Pecker was a prize from the shooting gallery at the traveling funfair, a batshit rooster that roosted in the apple tree in our yard. Pecker had the look of the just-saved, and his neck-wrung feathers, sparse, spiked, seeming wet, suited the bird’s mean disposition. He was hardly a prize – more likely a giveaway at the bucket-ball stall before the carnival folk moved on. Someone must have taken the rooster for a hen and expected fresh eggs when the rooster wasn’t even good at rooster things. He crowed at night and woke our mother – woke us, too. Wait for the sun, you pecker! If only he were good eating, our father said, but Pecker would have tasted foul – ha, ha. Our father, the joker, said Pecker was good for a laugh. That Pecker. His comb looked chawed and his red eyes mad. Try to cross the yard – our backyard – and he would flap down and scuttle after and peck at our legs and our feet. And it hurt – he picked our little sister’s laces loose and made her cry.
Whatever happened to that Pecker?
So many figures from girlhood disappeared. All the outdoor cats that left the house and never came back, their lives cut short by – what? Dogs or cars or those mean boys on their bikes. Elmer and Homer, Sonny, Daisy, Pity, Peeps: we remembered their names. The indoor cats lived longer, but when we came home from camp, old Major was gone. All we could find was his favorite cushion, deeply indented and darkly furred. Our mother said it was past keeping, and she threw it out.
The apple-headed Siamese was so self-possessed he walked in the front door when we held it open for him, and he weaved around our legs. Sweet companion, surely someone else’s pet, how was it no one ever came to claim him? We called him Charlie, but he would have come to any name. He was gregarious. He followed our father into the newly installed stairlift but was freaked by the accordion gate. At the second-floor landing, he tried to streak through it, but it sprung back fast and nearly cut him in half. Those of us home at the time watched him die.
It was that way with all the pets, and with our father, too. The Great Dane, Cavalier, belonging to our cousins, who spent a large part of one summer with us, was simply not on the lawn the next.