Bob rocked slowly in his chair on the front porch. Below the large oak, his grandson was poking at an anthill with a stick. The afternoon sun was warm, and activities were kept strictly to the shade. Bob let his old eyes wander, and they brought back hazy images that bled with the memories of his weakening mind. In some ways, his memory was sharper than ever as it continually populated his world with things that existed no longer.
Further down, across the wide lawn, a smattering of chickens pecked at edibles near the side of the road. Traffic, growing more constant with each year, rushed by and ruffled their feathers with their speed. But the chickens never seemed bothered by it, nor did they seem to shy away from the shoulder. Bob watched these things, and his mind wandered.
“You think them chickens are scared?” he said, looking at his wife. She was reading her book, sitting on her favorite bench, her ice tea sweating in the heat. She paused her reading, looked at him and smiled.
“What is it that chickens did to get them labeled as scared? If someone calls ya yella, calls ya chicken, they’re accusin’ you of being scared. Them birds ain’t scared. That big one is damn near pushing the cars off the road.”
The big one, that big cock as Bob would refer to it from time to time to get a giggle from his grandson and a leer from his daughter, stood like a statue on the shoulder, one foot on the black pavement. His orange feathers were bold, and he puffed his chest for each passing vehicle.
“Chickens ain’t scared.” Bob said. “Hell, remember that one we had to kill cause it kept chasing after Brian?” He laughed, it sounding closer to a wheezing cough than a titter. “Oh Lordy, Brian sure did hate them things.” He looked at his grandson. The small boy was feverishly brushing at his pant legs as he fled the anthill, the stick abandoned. “Was that Brian?” he wondered. He rubbed at the rough whiskers lining his chin. “Yeah, yeah that was Brian that got chased by the chickens,” he said with words lacking confidence.
A honk came from the road, and Bob saw that the big one had expanded its territory beyond the shoulder. The car went around the stubborn bird that gave its orange feathers a triumphant flutter. “He ain’t scared,” said Bob. “Now how you think that came to be, Catherine? Why did chicken come to mean someone was scared?”
The screen door opened and Bob’s daughter stepped out with a tray of beverages. “Who are you talking to, dad?” she asked.
“Well I was just askin’ your mom,” he said with a bent finger pointing to the bench, “about them chickens. You think they’re scared?”
Susanne rubbed his shoulder and gave a soft smile. She set an ice tea on the small table next to his rocking chair. The bench gave a soft creak as she sat. “Why would they be scared?” she asked.
“Because they’re chickens,” he said. “Tell your mom to put her book down at talk to me about these chickens.”
Susanne put her hand on her father’s. “Dad, mom’s gone. She’s been gone for a long time. You know that.”
Bob turned his head and looked at the bench. Nearest to him sat his daughter, and no one else. He nodded slowly. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I knew that.” He looked back to the road to see if the chickens were still there. They were. Brian joined them on the porch and grabbed a cold drink. “Hey Brian,” Bob said with a smile. “Look at that big cock by the road.”