Chicken neck

About the Author
Julie Whan began writing when she was in fourth grade, and now freelance writing is her hobby. “I thoroughly enjoy it,” she says, “and I try to create truly positive stories, as there are plenty of negative ones circulating already.”

This is Whan’s third time to have a story published in Truckers News. She has also had poetry published in the Mercyhurst College literary magazine Lumen.

She works at Schaal Glass Company in Erie, Pa., as a purchasing manager. Her husband Al is a driver for Great Lakes Window in Toledo, Ohio. He has been a driver most of his adult life, and “before that, it was probably toy trucks,” Whan says.

Skinny boys are a dime a dozen, especially in summer. This one caught my eye for two reasons. First, of course, was that he had begun trotting toward my laboring Transtar and mouthing something I could not hear before I came to a complete stop.

The second and most important reason was that it was almost 100 degrees in Ellijay, Ga., and this boy was wearing a thick, red, long-sleeved sweatshirt. The shirt looked very new and was certainly doing its job, because his forehead and face were providing the collar with enough perspiration to darken it by two shades. His sleeves were rolled up, and he carried a roll of some sort of twine in one hand. Two very slim freckled legs stuck out of a tattered pair of cutoff denim shorts, and his bare feet left a trail of wet prints that were quickly evaporating.

A smaller boy waited for him across the road at the riverside, a green plastic bucket in one hand and a roll of the same sort of twine in his other. The other boy was wearing no shirt at all.

Red Sweatshirt danced from one foot to the other, and I realized he was waiting for a response to a question I had not heard. I was behind schedule, and my air conditioner was not working. I had a load of live chickens to deliver, but the intense heat and the sight of the bait shop with a sign outside that said “Cold Iced Tea” made me spare a few moments. The boy and I regarded each other on that quiet, two-lane road.

“What’s that, son?” I asked.

“You got any necks?” he asked, smiling genuinely as he spoke to me. I like that in a person. A genuine, “non-Bank-Lady” smile.

I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what he was talking about and had actually begun reaching for my own collar before the clucking sound in my flatbed woke me up.

“Oh, you mean these?” I gestured toward the chickens. “Well, I really don’t have an extra neck, unless you want a live chicken attached to it.”

He got the joke and grinned again. “Well, I think we might’ve caught enough for everyone, anyway. We’re gonna have a big supper tonight. It’s my birthday.” He seemed to stand taller as he made the last announcement.

“Well, a very happy birthday, sir,” I said. “You having a party?”

“I got this new shirt from my Mom. I know she saved her cigarette money for it, but she won’t tell me for sure. She said she wanted to quit anyway. I’m gonna get enough catfish for her to cook all she wants tonight,” he said. Again, I saw the broad smile. “We’re out of bait, and we even tried some boiled macaroni noodles, but the river just pulls them right off the hook. We’ve got a lot already.”

His companion was crossing the road with the green bucket, its weight pulling his shoulder down. I could see the tails of its occupants poking out of the top and splashing droplets of water onto the dry road. I noted immediately that the matching rolls of twine were, indeed, thick drop lines, each with a dull hook attached to the end. They were crude but useful in place of a pole. You would coil the last bit around your finger and wait for a bite. If the fish was big, pulling it in could hurt. I saw that the boys had no other supplies.

I also noted that the other boy was missing his right index finger. He stopped short of us, and stood in the middle of the road, looking down a bit. He was smaller and thinner than my other smiling visitor, but his face looked older. He seemed wary of me.

“Your brother?” I asked.

“He’s my best friend, and he stays with me and Mom most of the time. He’s gonna eat over, too. His mom, um, works a lot.”

Again, the sound of the flapping agitated chickens made me start walking. “Well, boys, I sure wish I had some of those – oops, let’s look out here.”

A blue van was trying to pass us. It moved past, gleaming from a fresh wash. I could see several young faces bobbing in the windows and talking. A yellow sticker on the rear bumper read, PROUD PARENT OF A SOCCER STAR. My two visitors were watching, as well.

The van slowed as it approached the bait shop and parked next to the Iced Tea sign. The sun quickly found the idle vehicle, rippling across the roof and creating a mirage of liquid royal blue. A man and three boys stepped out, while the woman waited inside. The man wore a fishing hat with colorful lures stuck to the sides. The boys were giggling and poking one another. They looked younger than my visitors, but it was obvious they were brothers. They all walked inside the bait shop.

I was still walking slowly toward the store, but my visitors had stopped. I was not na

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