Black Chicken

I could tell you a story about black chicken and funerals but instead I’d rather focus on a different memory, one that came to me unexpectedly as I was walking around my neighborhood. I was looking at the skeletons, the wasteful, useless plastic Halloween skeletons that will probably end up in landfills. And I remembered something from so long ago it seemed surreal, the way early childhood memories are – things we only half-remember then wonder if we imagined. The more we try to examine the memories, the more they disintegrate, like old tissue paper. I think in this memory I was about four. My mother dressed me in pants with suspenders which I hated and cut my hair in a perfectly round bob I hated even more. This was especially unfair on a night when we went to a party at my uncle’s house and she wore a glamorous gold knit dress. Under my ugly pants I had a long hard scab that had grown like a carapace over a terrible burn wound that had resulted in my one and only trip in an ambulance. I had jumped into a pot of scalding coffee cooling on the long corridor in the basement of the Castle while playing horsie. The Castle was a wonderful place to grow up, but childproof it was not. Anyway, my mother wore a glamorous gold knit dress and I wore ugly pants over a long hard scab. None of this is what the story is really about but I remember these details so I feel like recording them.

My uncle had a human scull at his house. It was small, dainty, and had some fascinating tiny holes in it. I remember it well. Back then I thought it was normal that he owned a skull because he was a doctor. Nowadays, when the memory came to me, I thought it was really weird. I called my uncle. He was fixin’a walk his dog. I asked him if in his previous life before he left Romania almost 40 years ago he did indeed own a human skull. He said he did, but couldn’t remember how he came to have such a thing.

I don’t think I was afraid of the skull when I was four years old. It made an impression on me, but was not the most exciting occurrence of the evening: Later that night, when I took off my ugly pants I found that my long hard scab was gone. I had no recollection of it falling off but felt strangely liberated once I saw it was gone. I do not have a scar on my leg, nor do I remember which leg it was that got burned. I do remember the ambulance ride and being in pain, doctors or nurses cleaning the wound with white medical gauze. Was that necessary? Luckily the incident did not dampen my love of coffee.

I don’t think I’ve seen a human skull since except maybe in a museum where it was probably part of a mummy or something, and I’ve never looked closely at mummies in museums because they’re the stuff of nightmares and as far as I’m concerned they should not be shown. I think it was the skull of a woman, because it was small, but not small enough to have been the skull of a child. I wonder who she was and if she loved coffee. I wonder who has the skull now and if they show it to children at parties.

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