So I just smiled mildly, touched my cheek with the cap of my gel pen and nodded: “I see.” She was blonde to the roots, large-eyed and buxom enough to strain her buttons, so I kept my eyes trained just to the side, where I could see the Stonewall Jackson portrait squinting at me from the wall.
“Regular sex, especially oral: It’s just the college culture, you know, plus women’s freedom, and even a history geek like me wanted status and a wild time now and then. One year into that little old fuck-school whirlwind, my roommate said, ‘Shawnee, you’ve got to slow down. You’re getting a reputation. You know, you don’t have to get on your knees for every mama’s boy with a Range Rover and a Brooks Brothers blazer. These weekly prayer meetings have got to stop. Simmer down.’ I had to tell Tammany, though, that I liked it – the rush, the flush of color, the way they tasted and shivered and moaned. Then they’d turn soft right before my eyes, so to speak, and it did lift me out of the vicious cycle. You know, the world celebrates the cocks and eats the pullets, no matter what their talents. I liked the idea of turning the tables whoopsie-down.”
When a professional interview deteriorates to this kind of chatter, you don’t want to encourage the applicant to keep digging her already-deep grave deeper, and our institution’s standard of gallantry dictates you should protect any candidate from her own excesses, but I could discern she wasn’t done, that she would not be content till she had finished what she had started. And after all, I knew little about sorority life, and to this point in my own existence a gamecock was mostly a South Carolina sports fan. So I was learning something. Also, as her narrative grew increasingly exotic, I have to confess I found it a little exciting after three dull dialogues that afternoon. Though all prudence and protocol said “resist,” my discipline was waning. It was easy to leave the door open, as I knew by this point an interested silence was all she needed to press the attack.
“You do anything a lot – studying, working birds, touching the reared-up male member till it fires off – you pick up techniques and excellence. Then it gets more thrilling. My daddy sent me to school in Fayetteville to feed my mind. He was crazy to see world-class grades, and I could do that right off, but my body felt neglected. I came to see was missing life.”
While she spoke, she began to lean her neck back and run a hand through her hair, as if she were not conscious of it, and glow from the lamp caught her highlights, but I could also see how thick the make-up was applied. Though the application form said “34,” I began to doubt it. The flaws and crow tracks, everything else pointed to forty, though I figured such a rough career might lead to early decline. By now, I gressed this façade and brassy recitation might be a kind of flirting.
“Men have always loved to let animals fight for them, but the humane society has convinced forty-eight states to become ‘civilized.’ You figure in Louisiana it’s the Cajun vote and in New Mexico the Hispanics that won’t be tamed. But it’s not just in their culture. Andy Jackson pitted chickens in the White House, and the French still run fancy derbies with hundreds of entrants. England? Now, most folks don’t know that ‘cocktail’ was a stimulant the British gentlemen fed their birds before a bout. They have now found wall paintings of fighting roosters in that Pompeii mess, and most every state these days has rogue Battle Royals in the boonies or deep in the private grounds of country manors. Even deputies forced to make a raid are sympathetic and ask non-stop questions about bloodlines and training routines.”
“But do you really like it, the matches, all that bloodshed and roughness?” I asked. I admit, forty or not, her attempt at allure was almost working.
“Oh you should see them!” She leaned forward, and her eyes locked on mine. I couldn’t help returning the stare as she continued. “The way two primed fighters – say a Pruvell and a red-eyed Arkansas Traveler – throw themselves into it, all noise and speed and wildness, you couldn’t stop them, and they light into each other like two wheels afire colliding, their bodies a blur of colors from ripe pumpkin to icicle and cranberry and emerald stone. And the feathers float out and hold still in mid-air like magic. Even though the people are screaming like hyenas, everything gets simple and clear, and the birds show more grit and go than any human man. More heart. And if they’ve got the wallop – and most do, else you’d have wrung them and deep-fried them back at the farm – they will fight past the count and die for you and rise and try again. Lazarus birds, kind of, and with all that whirl, you know it’s just like the big bang of science, the whole universe being born violent, but in a glory.”
Her eyes were gleaming an icy green, and her face had gone scarlet, but suddenly she seemed to catch herself, to feel a sense of limit.“Look, I’m sorry, Colonel Stevens, but people don’t understand it. It’s not about blood or money. When the handlers are billing the birds in the ring, it gets intimate. Mystic. They are one with the bird, and everybody there is a kind of tribe celebrating how brave those creatures are. They’re not just barnyard trash, and bleaching the ground white like a snowfall is not the way they make the best beauty. Not in a bucket from the Colonel, either. Noble, I think, like ancient knights trained to sacrifice themselves.
Per Contra Fiction - Winter 2006