Saturday, August 27, 2011

Morgue File: Chicken Feet

This piece in my morgue file was inspired by a prompt given for a writing contest. The prompt consists of the first several lines of the story, ending with "Grammy hummed in agreement."

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"Chicken Feet"

One night, a few weeks before the wedding, I heard Papaw telling Grammy that Mama should have waited longer than a year before hitching up with some new man.  They sat in the TV room, rocking and talking.  I was in the bathroom, but I wasn’t in the tub.  I had my ear pressed right up against the door, listening.

“I’m telling you, Frannie,” Papaw said, “I don’t know what the dad-gummed hurry is with her. Our son hasn’t been in the grave a year yet.”

I heard the squeak of the floor as Grammy rocked.  She didn’t speak.  She never said much. Not out loud anyway.

“You think she’s marrying that fancy dude for his money?” Papaw asked.

Grammy snorted.  I wanted to snort too, but then they’d have known I was eavesdropping, and Grammy hated that.

“I think she’s making a spectacle of herself, that’s what I think,” Papaw said.

I burned up at that. I knew what a spectacle was, even at 10 years old.

Grammy hummed in agreement.

I must have made a noise then, because the chairs stopped squeaking; I heard Grammy’s clothes crinkle as she turned. I could just see her, eyes squinted, staring hard at the door, through it, but it was Papaw who spoke.

“Helena, if you’re not in that tub in two minutes I’m gonna tan your hide.”

I felt my face go hot and turned to start the water.


Mama was a Rousseau. One of those Magickers from the wrong side of the tracks; that’s what Papaw said when I asked him why he and Mama never seemed to get along.

“They’re trouble, your Mama’s folk,” he’d said, “so many wards festoon those Rousseau yards you can hear ‘em buzzing a mile down the road and ain’t no reason to have so many ‘less you don’t want someone nosing around.”

“But Daddy didn’t think bad of Nana Jean and the others….”

“I loved your Daddy, lil’ bit, but he didn’t have the sense he was born with when it came to your Mama or her family.”

That was what killed him.

Papaw said.

People said.

Nana Jean and her sister had a little shop at the edge of town where they sold charms, like fairy stones, Dreamcatchers, and scrawny-feathered chicken feet gris-gris that were supposed to identify good people and repel the bad ones. 

But I always heard things…about the stuff they kept in the back of the shop. Stuff only special customers got to see.

People in town didn’t like that.

Neither did the other Magickers. 

The night a bunch of them decided to do something about it, Daddy was in the shop doing the inventory. Whatever charm they used made sure he never smelled the smoke.

The firemen told Mama he still had his clipboard in hand when they found him.

No one knows who that group of Magickers was and no one ever cared to find out. Not the Sheriff. Not even Nana Jean. No matter how much Mama screamed and cried and threatened curses.

"Amelia," Nana Jean had told her one night, her voice scratchy and tired and stern. "You don't go courting trouble, 'specially not after it's already found you once."

Mama stopped screaming after that. But she and Nana Jean no longer seemed to like each other.

 Nana Jean had the shop rebuilt and Mama—despite not liking her too well—helped by making calls, stocking the new inventory, and occasionally running the shop. 

That’s how she met Jacob.

He came into the shop, on the back of a summer storm, polished and put together in a dark suit. The chicken feet, hanging on their display, did a little dance when he walked past them, reaching for him with their black claws.

Read more after the jump. 


Jacob gave Mama a necklace of coral so white that it looked like bone. It’d been passed down from his grand-mama, he’d said.

When Mama showed it to Grammy, Grammy picked it up like you’d take a house rat by the tail and said something too quiet for me to hear, but whatever it was it made Mama turn red.  She’d snatched the coral and stomped out of the house.

I spent less time with Grammy and Papaw after that and more time with Mama and Jacob.  He took us to places no one ever took us to: out of town museums, carnivals, even to the beach, though it was well over a day away.

And he never seemed bothered by the whispers of the town or the way some of the Magickers would talk to him when he was out with us.  More than once, Jacob sent the nosier Magickers moving very fast away from him. 

He was hardly a Magicker.  But to see him when someone said bad things about me or Mama might make you forget that.


I heard raised voices in the kitchen as I got out of the tub, Grammy’s and Mama’s.  And then I heard Jacob’s voice, low and slow and saying the wedding was going as planned, thank-you-very-much, and if she and Papaw didn’t want to come that was fine and they should just stay home so as not to spoil a special time. He wasn’t going to see Mama upset.

Poking my head into the kitchen,I saw Grammy staring hard at them both.

“Fine. Why don’t you just sit down? Dinner’ll be ready soon.”

 “Thank you,” Jacob said, smiling at Mama, “it smells delicious.”

Papaw came in a while later to find us spooning up stew; he glanced at Grammy but he didn’t say a word.


Papaw stayed that way for the next two weeks, sharing Grammy’s habit of humming and nodding. 

At the wedding they hummed like wards and didn’t smile at anyone, but they congratulated Mama and Jacob and went away with a little piece of cake and, funnily, one of the chicken feet gris-gris. 

As they walked past Jacob, I saw Grammy give a little jump as the chicken foot dangling from her fingers started to wiggle.

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