“Some things you could make happen, but life was made up mostly of things that happened to you, and even that didn’t account for the way fractured lives somehow held together.”
By Bobbie Ann Mason
March 5, 2018
The only thing Dave liked about working at the chicken processing plant—years ago now—was the company of his buddy Miguel. They used to argue over what kind of shit smelled worst, and Miguel insisted it wasn’t chicken shit.
“You get used to chicken shit, man! It starts to smell like home, like a nice little chicken house with fat hens making big eggs in their boxes.”
“Chicken shit’s the worst,” Dave insisted.
“No, man. Hog shit is worse. I would never work in a hog farm.”
Dave still missed Miguel. For a year, he had worked beside him in the gutting room at the plant. The plucked chickens, hanging by their feet from a moving belt, arrived in a shroud of steam from the scalding room. All day Dave and Miguel gutted chickens, running their sharp knives around the neck holes and with their left hands yanking out the guts into a vat below. The chickens floated above them, their necks dangling, and Dave and Miguel reached to empty them. Carve and scoop. Carve and scoop. “This takes guts, pardon the expression,” Dave was fond of saying. “Yup!” Miguel would say with a grin. At quitting time, they slid on the slippery floor like kids on a patch of ice.
“We’re lucky,” Miguel told him. “We get the warm steam. Down the line, at the screw-chiller, we freeze—our asses blue!”
Miguel told Dave he was worried that his wife, Maria, would become Americanized. “They start wanting money. They want this and that. They don’t want to work. They want to shop, so the men have to work hard.” He shook his head. “I have seen two of those marriages. They go to divorce and the woman gets everything the man worked for. Not good.”
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Bobbie Ann Mason is the author of numerous books, beginning with Shiloh and Other Stories, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her memoir Clear Springs was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her latest book is the novel The Girl in the Blue Beret.