Earnest was in kindergarten when Jackie the Janitor got fired for “choking the chicken” in the girls’ bathroom. That phrase, along with his best friend Bradley Watson’s accompanying hand gestures, stuck in Earnest’s head so hard that whenever he looked at the thing between his legs, all he could see was a bald, pointed bird head, like the ones attached to the roast ducks hanging in the window of a Chinese restaurant.
by Ao-Hui Lin
Earnest was in kindergarten when Jackie the Janitor got fired for
“choking the chicken” in the girls’ bathroom. That phrase, along with
his best friend Bradley Watson’s accompanying hand gestures, stuck in
Earnest’s head so hard that whenever he looked at the thing between
his legs, all he could see was a bald, pointed bird head, like the
ones attached to the roast ducks hanging in the window of a Chinese
He didn’t learn what “euphemism” meant until the third grade, and by
then it was too late. His chicken had grown feathers and a beak. When
it started to open and close its mouth, he asked his mother if he
could take showers instead of baths; he didn’t want it to drown.
Bradley told him that penises weren’t really chickens, but every time
Earnest tried to wish his chicken away, it would stare at him with its
bright, beady black eyes and he would lose his concentration. After a
while he stopped trying and was just glad he hadn’t heard the phrase
“trouser snake” first.
As Earnest grew bigger, so did his chicken-headed penis. By ten, he
had to wear two pairs of underwear to mask the soft clucking sound
that came from his pants. At thirteen, while looking at pictures of
naked women in feather boas that he found in his father’s sock drawer,
he discovered that his chicken could crow. And spit. That was when he
started wearing three pairs of underwear.
In his senior year, Earnest asked Dolores Schlunk to the prom. Dolores
had a body like a cone of soft-serve ice cream, with droopy rolls of
flesh that had a tendency to overrun the waistband of her too-tight
waffle-yellow pants. Bradley said Earnest should take her up to
Makeout Bluff. He said Dolores was a sure thing. He said that Dolores
would go down on anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Bradley was wrong.
It took Earnest nearly an hour to coax Dolores to unlock the doors of
his father’s Chevrolet and let him back in. He begged and apologized,
tapping the window while covering the front of his body with the
jacket of his rented tuxedo. An unseasonably chill spring wind blew
through the gap of his naked buttocks to ruffle the feathers of his
cock, while a mournful buck-buck-buck punctuated his pleas.
Once he negotiated his way back into the car and re-donned his
discarded clothing, Earnest sat next to a sniffling Delores, unsure
what to say. She hugged herself, pushing up the cleavage in her satin
blue boat-neck dress. Her breasts formed a jiggly shelf that caught
the tears as they squeezed past her closed eyelids and plopped down
from her chin. Despite his discomfort, he felt the tickle of down
stirring against his thigh at the sight.
“You think I’m a freak, don’t you?” The words surprised Earnest,
because it was Dolores who spoke them, not him. She went on in a small
voice, cloggy with snot and shame, “That’s why you asked me to the
prom. To play a trick on me. ‘Cos I’m f-fat and u-ugly.” Her breath
hitched on the last words, and for a second they both looked worried
that she might melt into an oozy puddle of tears.
“You’re not ugly.” It must be confessed that Earnest had to search for
that one bit of almost-truth; any other statement contradicting her
would have been, alas, an outright lie. But once it was said, he began
to see how right he was. Dolores’s skin was silken smooth, and she had
the fat girl’s curse: a pretty face.
Dolores’s sniffle conveyed a mucous wistfulness.
“No, really, you’re not. Your hair looks nice with your dress.” Again,
not a lie, though not something that had made an impression on Earnest
until this very moment.
“Then why did you do that thing with the… you know.” Keeping her eyes
averted, Dolores flapped a hand somewhere in the direction of the
“Bradley said it wouldn’t bother you.”
“I hate Bradley Watson.” Her lips quivered; her eyes filled again. “I
wish he’d be nice to me,” she wailed as she toppled sideways toward
He put his arms around her and petted her awkwardly. That seemed to
soothe her, and the crying flattened into whimpers and then bubbly
hiccups. They embraced for long minutes. Later, when he put the car in
gear, she covered his hand with hers and, with a shy smile, said, “I’m
sorry about before. I’ll kiss it if you want.”
But the bird was nesting, and Earnest thought it best not to agitate it.
In the following years of aborted encounters with women, Earnest came
to appreciate Dolores’s straightforward, if somewhat mistaken,
reaction. Her horror, in retrospect, had been refreshingly free of
anger, contempt, or laughter, and as time went on, his memory of her
became more beautiful.
It was no surprise to him that others began to notice Dolores’s better
qualities as well. By the end of senior year, she had shed the mantle
of social pariah, and she truly bloomed in college, where the value of
kindness, compassion and a sense of humor rose in direct proportion
with the distance from high school.
The evening that Maia Forster flounced out of Earnest’s dorm room, her
derisive snickers echoing down the hall, he lay back on his lonely
twin bed and gently stroked his chicken until it cooed, remembering
how, long ago, Dolores had let him comfort her and how her bosom had
pressed so softly against him. That night Dolores Schlunk walked into
a third-year German study group with all the grace and presence of a
prima ballerina, and her fellow German student, Bradley Watson,
wondered if he’d been blind all his previous life.
Though smitten from that moment on, it took Bradley another ten years
to convince Dolores that he was good enough for her. Less kind
observers might have said it took him ten years to become good enough
“You’ll be my best man, of course.” There was a pause on the telephone
line, and Earnest could hear murmuring in the background. “I mean,”
Bradley amended, “will you please be my best man? Dolores says I’m
supposed to ask, not tell.” This time Dolores’s background laughter
Earnest hesitated. “I’d only be able to fly in for the wedding. Don’t
you want someone closer? One of your big city friends?”
“Nah, I don’t care about that. But I can’t get married without my wing
man.” The nickname made Earnest wince, but he couldn’t say no to the
happiness in Bradley’s voice.
It was a rushed affair: the catching of the plane, delayed by snow;
the last minute dash to the church, Earnest struggling into suit and
vest while the cabbie assumed a world-weary, seen-it-all mien; the
final screech and bump of tires on curb, accompanied by the squawks of
fowl and driver. Earnest tumbled from the cab and zipped his fly,
making it to the altar with minutes to spare.
As the music began, he turned to face the processional. A woman
Earnest had never met before led the way. Her face was long and
guarded, with an unwavering forward stare that lent her the stern air
of an Easter Island statue. She wore a pink dress that sprouted lace
bows like palm tree fronds, designed, as are all bridesmaids’ dresses,
to bring out the loveliness of the bride. Earnest knew her name was
Hope, that she’d been Dolores’s roommate and best friend and now
maid-of-honor, and that she wasn’t much of a talker, according to
The ceremony went off without incident, free of barnyard noises,
although Earnest noticed in the middle that he’d neglected to brush
away a few stray feathers that clung to his suit. As his hand flicked
to a tuft of white fluff, he saw Hope glance his way, eyes attracted
by the movement. Her expression held an aloneness that matched his
During the first obligatory waltz of the wedding party, Hope stood in
the circle of his arms like a gondola oar, unbending while she rotated
through the moves of the dance as if attached to a rowlock. It should
have been easy to view her as dispassionately as an inanimate object,
but his eyes kept straying to her soft pink mouth.
He resolved to keep his focus on the satin bow adorning her shoulder,
so it wasn’t until the coda that he realized she was stealing glances
at him as well. Embarrassed to have been caught, their gazes
ricocheted off one another, zipping to opposite corners of the room.
But when he dared to look again, she had the ghost of a smile pressed
onto her lips.
“Champagne?” He led her to the bar and scooped up a couple of
half-moon glasses, but she grimaced at her first sip and slid it back
to the bartender.
“What kind of scotch whiskey do you have?” It was the most words she’d
spoken in Earnest’s presence so far, and he was surprised to hear the
faint lilt of a Highlands accent. Her voice, soft and grave, made the
request sound like a librarian’s reference inquiry; he and the
bartender shared a smile.
The bartender held up a bottle of Johnny Walker. She shook her head.
“Single malt?” He hoisted a bottle of Macallan and poured her a glass,
neat. When Earnest reached into his pocket for his wallet, she shook
her head again and passed a twenty to the bartender.
“I’ll have the same,” said Earnest, though he rarely drank hard
liquor. The alcohol burned all the way down, and he suppressed a cough
when it hit his stomach. The warmth spread through his abdomen, and he
found himself having another drink, and another, until his body felt
encased in a down quilt.
Hope matched him drink for drink, and the more she drank, the more she
spoke, although haltingly, as if she constantly expected to be
interrupted. The scotch haze coalesced about them, a filmy bubble that
hid the rest of the room.
It seemed to Earnest that a scent wafted from Hope, mysterious and
irresistible, and though he knew it was not true, his smaller brain
whispered to his larger one that it was the aroma of roasted corn and
birdseed. When he surprised a laugh out of her, the sound burst forth,
loud and raucous. She clapped her hand across her mouth and looked
around in embarrassment, perhaps too startled to register the
answering cock-a-doodle-doo muffled by his pants.
“Would you… that is… maybe you’d like… or rather, I’d like…” Earnest’s
long atrophied desires tangled his words into a rubber-band ball,
while his chicken urged him to mount her in a flurry of feathers and
beak, pecking at her neck until she submitted to his fowl lust.
Earnest willed his chicken to shut up.
Hope looked at him with owl-eyes. “I…” she paused, head tilted to one
side as if taking counsel from her inner voices. “I have a room.
Here.” Again that little pause. “I mean, here in the hotel.”
“Shall we?” He couldn’t quite bring himself to articulate the words,
but she answered with an “Oh… yes.”
When the two of them stumbled into her room, he absent-mindedly turned
on the light by the door, then wondered how he might turn it back off
without appearing odd.
“No, leave it,” slurred Hope, and he thought her voice reflected his
own feelings, all breathless alcoholic delight tinged with panic. She
reached over and flicked the switch, leaning towards him so that he
could kiss her on that mouth that had so fascinated him all evening.
Between his legs he could feel his chicken swaying drunkenly, and he
had a moment of terror that the stupid cock would fail to rise on
this, its best shot ever at a public performance.
But as soon as it was freed from the confines of his clothing, pants
and drawers pushed hastily to his knees, it rallied and stood at
attention. Never breaking the kiss, he guided Hope backwards to the
bed, tipping them both down onto the soft mattress, her dress hitched
up above her waist like pink sea foam. She clapped her hands to his
ears, holding his face to hers, making the blood echo in his skull.
Dimly aware that at any second his chicken might begin to cluck, he
returned the gesture, and then positioned himself above her, poised at
last to experience what he had only dreamed off.
“Holy Hell, it’s a giant chicken,” said a man’s Scottish brogue.
Clinging to him, Hope whispered, “Ignore that. Don’t stop, please.”
“Lassie, I tell ya, it dinna going to work. This is a wee little
vessel and tha’s a great big chicken,” said the Scottish brogue.
Earnest rolled to the side and turned on the bedside lamp.
“No, don’t turn on the light!” pleaded Hope, but it was too late. She
pushed her dress down, but not before Earnest saw something that took
his breath away.
“Was that…?” he said.
She nodded miserably. “It’s my little man in a boat.” She sat up,
shoulders slumped in a protective hunch. “Maybe you should go now.”
“Wait.” Earnest turned onto his back and lifted his shirt. His chicken
tilted its head and stared at Hope, blinking rapidly.
“Oh my god, it really is a chicken,” she said.
“That’s what I told ye,” said her little man in a boat, muffled by her dress.
Earnest pulled gently at Hope, drawing her down and kissing her again.
Much later, after the crowing of his chicken had been joined by a
lusty rendition of a Celtic aria, she murmured into the quiet
aftermath, “I didn’t even know he could sing.”
They were married six months later, and a year after that Earnest
stood beside Hope’s hospital bed, holding her hand, while a Scottish
brogue screamed, “Aye Captain, she’s going ta blow, and not all the
dilithium crystals in the universe will save her!”
They’d been worried, but their daughter Faith was born perfectly
formed: ten little fingers and ten adorable toes and all the bits and
pieces that would be expected in a baby girl and none that weren’t.
And from the moment she could talk, they made sure to explain the
facts of life to her as clearly and honestly as possible.
But school yard myths and the romance of magical thinking can overpower
even what we know to be true. When Faith’s brother came along, Hope
and Earnest found the baby on the morning of his birth, under a
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When the emperor died, we were buried alive as a sacrifice. While the royals sob and mourn, we are learning to dig upward.