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As he did, one small hen which had still been inside fell out flaccidly, its fleshy mohican which should have been red, was white.

'Is it dead?' I said.

'Michelle,' Tad said, taking it in his hands like a baby, "It's not dead but I'm going to have to kill it. I have to put it out of its misery or it'll die in pain by the time we get home.'

As he spoke he deftly twisted the hen's neck between his thumb and forefinger as though giving it a massage, which he did sometimes on my grandmother's big, knotty shoulders.

'It's for his own good Chelle,' he said, looking at me mysteriously for a moment as though wondering if I still loved him. He reached past me to the glove box for a plastic bag and wrapped the chicken inside it. He always had plastic bags on him, for collecting dandelion leaves for the rabbits. 'We'll bury it in the garden.'

'Is it dead?' I said again.

He nodded and started the engine.

My grandfather drove slowly over the peak of the dusty mountain. He drove slowly anyway on account of the infamous accident. When I was just a new born he'd backed his green Mini over the edge of a cliff with Mam-gu beside him.

Neither of them were hurt but Mam never forgave him for having lost her knitting. (She'd been making a white cardigan with pearls encrusted around the cuffs and it flew out of the window. The wool was an off cut from Ponty market and she never, ever matched its ivory colour). After a jolt, Tad'd check in the mirror that the chickens were okay. I could see them through my wing mirror. They huddled stiffly like one body of balding, pimply skin with ten legs. Their eyes seemed to be focused on me, whichever direction they looked.

We stopped at the top of the valley for petrol and Tad left me in the car while he paid for it. I'd been sitting in the passenger seat for two minutes when one of the hens moaned from deep down behind its dirty feathers. There was a moment of silence before another hen followed suit.

Collectively their noise sounded like a mass complaint, voiced with a woman's yelp. Volume seemed to give them confidence and they parted, pecking one another, like death warming up. The smallest, pale and shaking chicken didn't move at all. It sat in the middle of the boot while the others began to prod and butt it, its orange pupils fixed on me.

Before my father became estranged, there was a fish tank in the living room and if one angel fish inside it became diseased, the others would push it to the surface of the water, like aquatic undertakers. I reached for the chicken, lifting it easily, like a toy.

Swiftly, I wrung its neck, as my grandfather had done.

Continues tomorrow
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 15, 2005
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