Everything knows what death looks like. Even chickens.
This is what Manny thinks as he listens to them scream in the morning. They know who he is and they don’t like him. Really, they would hate him, if they felt sophisticated emotions like hate. For them, he must just be fear. A fear that evokes powerful squawks of terror that need to be drowned out by headphones. Specifically, headphones blasting Pitbull.
Manny wears a mask. He can’t smell the musty tang of a thousand feathers (most shit-covered) and, as he pins a chicken underneath one of his hands, he is business-like, unwavering, as the cleaver comes down.
Ms. Cruz doesn’t mind the smell or the noise. By most accounts, she is half-deaf but is good enough at imitating understanding and has discovered that ringing out “No Problem” in the silver bells of her Haitian accent can more or less get one through life unscathed.
“Good?” Manny hoists the still-twitching chicken by the neck in his gloved hand.
Ms. Cruz nods, inspecting it from the thumb-printed window of her reading glasses. “No problem,” she chimes, and pays him.
Despite the brisk February air, a yawning blue sky of ice, Saturday at Ramirez Live Poultry is bustling. Manny’s arms burn by mid-afternoon. Sticky bloody feathers molt from his apron. The surviving chickens, in their wire-cage condos, have tired themselves out with their shrill screams.
The birds with the skyline view, top floor, have fallen asleep, while birds in the crates below expel the last droplets of stress in thin mint-white turds onto the denizens of the crates below them, which causes said denizens to burble indignantly and fluff their feathers. Six more cages down, on the ground floor, afforded only a tundra of blood-spattered and encrusted-feather cement, the chickens only cluck contemplatively, their beady eyes misty.
When the flush of neighbors has dried, Manny kicks open the iron door to the street. He props it open with a chair and lights a cigarette, looking up at the great bay windows of the cliffs across the street in front of him. A large banner flutters in a cold breeze, proclaiming 1 & 2 BR LEASES AVAILABLE!
The building is a blue-silver mirror for buildings on the other side of the street, the new reflecting the old as if slowly absorbing it whole.
Manny sighs and leans back in the chair, looking up at it, balancing his boot on the toe, bounding himself up and down. A light snow is crusted between the cracks in the sidewalks, glinting silver in the winter sun. Manny stares at the snow and watches the tiny crystals wink back at him, wondering at the sheer force of nature now hulking at his doorstep, the luxury apartments on the other side of the projects
To Manny, it seems as if the complex rose up overnight with the speed of Jack’s magic beanstalk. Gabriela’s favorite story. Manny takes a long drag, thinking of her tiny finger as she traced the bright greens and golds of the library book. He frowns, wondering if she still reads anything other than texts.
At the top of this bean stalk, hip-hop is blasting. A muffled, ogrish “reyyyy” is sometimes caught in the biting curl of wind. Manny feels that the building and the residents are aliens of some kind, crash-landed in his neighborhood, speaking in unfamiliar tongues, dressing in unfamiliar clothes, bringing strange customs with them.
These are the inscrutable questions: Why would you spend $8 on a cup of blended fruit? Or $5 on twelve ounces of coffee? Or $7 for beer? And, if you were spending $7 on beer, why would you have so many that you ended up vomiting most of them onto the streets or shouting at five in the morning, hollering like demons bursting from the underworld? Why would your places of worship be the bar and the home and the screen and nothing else?
He flicks his cigarette into the snow pile between trash bags, watching in satisfaction as it sizzles a tiny black hole into the mound.
The door of the luxury apartment slams and he looks up, observing a woman in her twenties with half of her head shaved, walnut hair bobbed on the other half. She looks back at him with her lips drawn tight, as if sealing herself from the outside world, and he marvels at how pale she is, an icicle in an expensive jacket.
He shakes his head and heaves himself from the chair, heading back into the butchery.
“Luxury Coops” is a visual novel told in Instagram posts. Want to follow every new micro-chapter on Instagram? Follow @bcl00!