The day that I killed the rooster, the weather was miserable. It was forty degrees, windy, and pelting down rain. I was feeding the chickens lettuce leaves through the fence. The birds had come out into the weather when they heard me outside, and they expected food. The big rooster made a soft cooing call, and all of the hens froze. I looked up, and saw a hawk circling overhead.
I had agreed to catch him; he had small spurs now, about a half inch or so, his feet were enormous with long, clawed toes, and Andie was worried that it would be a fight. I walked in, tossed the lettuce off to the side, and put down the tub of yogurt. The rooster stuck his head in the tub, and I scooped him up like he was a house cat, tucking him under my arm and pinning his wings while he chattered with alarm.
Andie and I walked over to the empty lot across from her house, and I handed him to her. She held him by the ankles, and he dangled upside down, silently. I knelt in front of her, with my pocket knife. I felt at his throat for a pulse; under his hackles his skin was bluish white, and felt papery. I couldn’t feel it, though. My fingertips were too cold. I took a couple of breaths, positioned my pocket knife just below his earlobe, and dragged the length of the blade across his skin.
Nothing. Not even a scratch. My knife was too dull, his skin too tough, my stroke too timid. I went and fetched Andie’s chef’s knife from her kitchen, and tried again. There was a spurt of warm blood, and I saw it pool under the loose skin of his neck and then spill out onto the green grass and the autumn leaves still lingering there. He vomited a milky fluid; partially digested grain. The blood was the brightest I had ever seen. Well oxygenated, on its way to the rooster’s little brain, there to maintain his understanding of hawks and grass and flight and the intricacies of courtship and chicken sex. We waited. The blood slowed. I looked at him. His beak gaped and his tongue worked inside his mouth and his fierce amber eye blinked. He was silent… upside down he was barely able to breathe, much less panic. Everything in him was focused on the next shallow breath. I felt a wave of nausea.
“This is taking too long.” I said to Andie. They were supposed to bleed out in just a few minutes, or that’s what I’d read. I knelt again, and pressed the heel of the knife against his neck; I saw his neck bend with the pressure.
“Do it like you mean it,” Andie said to me quietly, and I dragged the knife across his neck again, hard. The blood spurted again. Within a few minutes, the great eye blinked and then closed. After that he stopped breathing. We got some nylon rope from the carport and tied him by the ankles, hanging him from a tree branch.
We scalded him in Andie’s biggest canning pot. We had to stuff him in the pot to submerge him, his thick legs sticking out like the branches of some strange and dormant tree. His feathers peeled off easily, in clumps. I took his head off with a hatchet. After the scalding, his proud comb and swinging wattles lost their virile red. He didn’t look real anymore; with the feathers still around his face, he looked like his own death mask.
In the shed, I opened his belly with my pocket knife, hoping that the short blade wouldn’t puncture his guts. His skin was tough, but once I had him open, his insides spilled into the bucket and steamed there. The organs were candy pinks and baby blues and vibrant maroons. He was an older bird, ten months, and his long keelbone made it difficult to fit my hand into his narrow body. I cleaned him until I felt the ribs at his back against my fingertips. I crammed him into my cooler and drove him home.
When I took him out of the fridge the next day, his skin felt stiff and cold. I flicked my knife through the skin between his thigh and his belly, and drew the leg down toward the board. It was stiff; I should have let him rest another day. I cut the leg quarter free, and marveled at what I held in my hand. It was the size of a small turkey leg, the drumstick the length of a table knife, and the meat was dark, shot through with rich yellow fat, the muscle groups clearly defined. It was utterly unlike any chicken I had ever cooked before. I stood there, holding this leg in my hand, and I felt the enormity of it; the weight of his life and of his death and this, the most utterly beautiful piece of meat I had ever handled.