My shot missed. Dust rose in a miniature mushroom cloud.
Donny drew back his slingshot and held a rock steady. The chicken stood still. Donny released. His rock struck the chook’s head and sent it scrabbling into the red dirt of my yard.
I watched as it rose and tried to escape. The piece of rusted fencing wire Donny had wound round its leg and secured to a star picket stopped it from getting far. I wiped my hand across my forehead. Sweat and dust ran into my eyes. I blinked it away and loaded my slingshot. I missed again.
“You’re fuckin’ useless,” Donny said.
A metal bar lay on the ground nearby, left over from the shed Dad had started to build. Another project that got too hard for him and remained unfinished. The shed leaned to one side and barely stayed upright when the winds howled.
I picked up the bar and advanced on the chook. “Take this, you little faggot,” I said, and swung hard. The chook somersaulted through the air, then sprawled on the ground. Still twisted in wire, its leg pointed like a finger of accusation. I wiped my eyes, then raised the bar for another blow.
“Stop,” my mother said, emerging from behind the half-finished shed. She didn’t yell—she rarely did—but her presence was enough to make me lower the bar, and my eyes.
“Go home, Donny.”
Mother walked to the chicken, still flopping around on the end of the wire. With a quick motion of her hands—a pull and jerk—she ended its suffering. She turned and looked me in the eyes. “Untie it. Bring it into the shed.” Without another word, she walked away.
I entered the shed with the limp, bloody bird, and lay it on the bench my mother indicated.
I didn’t look at her.
“I said sit.”
She tilted her head to the side. “Turn around.”
I did as she asked.
“Now drop your strides.”
Face burning, I complied. Mother looked at my bare arse, crisscrossed with red welts the same width as Dad’s belt. She placed her hands on my shoulders and turned me around to face her.
“Please don’t tell Dad about the chook.”
“The true measure of a man isn’t his capacity for violence, but his ability to contain it. Do you understand?”
She handed me a hatchet.
“Cut off its head and pluck it. Then bring it in for dinner.”
Runner-up in Grindstone Literary Flash Fiction 1000, July 2018