I stuffed him into a filthy pillowcase and drove to a lonely stretch of desert highway. With one hand on the wheel and an eye on the rear-view mirror, I hurled the demon out the window. He bounced hard and tumbled through Sagebrush until he slammed into a Joshua Tree.
“You are out of my life forever!” I screamed.
And then I woke up.
It had been weeks since Cook Peak had slept through the night. Most nights I lay awake, staring at the ceiling. First, I heard one rooster, then mine, then another a few blocks away. And then mine crowed, again. And again. Wrapping my pillow around my ears, I rolled onto my side, and there was David asleep with the last pair of earplugs wedged into his ears.
Rooster Boy was a handsome chicken. His rubbery comb drooped over his eyes like a bad hair day but handsome. His wattle danged under his corn colored beak. Tail feathers flounced as he strutted, trying not to stab himself with his spurs. A leader, procreator, and hunter, Rooster Boy free-ranged with his ladies at Cook Peak. At night, he returned to the coop as security guard, perched among a fat row of hens and crowed at anything that moved in the night.
The next morning after my nightmare, I Googled how to stop a rooster from crowing. I wasn’t alone. Scrolling through web pages, I found answers that ranged from surgically removing vocal cords to injecting the poor bird with beef hormones. One suggested a recipe for Southwestern Chicken with mole sauce. The most helpful site described how a rooster needed to fully extend his body to crow, that a confined rooster was a quiet rooster.
The garage door was heavy, and I felt it in my back. Starring into a mess, I noticed bat droppings again like donut sprinkles on the roof of my daughter’s 1964 VW Bug project. Power tools lined the back wall next to towers of plastic tubs, two filing cabinets, a Harley Davidson with a dead battery and a shriveled tarantula. The tall red tool chest was rolled into the corner, pillaged after home improvement projects. Left behind were the unsung tools collected over decades of marriage. I found a sledgehammer, half a box of small finishing nails and a six-inch protector that would work since the measuring tapes were missing.
In the side yard, I hunted through the woodpile for scraps. Rooster Boy and his ladies grazed nearby, picking and scratching through the grass for pill bugs. We ignored each other, and I felt strangely in control for the first time in months. I was going to rescue Cook Peak and build a Rooster Box.
My box resembled a crude three-foot window planter, anchored to the back wall of the chicken coop. Its hand-hewn wood, scavenged from an old Methodist church was held together with tiny finishing nails. I fashioned the lid from a plank of Pergo and two barn door hinges, precisely at the height of eight inches, just like the website suggested. When finished, I padded the inside with hay and waited for nightfall.
I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of catching Rooster Boy. I imagined terrified hens and Rooster Boy charging with his spurs in a lopsided fight. I didn’t know what to expect or how to load him into my Rooster Box without altercation, but I had to try. My reputation in the neighborhood was at stake.
After the chickens returned to roost that night and the lighting dimmed, I opened the coop door quietly. Rooster Boy sat wedged between two black hens and watched me with his blinking yellow eyes. Carefully I reached over the hens and with both hands, plucked Rooster Boy off the perch. Some time between reaching and plucking, I bumped a hen, and mayhem erupted. As fast as I could, I shoved Rooster Boy inside the box head first and slammed the lid shut on his tail feathers.
The next morning, Rooster Boy only crowed at dawn. I found he had worked the lid up enough to pop out his head like a jack-in-the-box. Modifications began immediately. I sled-hammered lawn stakes into the coop’s rafters, creating locks that swung down to hold the lid in place. That night, I awoke to muffled crowing and discovered that Rooster Boy had stretched horizontally and had plenty of room to recline and crow. On the third night, I marched out to the coop, grabbed Rooster Boy and stuffed him inside the box along with six hens. That night, the crowing ended.
Coyotes howling in the ravine woke me up. I could tell they were getting closer and soon they’d be in my front yard. I pulled the covers under my chin and listened. I wondered if my neighbors liked me again. They seemed friendlier since I built the Rooster Box. They waved when I drove by. One brought me a bag of homegrown tomatoes. And then I thought about Rooster Boy. He was pastoral these days, accompanying his ladies across the road to get to the other side where they scratched among the oak leaves. He was happy. I was happy, and my neighbors were thrilled. Each night we waited for sleep to arrive and take us to a quiet place, inside the Rooster Box.