Crack. That’s the sound of the chicken’s neck breaking between his two thickly knuckled hands. For their size, their movements are deft – succinct and measured. It only takes him a minute to snap the chicken’s neck, another 15 to strip the feathers from around the scrawny throat and smooth the puckered skin around the break. He tosses the body to the slowly growing pile beside him.
There’s about four now, the corpses arranged in a strange unison like a set of bowling pins with pairs of beady eyes staring out blankly. There are two remaining hens in a wooden crate to his left, crooning softly to themselves. They have seen enough to know their fate and offer no struggle as he lifts them into the air, their bodies slack in reluctant acceptance of what is to come. He breaks both necks in one go – crack – and two more blank eyed bowling pins drop to the pile.
He is making chicken curry – his mother’s recipe, the one she taught him when he was 11 and set on becoming a chef. He is an accountant now but not a very good one. He works in a small office for a big firm and only ever cooks for the monthly dinner party held by his neighbours. Mr Next-Door is an accountant at the same firm too, only he is a very good one. At last month’s dinner party, with a thrilled tremor in her voice, Mrs Next-Door “accidently” let slip that her husband had been given a sizable promotion.
“It’s really mean to be hush-hush but I’m just so proud” had been her exact words, gushed excitedly into her overly full glass of red wine.
“They said he’s one of the best minds in the firm, simply unparalleled!” She had turned to him after that and offered a sympathetic smile.
“I expect they find you valuable as well, in some way.”
She hadn’t waited for a reply, and he hadn’t offered one, just seethed quietly into his cooling soup, it’s tomato flavour marred by the bitter taste of his jealousy.
He had made his mother’s chicken curry for the main course at that dinner too, but the piping hot bowls had received a decidedly cooler reception.
“It’s so apparent in dishes like this when a lesser quality meat has been used,” had been Mr Next Door’s verdict.
Beside him, his wife had nodded fervently.
“We rarely buy anything other than farm-raised and freshly slaughtered meat ourselves,” she had remarked tartly, “It’s simply so important to get fresh cuts.”
He had sat in simmering silence and struggled to finish his bowl, the bitterness in his mouth returning with force. Next month, he assured them, the meat would the freshest they’d ever tasted.
Crack. That’s the sound that jerks him back to the present, the sound of his letterbox opening as a fist full of handwritten leaflets are pushed through the slot by a tear-stained Mrs Next-Door. The matte paper fans out as it hits his hallway floor, black lines of expert cursive curling over each sheet.
Missing: 6 beloved silky bantam hens.
By Grace Symes from Australia