that was all true. Harry had been coming to our house for his dinner every night since he started at the farm and it had been a long time since we had had chicken or anything in fact that was like a dinner you’d have chicken with. In fact the last time we had had chicken was at Christmas, ten months before this living fowl was argued over. That was the year that my mother had joined one of those clubs and paid a few shillings a week for the luxury hamper and we had all these tins and jars and packets at Christmas. There was a pack of petticoat shortbread, a tin of fruit cocktail, a miniature bottle of whisky that my dad got the magnifying glass to see and among the other luxury items was a biggish tin that said on the label that it contained, “A whole roast chicken.” Well, it was a biggish tin, biggish in comparison with the tiny tin of fruit cocktail or the tin of apple pie filling, or the tiny wee tin of cream, but it really didn’t look big enough to have a whole chicken in there.

On Christmas Day, the tin was opened. The vegetables, courtesy of Big Geordie, were all boiled and roasted and ready, because the chicken just needed heating. So, Mammie got the tin opener, and we all gathered round to watch as this treat was about to appear. Daddy was pacing about the kitchen muttering about the tin being only big enough for a sparrow. Mammie was saying it must be big enough because it said on the tin that was a family-sized whole roast chicken. I wanted that chicken to be enormous because Mammie had been so cheerful and optimistic about having roast chicken for our Christmas dinner.

Well, the lid was removed and the moment had arrived. Mammie looked at Daddy, pursed her lips, did a, ‘you’re going to see,’ look, turned the tin upside down and gave it a hearty shake. The contents slid out and plopped onto the large serving plate with a rather unimpressive squelching sound. In the middle of a gleaming mass of jelly was a chicken that should not have been taken from its mother. Daddy leaned over the table, looked over the heads of those of us squashed against it.

“It’s an abortion!” he said.

It did look like something that had been born prematurely. It was supposed to be a whole chicken, but it did not seem to have any bones to hold it together. It was just a blobby lump of pale-looking animal flesh, swimming in slimy jelly.

Mammie burst into tears and ran out of the kitchen. Daddy did a good job of removing the flesh from the soft bones of that bird and making sure that we all had the same amount, around a tablespoon of meat. Nobody spoke right through dinner. Mammie was persuaded to come and eat, but she pushed all of her chicken onto Daddy’s plate, saying if he was so unhappy about it, he could have hers. Daddy pushed all of the chicken off his plate then onto the wean’s plate and nobody had a good time except the wee yin who was stuffed with chicken and we had to put him in the bath when he puked all over his new Christmas clothes.

Well, that was the last time we had had chicken. And now there was this big captive hen in our kitchen and Mammie was going to get that hen for our dinner. I could see it in her face. That hen was not going to be just dinner for Harry Mac. He would have eaten all of it, don’t doubt that for a minute. Harry could eat a whole packet of sausages to himself with a whole tin of beans too. Then he could polish off a tin of condensed milk, spooning it straight from the tin. And I do mean polish off. He scraped the tin so clean it gleamed. So, that hen was no bother for him.

Harry did not respond to my mother’s suggestion about the fate of the hen. Mammie went quiet and we sat there drinking our tea, me, Betty and Mammie and just watched as the hen kept escaping from Harry’s big grubby hands and made a renewed bid for freedom over the dishes. The hen had by now been in our house for about an hour and we were beginning to get used to it and see a personality there. It had a range of clucking sounds and it did sound frightened and trying to communicate. Every time Harry managed to grab it the chicken cried out loudly, screeching with a sound that was quite alarming really. I began to feel sorry for the hen and Betty said she did too when I mentioned this. So, we gave it a name, Elsie, and we told Harry that we wanted to keep Elsie as a pet. We could keep it in the coalhole and it could run around in the garden and since it was a girl we would get eggs every day. Mammie jumped up with renewed vigour and enthusiasm and went off to search in the hidey-hole under the stairs for a box for it to sleep in. She liked the idea of eggs every day and I reckon she was also planning on a Christmas killing. I just had that feeling. She was a right schemer my Mammie. She kept her chocolates down the side of the chair and thought we didn’t notice when her hand slid down into the rustling packet then slid up to her mouth.

Well all this planning for our new pet got Harry really mad. He just got more determined to make that hen into a dead one and get his dinner on the table. He gripped the hen by the neck and began to bang its head on the edge of the sink, grunting and swearing with every whack. When it looked like that hen had breathed its last, Harry threw it into the sink with a great gasp of triumph and immediately began to pluck handfuls of feathers. Unfortunately, Elsie had not gasped her last. She was clinging tenaciously to life. With huge bare patches amongst the reddish-orange plumage, and bumps rising where the feathers had been, Elsie stood up and squawked her loudest squawk yet. I felt like an accomplice to torture, sitting there not doing anything to save Elsie and I thought I was going to be sick. Harry lunged and wrapped both of his big hands around Elsie’s neck and began to wring it like it was a dishcloth. Elsie was gasping in a way that I reckoned only a hen with a pair of hands around its neck could gasp when Mammie came back with a cardboard box and made a rush to the sink to save the eggs and our Christmas dinner. She threw the box aside, grabbed Harry by the collar of his leather jacket and pulled with all her strength while shouting at him to leave that poor wee hen alone. Harry held on and soon the hen was dangling out of the sink and over the floor with Mammie swinging from Harry’s jacket, her feet nearly off the floor. I wondered what she imagined we could do with a half-plucked and half-dead chicken.

At this point Daddy, who had been outside helping Tammy the Tinker with the gearbox of his old van, came whistling in carrying a very serious looking big spanner. He edged around the wrestling bodies, poked the dangling hen with the spanner, inspected the feathers in the sink and the faeces on the dishes and laid the spanner down with a clunk on the edge of the draining board. He leaned one elbow on the edge of the sink and carried on whistling some unidentifiable tune as Mammie grabbed a handful of Harry’s hair and Harry persisted in trying to shake her off and keep up the wringing action on the hen’s neck.

Betty decided that things had gone beyond the point that we were going to keep Elsie and she made an effort to bring the whole thing to a conclusion. She added to the turmoil by grabbing hold of the hen’s body and attempted to wrest it from Harry’s grip. I stayed where I was and poured another cup of tea, wishing that I could think of something assertive and decisive. Daddy picked the spanner off the draining board with his right hand and began slapping it rhythmically on his open left hand. A slap, slapping metronome measuring the beat of the tussle going on; Mammie and Harry Mac in a crazy, sliding dance across the floor.

“Somebody put that hen oot o’ its misery! For the love of Jesus,” Betty yelled, “ Somebody kill that bloody chicken.”

Daddy gave a heavy sigh, put the spanner down and pulled himself away from the sink. He placed his hands on Betty’s shoulders, “Sit doon, now hen,” he said. And she did. She let go and sat down at the table. Ok, now Harry, gae me the hen, son.” Harry looked at Daddy, seemed like he was going to carry on wringing the hen’s neck and swinging Mammie around, then his fists opened and Daddy had the hen. “Ok, now everybody sit doon and have a cuppa char. Ah’ll deal wi’ this chookie chicken.” And he did. He laid the hen’s neck across the rim of the sink, picked up the greasy spanner and brought it down with such a whack that Elsie’s head and her body parted company. And then he threw our Elsie into the sink. I felt sick. No way, I decided, could I eat any of that chicken now, even if Harry did decide to share it.

“There ye go, son,” said Daddy, as he got himself a cup from the press and poured himself a cuppa from the pot. “Ye kin pluck that wee chookie chicken noo.”

Daddy sat back in his chair grinning with what I thought was smug satisfaction. In fact he knew something that Harry and the rest of us didn’t. As Harry reached into the sink to start plucking, Elsie, or what was left of her, stood up again. Harry gave a yell and leapt back. Daddy nearly fell off his chair laughing as the hen twitched a few times and flopped over. Harry just stood there for ages, staring at the heap of reddish-brown feathers, like he was waiting for another resurrection. When he finally decided that Elsie had given up the ghost, he began to tear the feathers out. They went everywhere, especially all over Harry. He spluttered and spat as the finer downy feathers were thrown up and into his nose and mouth, but he kept going until there was a completely naked body in the sink.

I went over then and had a look.

“Why’s it got all those black marks on it, Harry?”

“Ah don’t feckin’ know,” was what he said. “Betty, hiv ye goat a big knife?”

Betty tramped over the debris on the kitchen floor, nudging broken cups and plates aside with her foot until amongst the bits she found the knife she was looking for and handed it to Harry who used it to hack at the business end of the chicken to get the giblets out.

“I think that hen’s all bruises,” I said, “You gave it a real good battering there, Harry.”

“It’s gonnae taste alright,” he said. “Ah’ll eat it anyway.”

Daddy now took charge of what was going to happen to that chicken and who was going to eat it.

“Harry,” he said, leaning over the sink, “Ah think ye’ve goat tae share that chicken. Ye can use oor cooker if we aw git a wee bit. Itherwise Harry, ye kin take it up tae yer faither’s hoose. See if he’ll let ye eat it aw tae yersell.”

So, that’s how we came to have a roast chicken dinner on a night that wasn’t somebody’s birthday and wasn’t Christmas. I couldn’t eat any of it after seeing Elsie alive and kicking so much in our kitchen. I tried one bite, but I couldn’t chew it. I had to go into the coalhole and spit it out. Harry got a leg, of course and when everybody else was done, he chewed the bones clean. The dog got the licked clean bones and sat crunching under the table. I had just begun to tell my school story about the boy with the Jumping Jack in the Science room, when Big Geordie arrived at our door to have a wee word with Harry about a missing hen. By this time, of course, there was nothing to show that Elsie had been there. Still, Big Geordie couldn’t have believed Harry because he told Harry to collect his wages and his cards.

Well, the next job that Harry Mac got was driving a taxi for Wee Willie McCabe. Wee Willie’s cabs were cheap. I don’t mean the fares, though, because they were just about the same as you’d pay a real taxi company. No, Willie McCabe’s cars were cheap. Real old rust-buckets. The radios he installed were worth more than the cars and the wiring probably held the dashboards together. Harry carried on trying to please our Mammie. I reckon he thought he had a better chance of getting round her for a wedding present than he ever had with daddy. Mammie got picked up on message day and out she traipsed with her message bag over her arm and a sly look round to see if the neighbours were watching. An hour later, back she came, getting out of the taxi with the message bag full of the usual broken biscuits, fruit and veg from the bargain box, the brown paper bag of porridge oats and the tins of beans. Daddy said she should have asked to be let out at the corner so the neighbours wouldn’t see her getting out of the rust-bucket, but Mammie just said that at least it was a car and at least Harry had got a job, not like some people she could mention.

I’m having trouble finishing this story, I’m telling you. I feel like I could just go on and on until I get it right and never get there. What would getting it right be? A happy ending? Yes, Harry Mac got a wonderful job, he married my sister and we all lived happily ever after and my father won the pools and Mammie didn’t need to nag any more for him to get a job and she bought the, ‘benches of carrots,’ from the hooks at the fruit shop. A surprise ending? Big Geordie was just leaving our house when he saw the cat with reddish-brown feathers protruding from its chops? Well, that would be a good ending and might leave you, my readers with a smile. Sorry readers, can’t leave you with a smile, though I have given you a few things to smile about, have I not, in the course of my wee story about Harry Mac and the wee chookie chicken? That will have to do you in the humour bracket. A sad ending? I could give you a sad ending where my sister never got to marry Harry because Harry never managed to find a decent job and keep it. So, she vowed never to marry and spent her life grieving for her motorbike boy. What about a no ending ending? Is a short story supposed to have an ending or can I leave it hanging, or just stop in mid-sentence so it’s like one of those films my daddy never liked, you know, the ones where you never get to know who got the girl, or you don’t see the baddies being put away?

It’s not a slice of life, my English teacher used to say. A short story would be terminally boring if it were a slice of life. A play on television or a film would be terminally boring if it were a slice of life. Well, in a way this story is a slice. It’s like a slice of Mammie’s dumpling. Most of the slices of my life at that time would have been like slices of Mammie’s dumpling, all dull-coloured with a few wee bits of drama, like the sugar encrusted on top.

Jeez! I’m getting a bit profound and metaphorical here. What I think I’m trying to tell you is that it doesn’t change very much. Life, I mean. When you’re at the bottom end of a very large pile, it’s a long way up and not many of us manage the climb. The men who went past our door with their pieces in wee metal boxes, carried on going past our door with their pieces in wee metal boxes. They carried on living on our council estate and they carried on working themselves to sickness and tiredness. My Mammie carried on making the most of mouldy vegetables and grieving for a life she never had. My sister got married to Harry Mac and she carried him and five kids through a long and sometimes happy marriage. Big Geordie installed huge barns to house his big, scrawny chookie chickens. Me? I’m still making up stories!

2 Responses to “Harry Mac And The Wee Chookie Chicken”

  1. Salvatore Herard Says:

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