I would like to begin with three facts:
1. I have pet chickens.
2. I have a ten-year-old daughter.
3. I have never smoked a cigarette.
Yesterday I had a biopsy taken of my cervix, and the procedure went fine except for the crampy feeling afterward, which I’d been warned about. I’m still waiting on the results.
Regardless of being just fine, I decided to take the rest of the day off, which is something I rarely do because, frankly, I have been an overachiever my entire life. Although I believe I know how to have fun (camping is fun), I have recently started to suspect that some people consider me a “drag.” I’ve begun to consider myself a drag, especially when I can’t take a measly half day off without my conscience bugging me.
As evidence of my puritanical past, I offer again that I have never smoked a cigarette, not even once, mainly because it hasn’t occurred to me that it might be fun. But for some reason the biopsy made me want to smoke a cigarette on the sly. Also I’d just had my fortieth birthday, and every forty-year-old should have smoked at least once, right? So I thought I might lounge around after the biopsy, take a bath, read a magazine, and smoke a cigarette, right in the middle of the day.
But the doctor had been running late, so I arrived home late, and then my daughter got off the bus with a friend, and I was conscripted into making caramel popcorn, my signature dish. So there was never any time for lounging around and smoking.
After driving the friend home at dusk, my daughter and I came upon three roosters just standing in the middle of the road. Not deer, not stray dogs, not skunks, but three roosters — huge, beautiful birds, the kind with shimmery, multihued feathers — just standing there in the middle of the road, which is in the middle of Colorado grasslands and brush. No houses, hen or otherwise, in view.
My daughter said, “They’re going to be eaten by a fox tonight, aren’t they?”
“Yes, they are,” I said.
“Why are they here?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“I’ve never seen roosters standing in the middle of the road.”
“Me either,” I said.
What came next was whining: we just had to save the roosters.
I had never had a biopsy. I had never seen roosters in the road. But I had, nearly every day of my adult life, been denied my wishes, so often that I was at peace about it — not in a pushover, spineless way, but just a recognition of the impermanence of everything, including plans. So I got out of the car and murmured, “Here, chick-a-chick-a-chick,” which would bring my own hens wobble-running to my side. At home we have nine chickens with names like Burt, Oh-Beatle-Beatle, Zeitgeist, Sy, Fred, Henrietta, and so on, who huddle together outside our front door and follow me around whenever I step out of the house. They are mainly treated as pets, even by our dog.
But these roosters just glared at me and backed off. I stepped forward, holding my aching abdomen, and they ran backward. I ransacked my car and found some crackers from a fast-food restaurant to throw to them. Though they appeared interested in the saltines, the birds weren’t coming forward.
“No can do,” I told my daughter as I climbed back in the car and began to drive on. “Part of the circle of life and all.”
Next she started sobbing, sobbing — ridiculous for a rural and sturdy kid like her. And then she did something she had never done before, which was threaten to jump out of the moving car — in order to, quote, “save those lovely, mean roosters!”
She even opened the door and leaned out.
Cursing under my breath, I pulled into the driveway of the nearest farmhouse, which had a pure white peacock and many ducks and geese in the yard. Since it was a hippie-looking house, this struck me as normal. The homeowner, however, was not a rooster lover. She confirmed my suspicion that the roosters had probably been “dumped.” We nodded in mature acknowledgment of the truth: roosters are mean, and we’d probably have dumped them ourselves.
While I was talking with the woman, my daughter secretly dug out my cellphone and called my husband, who immediately drove over.
“Where are the horses that are out?” he asked when he climbed out of the car. He’s used to helping chase neighbors’ escaped animals. Last week it was llamas.
“Roosters,” I clarified.
“I’m here for roosters?” He looked at my daughter and narrowed his eyes.
“Just for the record,” I told him, “I want to say that (a) I want to go home and take a bath and climb into bed, and (b) I’m all for letting the fox get them.”
But no. My husband and daughter chased the roosters back and forth across the evening-lit fields until the man I married, in a quick, savvy move, grabbed one rooster, turned it upside down, and held it to his chest so that it couldn’t spur him. “Hurrah!” my daughter yelled, and then she agreed that the fox could have the other two, since by now they were about a mile away. She’s a realist, after all.
Meanwhile I could feel blood between my legs — not much, but enough to gather in my underwear. It was one of those moments — yes, indeed, there are a few — when I wished I hadn’t had children, so that I could take an afternoon off and care for my body when it needed care. But I simultaneously felt the tired recognition that life without my daughter would feel empty to me. I’ve been practicing calm acceptance of late, and for once it actually came to me unbidden. It’s wonderful that my husband and daughter are cooing over a rooster while I am bleeding in my underwear, I thought.
And so the mean rooster was taken to my mother’s ranch, and since she collects animals — everything from canaries to donkeys to peacocks to the odd tame raccoon — she was delighted. “Oh, hello, Big Red,” she said when we brought the rooster through the door, as if they were old friends.
“I bet this rooster is realizing it just went from hell to heaven,” my husband said before carrying the rooster to the chicken house, where a few hens that hadn’t had sex in a while lived.
And there we were: three generations of human females, standing alone in the kitchen — two delighted by the rooster and one not, but united by the fact that we all had cervixes, and we’ve all had, or will have, things touching our cervixes, from lovely penises to unlovely speculums.
Afterward I went home and drew a bath and scented it with almond oil. When my daughter asked if she could get in the tub after me — we often share bath water — I told her no, but I didn’t tell her why: there was some diluted blood in the bath, and I wanted to wash it away, to protect her somehow from cervical biopsies and what such tests might find. I drained the warm, sweet-smelling water before my confused daughter could complain. For some reason this broke my heart.
This morning, after my daughter got on the bus, I drove to Vern’s Liquor and bought a pack of cigarettes. I had never in my life purchased one, and I felt like a nervous sixteen-year-old. I picked Marlboro Lights. Was that a good choice? My naiveté was horrifying. I wasn’t even sure of the difference between menthol and lights and regular, and I didn’t want to stand there, a forty-year-old woman, and ask the cashier. As he rang me up, I realized that smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer, so this was probably the dumbest act of rebellion ever.
An embarrassing confession: I had to go back to buy a lighter, because I’d forgotten that cigarettes need to be lit. Then, when I got to my car, I realized that it has a cigarette lighter, so I hadn’t needed to buy one at all. Really, it was ridiculous.
I took my purchase home, and, because I’m an overachiever and wanted to do it right, I watched a YouTube video on how to properly smoke a cigarette, in which a haggard-looking man videoed himself smoking in his car. I followed his instructions, and, I must say, I didn’t cough even once. Goody-two-shoes me; I annoy even myself.
Anyway, I smoked it outside, glancing furtively around to be sure that what few neighbors we have didn’t see me. I got a nicotine rush but then felt nauseated. At least now I wouldn’t die without having tried it. Because what if the biopsy came back positive? What else hadn’t I done that a person should do — a person, that is, who wants to remain whole and healthy but also needs to let loose once in a while?
As I smoked, my goofy dog played a game with the equally goofy chickens. Here is how it works: The dog runs to one corner of the yard, and the chickens go galloping after her. She picks up a toy and tosses it into the air, and they rush over, hoping it’s food. (They’ve learned to associate her with food, since she’s always with me when I feed them.) She wags her tail at them and repeats the process. Pretty soon the hens get fed up with the nonfood event. One of them pecks at the dog’s collar, hoping the shiny tag is something delicious. The dog needs a friend.
When I’d finished the cigarette, I drove back to the liquor store. On the way I watched for deer in the road, which are much more common than roosters. I left the pack of cigarettes outside the store so that someone (hopefully an adult) might find them and smoke them if they wished.
As I drove away, I wondered about my psyche and what it needs and why it had chosen smoking instead of sky diving or flirting with a stranger or drinking a glass of wine before five o’clock. I wondered what the lab report will look like, how it will be broken up, what narrative it will tell. When it arrives, perhaps I’ll take the afternoon off. I’ll pet the dog and the chickens and be glad I don’t have a rooster. I’ll stare up at the clouds and proclaim, at least to myself, that I am not a drag.