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Original Issue


I used to think that the last thing in the world I'd ever want to do was watch a cockfight. Now I realize that the last thing in the world I'd ever want to do is be in one. I came to this realization because these days every time I walk out the door I find myself in just such a fight.

It's always with the same rooster—Jack, a Plymouth Rock who has been living with us since December. He's a large handsome fellow with an ornate shawl of black-and-white feathers that gives him a kind of low-brow French dignity. All winter long he was a docile pet, letting me stroke him and coo to him while I held the water bowl beneath his curved beak and marveled at his loud gurgling digestive system. But now that spring has arrived, this same rooster, who used to spend his days huddled on the rafters of our barn looking very picturesque and keeping the horse company, has become a hurricane. The force "that through the green fuse drives the flower" is driving my rooster straight at me.

For fans who have never considered cockfighting a sport, let me tell you, it is one. I'm not very good at it—my only flair is the way I handle the broom—but Jack is an ace at it. He will be casually pecking at the ground, sucking worms up through the soft earth and muttering little clucks to himself, when suddenly he will stop, fix his gaze on me, ruffle up his feathers as if he were rolling back his shirt-sleeves, lower his head and charge. He's only a foot and a half tall, but he acts as if he were Big Bird.

I've known for a while that Jack is no ordinary rooster. A month ago a huge red dog with one blue eye and one brown eye stole into our barn, grabbed Jack in his jaws and abducted him, taking him down to the center of Mill River, the tiny village in Massachusetts where we live. Jack Stanton, who was working at his garage, yelled at the dog, causing him to drop the rooster, who immediately disappeared. I spent the day searching for him. I looked in barns and under bushes, up behind the general store, through the cemetery where artificial flowers poked through the melting snow, over the bridge, back behind the church, up and down hills. I felt miserable. I pictured my poor rooster wandering through the darkening woods, deeper and deeper into the world of raccoons and dogs—a stalwart figure, a gay songster, the red wattles under his chin swinging from side to side as he kept a steadfast course.

But no, he was spending the afternoon taking it easy on Bill Stevens' woodpile in Southfield, the next village. It turned out that he had climbed up under Bill's station wagon, which was parked at Stanton's garage, and had ridden 10 miles to the dump and then back to Stevens' house, all the while perched on the axle rod or the distributor. When we got a call from Bill late in the afternoon telling us the rooster was in his backyard, eating some grain, I about died. Only then did I begin to realize this bird's fierce tenacity. We named him Jack that day, after Stanton, his rescuer.

The first time Jack the rooster attacked me I was carrying a bucket of water out to Ollie, the horse. Suddenly Jack was swarming around me as if he were trying to fly through me. I stood stunned amid a blur of feathers and squawks. I kept pushing him away, but he kept coming at me, pecking and clawing and trying to burrow in. All I could do was shriek and retreat inside the house.

At first I thought he had been enraged by my long, bright red flannel skirt; maybe he thought I was a huge rooster. I dressed my more-than-willing stepson in a red shirt and sent him out; Jack paid him no heed. Since that first attack Jack has been subjected to several tests in which he has had ample opportunity to attack all sorts of people—men, children, other women who stand next to me. He always goes for me. At this point I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted. I do know that I no longer leave the house without a broom.

This turn of events troubles me in several ways. For one, I was brought up by parents who are Quakers in a town where Joan Baez sang songs of peace during my adolescence. When I kick a rooster, I remember all those arguments about passive resistance and how we wouldn't kill someone who was trying to murder our mother. "I don't want to do this to you," I keep telling Jack as I try to kick him away, "really I don't." For another thing, we've always had a harmonious peaceable kingdom around here—dogs, cats and horse all interacting well. I used to feel very relaxed outside, and now I'm paranoid—with good reason. Every time I look around there's Jack, ready to make an assault.

I know you're wondering about his hens. Where are the hens? Well, Jack doesn't have any hens, and this may be the problem. If it is, either we have to get some hens, in which case my husband will probably leave me, or else we'll have to get rid of Jack, in which case I'll miss him. We acquired Jack because he wasn't getting on well with the ducks, chickens and other roosters with whom he lived at his previous home. When Gillian and Jirka Seidl offered him to us, I was happy to adopt him. All my life I've wanted a rooster.

To me, the sound of a rooster crowing is the sweetest, most good-natured hooray that the earth has to offer. I hear a full-throttled crow and my spirit spirals up. Each crow is a small celebration, a round of applause—a happy ending and a promising beginning at the same time. I hear a rooster crow and I am in a French movie on the back of a bicycle, my arms around the waist of the postman who is pedaling in a wobbly fashion down a dirt road lined with tall trees.

The good side of my new relationship with Jack is that he has been crowing unceasingly since the advent of warm weather. He also goes to bed quite early, around 4 p.m., which frees me to leave the house without my broom in the late afternoons and evenings. And, although cockfighting is the last thing I want to be involved in, at least we have no audience cheering and placing bets.