June pours lemon juice into the wound that is her life. June drinks.
She’s piss drunk, slumped over on the cheap card table crammed against the trailer wall. The cool, thin strips of fake wood press against her forehead. The trailer’s got no heat, no electricity. She hunches over to stay warm.
When June sobers up she’ll have to apologize. She’d rather take a tire iron to her uncle’s crooked nose. But it’s that or she and the baby will be out on the street.
The run-down trailer was unsafe even back when and her grandma lived in the thing. Grandma laid dead for three days on a discolored patch of carpet in the bedroom. June found her face down.
June sits up. Waits for her blurry eyes to catch up. She grabs the half-smoked cigarette wedged between two pegs in the crystal ashtray. Ashes get on her hand, which shake a bit from the drink and the cold.
Early that morning her uncle had nudged her still-drunk body awake with the toe of his boot and told her to feed the chickens. She resented how he ordered her around, but having options in life wasn’t her strong suit.
Swears bubbling up from under her breath, June hauled the feed bucket out towards the chicken shed. The bucket banged against her hip. Slush filled her cheap boots. As she turned the corner she wasn’t greeted by the clucking of chickens but by big smears of blood on the wet snow. That’s when her trouble began.
Then again maybe trouble began when Zane threw her and the baby out, leaving her with nowhere to go but this broken-down farm. Or maybe it had started when Zane first stuck his greasy fingers up her shirt behind the football field. Or maybe trouble found her back at some point she couldn’t even remember now. Either way June had trouble.
Looking into the bloody snow, June remembered with mounting horror June that she’d put the chickens to bed while drunk. At the time, she was pissed off her life had been reduced to shutting up a wailing baby and chucking handfuls of dried corn at bird beaks. This combination led her to do a sloppy job. In her haste she must have failed to secure the chicken shed’s lock. Whatever violent creature had sauntered by, a snout-licking fox most likely, had stumbled upon an all-you-can-eat buffet.
June investigated the massacre. The henhouse was lousy with the scent of chicken shit, chicken feathers, and spilled chicken blood. She stuffed her nose and mouth under her scarf to try to keep the scent out. The heat lamps hummed in cruel jest. Rather than keeping the birds alive in the face of blistering cold they were speeding up the decay.
The fox left none alive. The slick thing could’ve eaten its fill from the insides of one or two chickens. But in a blood-fueled frenzy it massacred every chicken, ripping out necks. Foxes can be as cruel as humans if they’re hungry.
June cursed for a bit and then got down to business. She put down her feed bucket and got the wheelbarrow. It was hard to push the thing along the poorly-plowed path. But she did it. With bare hands she chucked little bird bodies into the wheelbarrow one after the other. The blood warmed her hands then froze them more as the chicken’s last bits of warmth wore off.
She spent the rest of the afternoon butchering and freezing the meat and convincing herself that the meat was still good. The whole time she was nervous about what she’d say when her uncle got home. Her eyes darted like cat eyes on a cat clock.
The baby fussed all day. June had to shuffle off between her tasks over and over. It takes a lot of work to go from hugging a baby to butchering massacred birds and back again.
When her uncle returned home he smacked her with a flat hand. Then again with his hand balled up. He called her a drunk. She resented that even though it was true. She called him a no-good son-of-a-bitch woman beater, which didn’t seem to faze him much but he smacked her again on principle. He told her she better clear out in the morning and that he was sick of the baby bawling all night.
After the fight she stalked off into the cold and down to the trailer. She ripped open the metal door and hunkered down. It was too dark so she went to the barn and got a battery-powered lantern. In the barn her rifle was hung up by its sling. She considered the rifle for a moment before grabbing it. Then she got down to drinking.
Now, in her drunken stupor, she remembers she hasn’t fed the baby. She bangs her head against the trailer table. Hopefully her aunt thought of it. June knows she isn’t a good mom right now. But the baby won’t remember this time when he’s older and by the time he is old enough to remember things she’ll have sorted things out. She knows it.
But what if she doesn’t? She imagines her baby hating her as much as she hates her own mom. A wave of sadness wells up inside her. The fresh tears freeze to her face.
When dawn is blue she wakes up groggy with a thick-feeling head. She opens up the trailer’s rickety plastic window and pukes out it. Afterwards she feels a bit better and remembers there’s cans of old food scattered in the cupboards. She gets a wicked idea because she needs to destroy something that isn’t her life.
Her arms are full of expired baked beans, green beans, corn nibblets. The rifle bounces against her shoulder as she walks through the knee-high snow. She drops the cans in the snow behind the old cow fence that shouldn’t even be there because they’ve got no cows on this count-for-nothing farm. June hops the fence and lines the cans up. She walks back to the other side of the field and picks them off with her rifle one-by-one. Half way through her uncle starts hollering.
“Why are you killing them cans?” he shouts.
“I gotta kill something that ain’t ever lived!”
He rubs his forehead. “Oh yeah June? Well then why don’t you kill your good for nothing self!” he shouts. He regrets it but it doesn’t show. For a moment he’s afraid she’ll turn towards him with that gun but she doesn’t.
Meagan's work has appeared in The Alarmist, Specter Magazine, Reality Hands, Be About It, and more. She lives in Seattle and grew up in Maine.
Photograph (Justine Kurland) - credit: http://stevegiovinco.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/chelsea-art-season-photography-shows-justine-kurland-mitchell-innes-nash.jpg