Chicken Little Goes Shopping

Sam DeLeo

© Copyright 2021 by Sam DeLeo

Photo by Arib Neko on Unsplash
Photo by Arib Neko on Unsplash

What’s that, Pop-Pop?” Albee said, pointing upward.

Where?” said Pop-Pop.

At 71, Pop-Pop, or Earl Sykes, wore thick glasses and his straggly gray hair rimmed a large bald spot, effecting a bit of the demented professor look.

There,” said his grandson Albee, “in the sky.”

Hell if I know, I got enough activity happening here on the ground to worry about the sky.”

The activity Earl referenced involved moving a sprinkler and rubber hose to a different section of the backyard. He stepped methodically through the yard holding the old metal sprinkler, as if divining water instead of weakly spraying it over brown fescue. Albee, recently graduated from college, regulated the hose behind him with one hand while pushing his shoulder-length black hair behind his ears with the other.

Earl saw that Albee was still looking at the sky and followed the direction of his grandson’s gaze until he located an orange and yellowish dot fluttering hundreds of feet in the air.

You see it?” said Albee.

Yep. It’s probably one of those chickens pushing a shopping cart.”

What? Did you take too many of your meds again, Pop-Pop? It’s not moving like a plane at all, or even a helicopter. Should we call the police or somebody?”

Dunno. They might think we’re crazy. Let’s see how wet the grass is over there.”

Next to the feet of plastic chairs back on the cement patio, their beer bottles caught flecks of the late afternoon sun. A bayonet, M60 cartridge belt, and small photo album sat on a faux-glass table. He dug them out to pacify his grandson’s harping to look at them again, though most of the previous requests occurred when Albee was much younger. If war remnants could help convince his jobless grandson to avoid enlisting in the armed services, he thought, he ought to be able to accommodate a little rummaging.

The hood of Earl’s beige sedan in the alley parking spot no longer appeared to wrinkle in the heat. On the other side of the alley, old two- and three-story houses tilted from their roots like crooked teeth.  In a yard two doors down, kids played with a seriousness that made them look like tiny adults. Their grandmother, who had dyed her hair green again, sat on the back stoop and did not return his wave. Her expression gave him doubts she recognized the gesture.

Earl had waited to water the lawn until the burn of mid-day passed. A stillness settled in as the heat faded. The calm air likely convinced Albee even more about the unusualness of the herky-jerky path of the object above them.

What flies like that?” he said. “It’s like it’s bouncing in the sky.”

Hell,” Earl said, looking around the yard, “all of it needs water.”

Earl sat the sprinkler down where he stood and they walked back to turn on the faucet and finish their drinks on the patio.

Come on, Pop-Pop. Back me up here, I’m not crazy. That is not an aircraft.”

No. No, you’re right, Albee.”

I caught a short video of it on my phone. This could be something historical here.”

The orange and yellow dot continued to move erratically, but sank lower in the sky. Albee convinced his grandfather to stand up again to get a better look at it. Much of the blue had drained from the sky, leaving a white veil, which set off the colors of the object in higher contrast.

The object drifted in front of them and seemed to rotate. Now, capped black letters could be seen against the orange background. They read “POLLO TO GO!” and beneath them was the yellow image of a chicken pushing a shopping cart.

What?” Albee said. “It’s a chicken! You were right. A giant balloon with a chicken on it.”

It’s that local Mexican restaurant chain,” Earl said. “They used to send up gliders with banners, too. Pretty decent food.”

Why didn’t you just tell me that?”

I told you it was a chicken pushing a shopping cart,” he said, “I can’t help it if you believe it or not.”

But you,” Albee started to speak and stopped, raising his hands and dropping them to the side. He sat back down and shook his head.

Maybe the temperature shift had caused a downdraft, because the balloon kept falling, then suddenly picked up speed and quickly crossed out of their view.

Earl looked at his grandson and decided he would go get them a couple more beers. He remembered with envy when he was younger like him, the need to believe. Not so much in supra-human forces that could set things right, that wouldn’t allow that rat captain to shoot the woman and her young daughter running for their lives as they fled their burning hut in Quang Ngai; wouldn’t allow the same captain to receive an honorable discharge, become a state senator and now a chief of police. Or even the need to believe in a force that rewarded those who stopped the rat captains of the world. It was a belief in something other than that, an unknown he’d lost a relationship with, and so forgotten. Or maybe it was just belief itself he was remembering, he thought, the freedom to let a mystery remain a mystery.

Earl looked up again. He could see thunderheads building on the horizon as he made his way inside. When he returned with the beers, the clouds had disappeared as if he’d never seen them, vanished back into the white of the sky.

Sam DeLeo’s writing has appeared in Glass Mountain, Hobart, Paste Magazine, Culture Matters, and the London-based fiction magazine Talking Soup, among others. He currently lives in Denver.

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