Ever since graduating culinary school Upstate New York, close to ten years ago, Buck has been employed as a chef. If you ask him he’ll tell you he can do anything and everything there is to do, where it concerns food. He’ll tell you he enjoys a tasty meal.
Buck grew up on some tropical island where he lived with his parents, a stampede of older brothers, one younger sister, and a black dog. He remembers a loving family, he remembers innovative games with friends, but most acutely he remembers being hungry.
For a pet Buck kept a rooster he had coddled since it was an egg, he named him Johnny. Johnny looked more like a vulture than your typical rooster with no feathers on his long bare knobby neck.
One day, Buck was dawdling on the back porch, leaning against a bamboo banister. Wood cut down by Buck’s father with a machete, then hewn smooth and perfect. Buck’s father stuck his head out the kitchen window and said, “Fetch me Johnny, Son.”
Buck cooed to his pet, calling to him. The rooster, busy crowing on the roof of a shed, hopped down to the sandy earth, chumming up dust.
Buck’s father was yelling from the kitchen telling him to hurry it up. But Buck waited patiently. Buck clucked and clicked and Johnny stalked confidently across the yard, wings wagging. The child and his pet met at the foot of the steps and climbed them together. Buck opened the kitchen door and clucked some more, ushering the bird inside.
The boy and his bird stepped into the kitchen. Buck saw his mother place a pot of water on the lit stove. The family dog lay in the middle of the room, on his side, slapping at flies with his long tail. Buck’s father handed him his best machete and instructed him to lay the bird’s neck across the butcher’s block. Buck could scarcely believe what he was being asked to do. But this was his father, whom he had never disobeyed, and it was unthinkable to question.
“Do it!” His father said. Buck gathered up his trusting bird and attempted to lay the long neck across the cutting board where old blood had soaked the wood dark. The rooster sensed something was off and began to resist and flap his wings.
Buck was only nine years old but he was strong. He clamped down around the bird and attempted to pin him. He thought he saw a look of disbelief in Johnny’s beady eyes. For a fraction Buck hesitated and his thou
ghts ran amok and he vowed, if he made sure of nothing else, he’d make sure he never went hungry when he was grown. A quick glimpse of his father’s serious face and he snapped to attention and back to his task. A task he had observed adults complete countless times, without fussing, without sentimentality.
His mother stood beside the pot on the stove where steam bubbled up, her hands tucked under her armpits, as was her habit. The steam began coaxing smells from out of ceiling beams suffused from years of pungent vapors.
“Do it!” His father ordered again.
Focused and using all his force Buck overwhelmed the bird, struggling to hold him still, he spread out the long featherless neck across the cutting board and struck it a decisive blow with the machete. Buck watched Johnny’s head fly across the room, spurting blood.
The dog lunged for Johnny’s head and crunched it to a wet mouthful.
Buck’s mother swooped down with well-practiced
hands and grabbed at the quills and in a trice the bird was bare.
“Put Johnny in the pot, Son!” His father said, less loud but just as forcefully.
Buck picked up the corpse and walked to the stove. Stretching on tip toes, and with the minimum splash, he heaved the bird into the boiling water.
Buck took a step back and swallowed his feelings. He hoped his father would praise him.
A noise like an explosion came from the stove. The heavy iron cooking pot was shuddering. Hissing hot waves shot over the lip, momentarily dousing the flames beneath. Like a bad dream Johnny’s body came out from the cooking pot and flopped to the floor, startling everyone, including the dog who darted from the room gripping the rooster’s cleaned skull in his jaws.
The twitching bird began to scoot around, slamming against chairs and walls, tumbling in a mess of watery blood and sticky feathers.
“Son, put Johnny back in the pot!” Buck’s father commanded.
Buck stumbled after the crashing headless bird until he had recaptured it. Now thoroughly dead Buck noted how much heavier the animal was as he hefted it back into the cauldron.
That night the family ate Johnny, along with fried plantains and rum spiked coconut milk. They feasted in silence except to groan appreciatively at the wondrousness of a proper meal. If you ask him Buck will tell you he vividly remembers, “Johnny tasted good.”