Cooped Up

January 19, 2009
By Elizabeth Ostertag BRONZE, Scarsdale, New York
Elizabeth Ostertag BRONZE, Scarsdale, New York
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

If you really want to know the truth, I didn’t want to move to Red Hook in the first place. That’s when this whole thing started. I mean, the one place I hate in the city is Brooklyn. Don’t even mention it to me. So when my parents told me we were moving and all, you can guess where they said we were going.

Anyway, I was thinking about all this as I sat in my crumby bedroom in our townhouse in Red Hook. I was sitting in this old red lumpy armchair that the people who lived in this building before us had left here. Chances are they just kind of got up and left this lumpy chair in the room for the next crazy tenants. For some reason, it made me think of this old rocking chair that my old Aunt Eunice used to have in her basement. You know, one of those old ladies who owns twenty cats and smells all musty. After church and all on Sunday, we would all shuttle off to old Aunt Eunice’s smelly house for lunch. Me and my brothers would get stuffed into these stiff brown suits and tight shiny shoes and we would have to sit in old Aunt Eunice’s house for the afternoon. It was all kind of depressing, now that I think about it. I mean, she would spend about three hours waddling around her puny kitchen cooking up this huge lunch that tasted terrible. I remember her talking a whole lot about all her girlfriends and all. You know how old people are.

Anyway, the only part of those Sundays I liked was that rocking chair in her basement. I used to sneak away with my brothers and we would pretend like we were Crusaders riding on our stallion to battle. We had a great time playing with that horse until my father came and took it away. Apparently, old Eunice thought we were too rough with the thing.

So I was sitting in that chair, staring out the gloomy window at the neighborhood below. I didn’t have anything better to do. I was chewing on one of those taffy sticks, the ones that you can chew on for days and break your teeth on and they still won’t have a dent in it. It’s quite a nasty habit I have, chewing those taffy sticks. I’ve always chewed them though, and just can’t seem to stop.

But as I was saying, as I looked out that window the strangest thing caught my eye. Directly across from the window was a house that looked identical to ours. I’m not kidding. Anyway, so the odd thing about this house was the backyard. The house and all looked normal, but then you saw the chickens. You see, there was this whole chicken coop in our neighbor’s backyard filled with hay and chicken crap and everything. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. Since I had nothing better to do, I walked outside and decided to get a better look at the chicken coop.

I was standing by the coop, peering in at the birds when this woman came out of the chicken coop’s house and stood next to me. She stuck out her hand and sort of smiled.

“You must be the new tenants. It’s very nice to meet you. I’m Olivia Stanton.”

The new tenants. I was glad to see we already had a label.

“It’s a pleasure. My name is Stevie Strepnik.”

The woman had a crooked smile and this frizzy dirt brown hair that was tied back in this messy ponytail. She sure looked like she lived in the chicken coop.

She gave this phony nervous laugh. “I guess you’ve already noticed my hobby.”

She was, of course, referring to the smelly chickens running around in her backyard.

“Oh, yes,” I said. “It’s fascinating. How long have you been raising them?”

She beamed. “Five years this April.”

I reckoned we must be one of the only normal people in this town. I mean, she was raising chickens in the city. Those people killed me. The phony ones that thought what they did was so unique.

“I know this is short notice, Stevie, but we were going to invite all the neighbors over for dinner tonight. We were planning on having one of these chickens, here. I was also going to cook a quiche using the chicken’s eggs. I was wondering if you and your family wanted to join us.”

I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t picture my family sitting around at the dinner table eating those shrieking chickens. I could’ve puked.

"I'm terribly sorry," I said. "But my family is veganese. You know, those types that can't eat meat or eggs or milk or any of that animal stuff."

Her eyebrows furrowed for a second then she nodded. "Have you followed that all your life?" She asked.

"No, not particularly. It all started when I was about five years old and living in the rainforests of Brazil with my mother and my father. You see, my father used to be a explorer, like, of endangered animals."

"You don't say!" That killed me. Some people believe everything you say.

"Oh, yes. He was studying certain venomous spiders, and one day he started following the spiders and never returned. My mother was panicking for days. Finally, after two days he came out of the jungle with no scratch or nothing on him."

Boy did I have her in a trance, like. Her mouth was all open in a gape. I really wished she would have closed it. I swear I saw some gunk on her teeth.

"Yeah, so it turns out he followed a wild lion herd and found his way home. It was really a miracle."

Now this really got her excited as hell. "I write for a nature magazine!" She said. "I could do an article!"

I shook my head. "Nah. You see, Pops doesn't much like to talk about it. Nobody really knows what went on during those two days. Better not to mention it."

She nodded all knowingly and dropped the topic. That just about killed me. I hate those people who think they’re so socially conscious.

“Well, I’m awfully sorry about dinner, Stevie. I mean, it would be no problem for me to whip up something for your family…”

“Oh, don’t worry about it, really.” I said to her. “Thanks anyway, but my family was planning on going out to dinner anyways, tonight. Really, don’t worry about it.”

She was all apologetic, like, and I suddenly felt bad. But there was no way I could spend an entire dinner talking to somebody like her. Besides, the phony way she invited us over just got to me. You could tell it definitely would be a problem for her to “whip up something” for us. But you have to feel bad for people like that. They have nothing better to worry about than their stupid neighborhood chicken meals.

“Well, it was awfully nice meeting you, Stevie.” She said, sticking out her hand once more, sort of smiling. Now that I looked at her, she kind of had a pretty face. I mean, it wasn’t anything that would knock you out or anything, but it had a pretty shape. It was too bad, anyway. But the whole chicken-farming thing kind of took away from her attractiveness.

I shook her hand again and I watched her go back into her brick townhouse. The funniest thing was, once she went inside, the chickens started running around and clucking and all.

So there I was standing, watching the chickens make the loudest racket you could imagine when I started to sort of laugh. I don’t know why. But once I had started, I couldn’t stop. I was in hysterics. The birds were just squawking their heads off in their little coop. The funniest part was that nobody seemed to give a hoot. I mean, a chicken could be pecking its own brains out, and nobody walking down the street would stop.

But then after I stopped laughing, I suddenly felt miserable as hell. I couldn’t stop thinking about those squawking chickens on a dinner plate. I could imagine the small talk in between the bites of the chicken, and I suddenly felt depressed.

So what I did next, I couldn’t even believe. I think I was probably half-crazy, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. So anyway, one minute I was just standing there, and next thing I knew, my hand was on the chicken gate. I swung it open, and started to wave my hands about in this crazed way. And those goddam chickens, boy, they just didn’t know what the hell was going on.

“Move it, you lousy birds!” I said sort of loudly.

But they just kept scurrying about. I swear to you, not one stupid chicken got out of the cage. I don’t even think they knew how to. I kept yelling at them to get moving, but the chickens just stayed where they were. It was so frustrating, I can’t even tell you. As I was standing there waving my arms, I sort of started to cry. I don’t know why. All I knew is that I wanted to get outta there right that instant.

So, I started to run. And I kept running until I couldn’t run any longer. I ran past the brick townhouses, all the way until I reached the highway. By then I was panting and sweating like a maniac. But all that running didn’t make me feel any better. Even as I watched the cars zooming by me, I couldn’t help but hear the squawking of the birds in my head. I just kept picturing those lousy birds running around for the last time in their teeny coops, not even knowing what was going to happen to them. And I felt so miserable, you can’t even imagine.

Stupid chickens can do that to you, sometimes.

The author's comments:
After reading the timeless classic "The Catcher in the Rye," in school, I was inspired to write this piece about a young boy who is similar to Holden Caulfield.

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