Goat and Chickens – Tom
They caught the ferry at Clinton. Or is it Mukilteo. They caught it on the mainland side, whatever it is called. They were heading to Coupeville for the weekend, for the funeral of an old friend of Livie’s family. George had met the man, exchanged pleasantries the times they had met. Eagles and chickens, cats and goats and raccoons.
“Are we going to stop at the farm supply and look at chickens? Bet there some deals to be had about now.”
“What would you know about chicken deals? Why would you ask me to get chickens now? Always about the chickens and the goats. Always designed to piss me off or make me look grumpy.”
“You have been grumpy, generally. Besides, I remember the chicken promise.”
“What do you mean remember?”
“You promised them to me once.”
“A moment of weakness, shortly after number two had arrived.”
“Must you insist on turning the kids into numbers when they aren’t here?”
They both smiled though. The chicken discussion and enumerating the kids was old territory. A comfortable debate they used to place themselves, or mark time, I guess. The clouds were close and rain streaked the windows of the ferry. There was plenty of white on the water.
Soon they were on to other familiar old debates. Her threat to get him a light to improve his seasonal moods. His threat to chuck it all: her, the kids, the house, and go get a job as a lift operator at Mount Baker. Live in a camper, the romantic life. Her threat might have some weight to it, despite George’s professed love of the seasonal darkness. His threat was as likely as a tulip blooming outside in November.
“You’d have to start like they start the kids. Picking up garbage, working at the food counter. You are way too old for that. You’re sure aiming high with that lift operator dream.”
“Wasted my best years on you and one, two, and three.”
They sipped their coffee. The main issue was burning a weekend away without the kids. For the funeral of someone they barely knew. George found the whole thing depressing: a waste of precious resources for something not very much fun, for a chore, a sad and heavy one at best. How much childcare karma were they spending on this?
“Maybe we can stop at the farm, take a look at the animals. I’m sure it is beautiful.”
“Always is. I just wish we could have turned this into an up and down day, rather than a weekend. It’s not that far, and I don’t want to go to this reception.”
“It is the least we can do.”
“The least we can do? Stand around at a reception where we don’t know anyone, looking uncomfortable. Lonely at a funeral. Weird. Sad.”
“Not that weird. That is what people do. Seems like you haven’t been to enough funerals.”
“Been to enough funerals? Really.”
“A better way to say it is you have been lucky. You should be counting things that have gone well. And people remember when you show up. And at the worst, you don’t feel bad about blowing it off.”
“Lucky my ass. One less thing to feel guilty about. Does not seem to account for much.”
They landed on Whidbey, returned to their car and headed north off the ferry.
“Maybe we can stop in Greenbank and pick up some chickens?”
“You know, that’s a terrible idea.”
“No fun. Have a nice weekend.”
They motored on as the twilight released the day and it turned to night. Traffic was light and their conversation faded. The drive was not too long. George had begun to dream of dinner, the news humming low on the radio. They were nearly in range of Coupeville, the lights of town beginning to brighten the horizon. Coming around a wide curve he saw two pairs of eyes, glowing from the road. Purely in reaction he hit the brakes, turned the wheel, slid off the road.
“George – what the hell.”
He looked up to see a pickup slowing down to check on them. The two raccoons were well out of sight, but he had a witness.
“Hell of a risk for a pair of raccoons you asshole. You got a brain in there? You safe to drive?” There were reasonable observations and questions from the truck’s driver.
Livie shivered. “Nearly killed us over a pair of rodents. George!”
“Just a reaction. No thought. Conditioning, not affection. Damn. I’m sorry Livie. It happened so quick.”
She reassured him that all was ok. She understood. Then she updated her Facebook status to let the world know he had nearly killed them over a pair of raccoons.
How lucky they had been, he thought. How many things have gone right. No oncoming traffic, nobody following too close. Not on an embankment, not in trees. So many things that could have happened that didn’t. He wasn’t shaking when he got back in the car, but, starting with Livie, earlier to the time he did not get arrested in Chicago he thought of just how lucky he had been. The cliff in Utah. He thought of one, two, and three. His friends. His job. He was quiet for the rest of the night and through breakfast the next morning.
The weather the next day was blustery. They went for a hike they had repeated more than once on the bluff above Admiralty Inlet. The wind howled on the beach and in the trees. The clouds blew out and the world looked fresh and new. You could see across to the peninsula and gulls riding the drafts. The visible world was big.
They went to the service for the farmer but skipped the cemetery. They stood on the road watching a funeral parade of tractors that seemed a mile long. You could see them from well out of town slowly climb the shallow hill first towards them and then turn to the cemetery. It was majestic and somber and beautiful. Folks were surprised by the sun and the number of tractors.
He didn’t grouse about the reception the next day. More than a few folks were happy to see them. And the food wasn’t bad. He even got to watch the game with some fellows in a quiet corner of the hall.
They got out of there around two. On the way back to the ferry, passing through Greenbank he pulled into the farm supply store.
“What’s up?” said Livie.
“I thought maybe we could check out some chickens,” he said.