Fiction · 10/09/2019

Rooster

Foghorn adjusts in the chair. His breast brushes up against the table and he tries to settle in. His tail feathers brush up against the wall. If he stood quickly he would take the whole table with him. If he had some kind of disability there would be a special chair, a special table, a hot buffet laid out for him instead of this depressing “power pack” meal. They used to have a proper café, hot dogs and popcorn. Now they have replaced all of that with the Starbucks. Another step in the country’s long march toward mediocrity, cowardice, the opposite of greatness. The power pack has nuts, grapes, some kind of cheese he cannot identify. The only other option was eggs prepared in some way he does not understand and the idea that he would eat an egg is unthinkable, the very opposite of his life’s work. Plus he knows enough now to avoid anything that reminds him of better days, the old job, the way things used to be.

He takes a drink from his bottle of water. Last week one of the other stockers, a mousy girl with braces and hair colored purple, admonished him for buying a simple bottle of water. A bottle of water they sell right in the Starbucks. The things people will get angry about anymore.

The tattooed lesbian comes in with her lunch bag and Foghorn tries to shrink into the chair. He stares at his phone, wills her to move in the opposite direction.

“Oh hey,” she says, smiling like they are friends, like there is some relationship other than supervisor and shelf stocker. “You mind if I sit with you, Mr. Leghorn?”

Mr. Leghorn. She makes a big show of acting like she respects him but he knows. “Free country,” he says.

She settles down. Foghorn pulls the chair back a few inches, aware of his breast feathers pushing out over the red golf shirt stretched tight across his breast. They have made no accommodations for him at all.

The supervisor is named Candace and she has tattoos up and down her arms. She wears long sleeves at work but he has seen the rainbow flag on her forearm, right there telling everybody anything they might need to know. He remembers when tattoos were for sailors. He remembers everything.

Candace unpacks her lunch in her fussy way. He notices that she has nothing but vegetables and fruit, some nuts, her own homemade protein pack.

She pauses, puts her hands on the table as if she is about to make some kind of announcement. Foghorn wishes he could back up a few more inches but there is nowhere left to go. “We’re not that different, you and I,” she says.

They have really made no effort to accommodate his needs at all. He wonders if he could sue the Target corporation, how the media would play it, if that might actually help him overcome the accusations, the whispers. Me too they call it. Me too for a leader, a protector, a true rooster.

Candace is waiting for him to say something. “Is this about the hat?” he asks. He points at his own red golf shirt. “The hat was red.”

She smiles and shakes her head. “I think you know what the problem was with the hat, Mr. Leghorn.”

Foghorn moves the nuts around in the tray of his protein pack. He picks up an almond and puts it back down. He remembers craft services, rows of meats and cheeses, blueberry muffins with every meal, how they would make anything he wanted, how he thought it was all going to last forever.

“I talked to the security people,” Candace says. “I know you think your… experience might be better served in that kind of vertical.”

“I was in charge of a very important operation,” he says.

Candace sits back. She takes a bite of something green. “Okay,” she says in her purposeful way. Her wheels are turning and Foghorn is sure she is calling up some kind of training, an authentic conversations webinar from the Target human relations education portal. “I mean, I know you were on that show. I used to watch it, we’ve talked about that before as I’m sure you’ll remember and even though… even though some things have been alleged, which we’ve also talked about before…” Foghorn wonders if she is wearing a wire, if this is all some kind of elaborate sting engineered by the company to finally get him on the record, stop paying his meager pension. He makes ten dollars an hour at Target and is basically working for the health care. Candace leans back. “You know what? We don’t need to relitigate anything here, right? You applied for the security job and that’s not even really in my lane. Good luck to you,” she says. She picks up a carrot and dips it into something yellow.

“Do you know,” he asks, “what it looks like when a fox gets into a henhouse? The kind of bloodbath even the most idiotic little barnhouse dog can make?”

“I used to watch the show,” she says.

“Well I do,” he says.

“Yeah you had a thing with that dog,” she says. She eats a piece of apple. “When you’re done if you can come help me get some of those premium sheets out on the floor that would be great.”

A thing with that dog. If she only knew, but of course she does not, could never. He was in charge of a very important operation. He was a leader, a true rooster. “Look at me when I’m talkin’ to ya,” he whispers, the old bluster blowing through him just for a second.

Candace stands. “Sorry?” she says.

He was in charge of a very important operation. Those women were depending on him. He was protecting them. They should be grateful. A true rooster. “Sure,” he says. “Premium sheets.”

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Dave Housley is the author of the novel This Darkness Got to Give, and four story collections, most recently Massive Cleansing Fire. His work has appeared in Booth, Hobart, Quarterly West, Ridivider, and some other places. He’s one of the Founding Editors and all around do-stuff people at Barrelhouse. He is the Director of Web Strategy at Penn State Outreach and Online Education. He tweets at @housleydave.