Christine walked out of her apartment to her car in good spirits, excited to meet a friend for a beer. She was pretty sure it was an informal date, but she was grateful for the lack of definition. She wasn’t quite ready for the pressure of an actual date. Baby steps.
She had just gotten a haircut, and her beautician had blown out her hair. It felt bouncy and prettier than her usual ponytail. She was inspired by the extra attention to her aesthetic and had even put a little eyeshadow on, which was also out of character. She was wearing a new lacey, pink tube top paired with tight, black skinny jeans, rolled up at the bottom and her go-to Birkenstocks to keep the outfit casual.
Christine had finally begun to come around to possibility of being intimate with a man again. For a long time, after how her last partner had hurt her, she couldn’t even be alone in a room with a man without feeling anxiety and nervously looking around for an escape route—just in case.
Christine drove a few blocks through the quaint downtown, passing storefronts filled with kitsch knickknacks. Fair Oaks had a rural, small-town vibe with narrow streets and mature trees, with the sound of roosters crowing in the distance. Feral chickens roamed around, occasionally impeding traffic and forcing cars to stop to let them cross the street. The oasis of the village seemed misplaced, planted in the middle of a sprawling metropolis with four and five-lane roads, packed with speeding cars, and lined with strip malls.
Christine pulled into the gas station to fill up her tank before turning onto the busy four-lane arterial road full of fast-moving rush hour traffic at this time of the evening. The gas station was just as busy as Sunrise Boulevard, so she pulled up behind another car to wait her turn to pump gas.
A flurry of movement on the sidewalk by the outdoor restroom caught her eye. Christine looked over and saw three adolescent roosters chasing a young hen. The hen was flapping her wings wildly, trying to get away from the aggressive young cocks. Christine’s jaw dropped as she watched the three roosters repeatedly jumping on the young hen, as she clucked with obvious terror, doing everything she could to escape with little success.
Christine’s heart was racing as she sat, frozen, watching the violence on the sidewalk. She looked around in a panic, hoping that someone else was witnessing the assault of the hen and would take it upon themselves to intervene. People were pumping gas, in a rush to get home no-doubt. A man walked within feet of the chickens on his way inside the gas station, not even turning his eyes towards the animals causing a scene on the sidewalk. Perhaps he didn’t want to make eye contact with the hen, which would oblige him to acknowledge the violence being perpetrated by the roosters.
Christine continued to stare at the poor, struggling hen, unable to motivate to intervene either. The excuses that she guessed people were making to themselves to justify not helping the hen—she was making the very same excuses herself—raced through her mind: Chickens will be chickens; it must be their natural inclination. The cocks can’t help themselves. It’s probably not even rape. They’re doing it in plain sight so it must be normal chicken behavior. That hen must be in heat. She must have done something that triggered the instinct of the roosters to mate. What could one do to stop it anyway? If someone took it upon themselves to intervene, they’d just cause trouble for themselves; the people waiting to get gas behind them would get annoyed if they left their vehicle and not to mention just how silly they’d look chasing chickens around the gas station parking lot.
Suddenly a car honked and snapped Christine out of her trance. She looked up and saw that the car that had been at the pump she was waiting for had driven away. She glanced in her rear-view mirror and saw that the person waiting behind her was gesturing towards her, looking annoyed. She pulled forward and got out to pump her gas, feeling shaken. It was finally beginning to cool down from the intense summer heat of the Sacramento Valley, but she could feel beads of sweat forming on her face and dripping down her chest between her breasts where the sweat began to form a dark spot at her bustline.
Christine’s eyes darted back over at the chickens after she began pumping her gas. A woman came out of the store and walked up the sidewalk straight towards the avian skirmish. Without pausing her stride, she hissed a loud, “Chsht,” making the cocks jump, followed by three loud claps that sent them running into the bushes. The woman continued her stroll to her old beat up van, unphased as the hen clucked and stumbled away. Christine stood, staring at the rapidly changing numbers on the gas pump, trying to overcome a visceral urge to throw up. The woman’s nonchalant intervention had been a relief but also left Christine reeling with shame. Next time she would have the wherewithal to react and stand up for the poor hen.