Trouble at the Henhouse
From Life in the Court of Matane. Translated by Peter Mccambridge. Published by QC Fiction in 2016. Dupont is the author of four novels and winner of Radio-canada’s “Combat des Livres” and other awards. He lives in Montreal.
Despite my efforts to go undetected in the schoolyard, Jimmy Côté was always popping up nearby. First, he wanted to be sure that I was, indeed, the son of Henry VIII. Then, with the help of other birds of a feather, he made it clear that uniforms were a sore point with him. For me, 1982 was the year of stomach-clenching cramps. Not a day went by without an ambush, not a single recess was terror-free. I took refuge in the henhouse.
There, too, things were beginning to fall in around me. The rate of lay had plummeted with the cold nights. One morning, death visited my hens for a second time. It was the little brother who came running back in from the henhouse, panicked by what he had just seen there. The temperature had dropped below zero during the night. Clearly no one had ever explained rigor mortis to him. At a loss for words, he lay down on his back and showed us that one of the hens had taken up the very same position and was refusing to budge. The hen must be dead, we explained to him. “It can’t be,” he maintained. “Its eyes were open.”
I investigated. A hen had indeed died during the night. One of the younger ones. There was no sign of injury. A perfunctory autopsy revealed that she had been bitten from behind. The king suspected a weasel. The other hens went about their business, blissfully unaware. I had a new enemy to deal with.
Things began to heat up at school. Jimmy and his gang of mercenaries had taken over the schoolyard. Mr.
Ferguson’s ghost stories seemed to have little effect on them. One day in October, the tension reached boiling point. With my thoughts consumed by my hen’s murder, I had forgotten my fear of Jimmy and didn’t see him and his gang walk over. They began with a few slaps I didn’t see coming, a classic technique. I don’t know what came over me that day; I think the weasel affair had left a bitter taste in my mouth. Not that I was overly fond of my hens. Truth be told, they were a lot of work and were becoming harder and harder to look after. No, on that particular morning, I was mostly thinking about the nasty weasel and its treacherous attacks, and I felt an anger the size of a pea forming somewhere deep inside me. The pea grew, filled out, and took on a personality of its own that had as many qualities as flaws. Without really understanding why, and without really looking up, I grabbed Jimmy’s first apostle by the throat and held him tight until he began to turn blue. The colour went perfectly with his eyes and shoes, I thought. A touch too pale, perhaps. A deathly shade of blue would suit the little blond runt to a T. I would have to tighten my grip a little. Julie Santerre and her chicks would usually cheer on battles and acts of violence against me, cackling: “Blood! We want blood!” This time, they were there all right, but they were so astounded, they’d been struck dumb. It was as though it was their necks I was gripping in my hand. They didn’t come to the wretch’s defence, nor did they encourage him to kill me, as was their wont. Jimmy Côté, completely taken aback, made no move to step in and help out his vassal, which speaks volumes about honour among hoodlums. The boy was slowly turning blue right before my eyes, while I marvelled at just how strong my arms were. I silently thanked Henry VIII for getting me into body building.
This flash of manliness was proof positive that integration is possible, no matter the setting, provided you make a little effort. The pecking order wasn’t set in stone, after all. A simple throttling was enough to rejig it. No need for anyone to lose any teeth. Julie Santerre and the chicks still didn’t say a word. I could feel the heat rising from the kid’s neck beneath my fingers. His carotid artery was throbbing right where my thumb and index finger met. His pulse was racing. I wondered if he, too, was going to fall on his back, eyes open, teeth clenched. He was so thin. Just a few more weeks’ training, I thought to myself, and I’d be able to snap his neck with one hand. I imagined the cracking sound his vertebrae would make as they snapped. Whispers went up from the students crowded around me. Someone prayed to God. The aesthete in me still wasn’t happy with the colour of the little hoodlum’s face; his skin was so soft and pale. I’d never thought of him as good-looking, but now the blond kid almost moved me to pity. My breathing accelerated. A girl cried out.
I felt a powerful hand grab my wrist. It was Mr. Ferguson. A ghost must have tipped him off. The dead always rat on you. Ironically enough, my victim, the fair-haired boy, was the one who found the drowned sailor’s body on the beach. Had he shouted so loudly that day because the sailor’s blue face prophesied this