Hell in a Bucket

“What is it?”

“For Christ’s sake, Rose. It’s fried chicken.”

She’s worried about abetting a felon. There are laws now regarding the possession, distribution, manufacturing, or consumption of fried chicken. The intent to sell will get you life. If it’s suspected that you’ve sold, or intended to sell, to a minor, it’s instant death penalty, or IDP. The police shoot you on the spot.

Rose suspected that I was up to something when I brought home the paraphernalia.

“What are these alcohol wipes for?” she said.

“I killed a hobo.” I had to think of something. “I didn’t have time to drop off the evidence.”

Only three percent of the American population attended the previous election and elected a turkey into office. The Senate, which at the time consisted of two lions, a parking meter, three bananas, a clock radio, the letter H (after an auspicious marketing campaign that targeted the child demographic), twelve Minnesotans, Mickey Mouse, I.C. Weiner, Plato, the entire cast of Mama’s Family, the Statue of Liberty, and five Norwegians who had no idea of their political powers, would reductively phrase any decision that had to be made as a yes-or-no question, and place two piles of seed in front of the president, one marked “Yes,” the other “No.” Inadvertently, and somewhat ironically, the president outlawed fried chicken, which became the deadliest drug on the black market. Without the need for FDA approval, racketeers pushed the limits of the deep fryer, creating a concoction more addictive than heroin, more powerful than morphine, and more dangerous than chaperoning Mickey Rourke and Amy Winehouse on a date.

I place the bucket on the center of the table. I don’t know what to do with the grease on my fingers. Shortly after the laws passed, the police aggregated and destroyed all the grease traps better than the DEA ever could. They monitor everyone’s garbage better than the telescreens monitor everyone’s movements.

I soil my shirt and sit down in front of the bucket, forgetting where I placed the alcohol wipes.

“Rose,” I whisper.

She wants to yell at me but she’s worried that the neighbors will turn us in. She knows all the slang words for fried chicken—brown, butter, fried sweetness, grease, heart attack, fowl, wing, avian, cock-a-doodle-do—but so does everyone else. They teach it to the kindergartners.

I ask her to join me but she leaves the room. Maybe I should have looked for the alcohol wipes. Maybe I should have said grace, even though there surely is no God, not in a world where a man has to sweat in fear while he eats fried chicken.

I finish and I don’t know what to do with the bucket.

“Rose,” I whisper.

I hold my hands up like a doctor does during surgery (or is it right before?) and kick open the swinging door for my ex-o-dus from the kitchen, my e-gress.

My es-cape.

“Rose,” I whisper, and suddenly realize I’m in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Seagulls search for bread in the ceiling’s corners. Pigeons coo at one another by the loveseat. Emus discuss poetry by the window. Raucous hummingbirds knock over cheap hotel art. Two penguins shave each other’s bellies an arm’s reach away; I could touch them if my hands weren’t contaminated. I’d hate to be the cause of ubiquitous cock-a-doodle-do addiction in the event these birds escape and spread the contagion—all addictions are contagious, commutable by the sharing of the human condition.

“Rose,” I whisper, inaudible beneath the witty banter of four ostriches arguing the mind-body problem, sardonic yet inquisitive and acute.

Existentialism is on its way out, I want to tell them. It’s not cool anymore.

I watch my step and make my way to the stairs. As I ascend, I’m so self-conscious I nearly fall over. Do I usually have to hold on to the rail? Is it a conscious decision on my part that I’ve never paid attention to or just autonomous? Do I need the guide for stability, or is the long piece of wood just an illusion of safety?

“Rose,” I whisper.

All the doors are shut tight. If there was a crack I could work my way into the room. It’s uncertain whether or not Rose is on this floor, so the risk of contaminating the doorknob, of leaving ev-i-dence behind, fills my mind and pushes all other sensibility out through my ears.

It’s here that I realize that the fried chicken has taken its effect.

And here.

And here and here and here.

“Rose,” I whisper.

I want to tell her that I regret eating the fried chicken. I want to tell her that I’m sorry I endangered her life by bringing home the bucket of crime. That I want to absolve myself, but I need her help. I want to tell her anything.

A large, beautiful eagle exits the bathroom. He tells me that he didn’t flush, that he didn’t wash his talons.

“It’s all yours,” he says. “But I’d wait awhile.”

I go in anyways and see a giant, decorated Easter egg.

I didn’t know the Easter Bunny was fowl.

I should have asked the eagle where Rose is, but he’s already fraternizing with the other avian creatures. He’s whipped out the flask and cracked open the bar. One of the emus already has a lampshade on his head. One of the penguins is making out with one of the pigeons. The ostriches are scribbling things like “God is Dead” and “No Exit” and “Kafkaesque” on a passed out seagull.

I cry and the grease burns my eyes.

I sweat and the fat suffocates my skin.

Something rings the doorbell and there is a knock at the back door. The windows rattle. The roof shakes. Something is causing the floor to vibrate.

Ryan Dunham is currently a doctoral candidate at Ohio University in the Media Arts and Studies’ Mass Communications program. He earned both his B.A. and M.A. in English Literature and Creative Writing from Binghamton University. His work has previously appeared in Helix Magazine, Jersey Devil Press, and Ricky’s Back Yard, and is forthcoming in The Bookends Review.

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