Big Ass had the Pip. This is an ailment that attacks a chicken’s nostrils similarly to how a cold obstructs our noses. But unlike the common cold, it does not go away in two weeks; in fact, it is often fatal. The hen becomes morose, refuses to eat and of course stops laying eggs.
Now, Big Ass was the best layer we had and there was no way we could find a substitute for her. We had to cure in the month that was left or there was no way we could win the contest.
Father bought some drops, which were a specific cure for the Pip. Twice daily he started pouring them down Big Asses’ nostril. He assured me that the problem was solved, these drops would cure the illness. However, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to use other remedies as well. Therefore, I dropped fifty cents in the box by the altar to St. Jude and lit five candles. He is the patron Saint of the impossible problems. Might as well start at the top, I thought.
And then, of course, there was Cleo. I approached her with the problem—of which she was perfectly aware—and asked for her help. Oh yes, there is a sure cure, she told me, she had learned it from her grandmother. The only requirement was a red rooster. Using his red feathers she would rid Big Ass of the evil which was affecting his nostrils.
“Where are we going to get a red rooster?” I asked.
“You know perfectly well where you can get a red rooster.”
“Neighbor Gonzalez?” I cringed when I said this. I liked Gonzalez.
“That’s the one,” she said. “You’re small enough and thin enough to crawl under the fence.”
“But that would be stealing,” I complained.
“You’d be borrowing it so I could pluck a few red feathers from its tail.”
“Can’t I pluck the feather and bring him to you?”
“You must bring me the rooster so that I may perform the ceremony. It’s like a priest saying mass. He takes the bread and the wine and only he can say the magic words. Tonight I am the priest. I will carefully say the words of the incantation over the red feathers as I pull them from the rooster’s tail.”
I sneaked out of my room at eleven that night and walked with Cleo toward the pen in Gonzalez’ farm. I carried a small hood like the ones you put over a falcon’s head. I had no trouble catching the sleeping rooster and slipping the hood over his head. He made no noise as I crawled under the fence once more. My clothes were quite dirty by then, since it had rained that afternoon, but Cleo said she would wash them herself.
Red Rooster struggled fiercely as Cleo held him firmly and pulled the red feathers from his tail. With them she stroked the beak, head and body of Big Ass several times while mumbling some words which were as strange as the priest’s Latin.
“It is done,” she said. “Fat Ass will be alright. Here, put the rooster back in his pen.”
As I took the rooster in my hands I noticed that something was very wrong. His neck was limp and his head was hanging down.
“Cleo,” I said, scared. “He’s dead.”
She took a good look at the bird. “Yes, he is. If he hadn’t struggled so much he’d be alive. Let me have it, I’ll bury him in the morning. Red roosters must be buried.”
“I stole the rooster.” I was close to tears.
“You borrowed the rooster. Unfortunately, it died. That could happen to anyone, it’s not your fault.”
“But now I couldn’t return it.”
“Of course not. You can’t return a dead rooster to Gonzalez, that is not what you borrowed. You borrowed the rooster, remember. The fact that it died does not change your intentions. You merely borrowed it.”
“I have done something wrong to Gonzalez.”
“You borrowed it, forget about the death. That was an act of God.”
Something I felt like I was listening to Father Legal.
Big Ass got well.