It was the whining sound of the crank being turned combined with hundreds of
chickens bauwking. It was each rotation of the crank incrementally opening the
shutters and casting light upon dozens of coops and mounds of sawdust. It was
the very fact of standing in the middle of this at five in the morning, with
a not fully realized hangover, in chicken shit splattered overalls, that made
her scream as loudly as she possibly could, “I’M GOING FUCKING CRAZY!”
“What’s your problem?” Anthony asked casually, standing behind her.
“My bed-bug bites itch.”
“Then scratch `em. – Okay, let’s get to it. The sooner this shit is done, the
sooner we can get some crap coffee.” Anthony took the right side and she the
left. Six coops in a row, thirty rows on each side, they made their way down
Flip open the slanted roof of the coop, let it fall back down
on your shoulder, left arm occupied balancing an egg tray, grab the chicken
by the back of its neck with your right hand, violently throw it out of the
coop, then pick up the eggs and put them in the tray. Next coop, again.
The first run of the day takes longer because the chickens have had the
entire night to lay their eggs. An hour from now, when you do it all over again,
things will go quickly. Not only will the chickens have had less time to eject
those white oval things that now make you nauseous, but you will also be more
awake, more alert. Then, Anthony and you will play games to pass the time —
who can make it down his side faster and who can balance more egg trays on his
When they finished collecting the eggs, she and Anthony scoured the shed for
dead and dying chickens. As they did this, she kicked the roosters that pinned
the chickens’ necks to the ground to fuck them from behind. Anthony laughed.
“Why do you always do that?” he asked.
“They’re raping them,” she answered.
“That’s what they’re supposed to do. Anyway, it’s chickens. Chickens suck.
You hate chickens.”
“I know,” she replied, “but it still doesn’t seem right.”
She and Anthony were kibbutz volunteers who worked on the old chicken farm.
Most of these chickens only had patches of feathers left; some were missing
a leg or a wing. They all laid blood-coated eggs and at least ten of them died
a day in that shed alone. She used to work on the new chicken farm, but once
she was alone in a shed with one of the men who worked there. He always looked
at her in the cafeteria with a penetrating stare that she read as saying, “I’m
going to fuck every ounce of American privilege out of your innocent little
That day, the day that she was alone with him in the shed, he watched her with
that scary look in his eyes as he collected the eggs. He didn’t take his eyes
off of her and yet he still managed to collect more and faster. Every time she
looked up at him, she became so startled, she dropped an egg and splat, it broke.
Thousands of chickens rushed to her feet, scrambling to eat their unborn son,
daughter, niece, or nephew – disgusting creatures.
He pinned her to the wall.
“Stop dropping the eggs,” he said.
“Sorry. It’s just that -,” but he cut her off by grabbing the flesh on her
“Don’t drop the fucking eggs,” he whispered wetly into her neck.
“I won’t,” she answered, scared and acutely aware of exactly how much of her
newly acquired fat he was gripping in his hand. He then let go of her and resumed
collecting. After that incident, she asked to be transferred to the old chicken
farm, so as, she said, to be with Anthony.
She and Anthony stacked the trays of eggs on the bed of the chicken truck, threw
the dead and dying chickens on as well, and got in. She drove because Anthony
taught her how to operate a stick shift the week before and she was still getting
the hang of it. Bouncing up and down the dirt road, off to the incinerator they
“It’s like a roller-coaster,” she laughed, switching into another gear, not
because it was necessary, but rather because she knew how.
“You’re crazy. Slow down,” Anthony said, holding onto the door, feigning fright.
“I’m going zero,” she exclaimed, pointing to the speedometer that didn’t work.
“All the eggs are gonna break,” he said.
“Good.” She stepped on the brake and the chicken truck came to a fast halt
in front of the incinerator.
Take a dying chicken off the bed of the truck and grab it by the neck, close
to the head, firmly. Hold it out, away from your body, clenching your teeth.
Now, swing the chicken’s body with all your might, until you hear a crackle
– the chicken’s neck breaking. Drop it on the ground and watch. Sometimes it
will just lie there, twitch a few times, and then die, but, more often than
not, it will run around in circles with its head flopped to the side, almost
dragging on the ground.
It took you a week before you were even willing to try to kill a chicken.
Anthony and the two Arab men who are hired to work on the old chicken farm coaxed
you into it. A few days later, you did the deed. You swung its body around and
around, with your eyes tightly shut, listening to Anthony and the two Arab men
cheer you on and laugh. You heard the crackle; you dropped the chicken and opened
your eyes to it running around in circles, at which point you began to cry.
“I killed it!” you screamed. “We know,” the Arab men laughed. “Well
done,” Anthony said, putting his arm around you. The four of you stood there
looking at the pathetic creature until it fell to the ground, twitched, and
then ceased to move. “I’m proud of you,” Anthony said and then burst into hysterical
After they killed the dying chickens, she put on work gloves, opened the lid
of the incinerator, and threw all the bodies in. This was the only part of the
routine that she could stomach better than Anthony could. It wasn’t the actual
burning of the chickens that got to him, but rather the maggots that covered
the inside of the incinerator. She was teasing him about this, when they noticed
one of the Chinese men standing by the fence. She had no idea why a bunch of
Chinese men lived in trailers on the far side of the kibbutz and whenever she
asked someone, the only answer she got was, “For work.”
“He wants a chicken,” Anthony said.
“Well, then give him one,” she replied.
“It’s gross. These things are nasty.”
“They don’t cook `em for you.” Anthony picked up the most decent looking dead
chicken off the ground, walked over to the Chinese man, and passed it to him
over the fence. She saw the Chinese man nod in thanks, put the dead chicken
in the basket on his bike, and pedal off.
“I’m never eating chicken again,” Anthony said.
Back at chicken headquarters, she, Anthony, and the two Arab men sat under an
awning, smoking sticks of tar that Israelis call cigarettes, and drinking both
water mixed with sweetened syrup and Arabic coffee – so strong it sent her and
Anthony to the bathroom immediately after they finished a cup.
When she returned from the bathroom, still fastening her overalls, she saw
that Anthony and the two Arab men had already begun sanding the eggs. Eggs are
eggs, blood-coated or not, but people won’t buy them if they can see the process.
Anthony scrubbed too hard and an egg broke in his hand. The yolk oozed down
and landed on the crotch of his overalls.
“Fuck all,” Anthony screamed, simultaneously standing up and wiping off the
yolk. She and the two Arab men laughed. No matter how many times a day this
happened and no matter to whom, it always made the other three laugh. A few
minutes later, one of the men broke an egg on his lap and they laughed. Then
the other did. Then she did. They scooped yolk off of themselves in the palms
of their hands and wiped it on each other. They ran from one another, laughing,
taunting, flies buzzing around their heads where yolk was crusting in their
But then the older man, the lazy one who was in charge, made a cutthroat gesture
and they all stopped in their tracks. Running down the road, rounding the corner
to chicken headquarters was the volunteer leader screaming the girl’s name.
She stopped, panting, a few feet away from them.
“There’s a bus,” she wheezed, “leaving,” breath, “for the hospital . . .You,”
she pointed at the girl, “you’re going to the hospital.”
“Me? Why me? I’m fine.”
“On your body.” The volunteer leader had gotten her breath back and assumed
her usual authoritative tone.
“They’re just bed-bug bites,” the girl insisted.
“You’ll infect the kibbutz. Go, now, to the bus, before it leaves,” the volunteer
“I don’t have the bugs on me, just the bites. I got them weeks ago in Jerusalem.
I won’t infect the kibbutz, I promise,” she pleaded.
“You’re going to the hospital and I don’t want to hear anything more about
it,” the volunteer leader said taking the girl’s arm.
“Can I change?” she asked, motioning to her chicken shit splattered overalls.
“If I could smell myself, I would probably say that I stink.”
“You do, but there isn’t enough time.”
“What happens if I don’t go?” she asked.
“I’ll kick you off the kibbutz,” the volunteer leader replied.
She imagined herself at home, telling people that she had to leave because
she had refused to go to the hospital. But she knew that it was a pathetic excuse
and that it wouldn’t deceive anyone, including herself. She reminded herself
that unless she lost a limb or became gravely ill, she was determined to stick
it out, to pass a personal test, though she couldn’t quite remember the reason
for it anymore. She nodded to the volunteer leader, indicating that she was
ready to go.
Anthony and the two Arab men had been suppressing their amusement somewhat successfully,
but when the girl and the volunteer leader turned their backs to head up the
road, they burst into laughter.
“I’ll tell the chickens not to worry,” Anthony called.
She managed to shake loose from the volunteer leader’s grasp for a moment in
order to flip the three of them off.
Once they had rounded the bend in the road and could no longer see or be seen
by chicken headquarters, the volunteer leader let go of her arm. They passed
the orchard where the trees swayed with the weight of bodies reaching for apples.
They passed the factory where a whistle blew indicating a ten-minute cigarette
break. They passed the nursery where little kibbutz kids ran around on a dirt-surfaced
playground, amidst rusty climbing structures. They passed the cow farm where
her friend Gilad called out to her.
“Come to see her tomorrow because Friday they are going to do it,” he said.
“See who? Do what?” the volunteer leader asked her.
“A calf. I helped with the birth. They’re going to kill it for veal tomorrow,”
“I didn’t schedule you to work with the cows,” said the volunteer leader.
“I know, I just wanted to see.”
She had been at the kibbutz pub several nights ago, like every
night since she had arrived, drinking beer, talking with Anthony. They laughed
together whenever two kibbutz volunteers paired up and left. Every night, someone
new for someone else. Once a volunteer had been through all the others, he or
she either recycled or walked over to the kibbutz down the road and did the
rounds at their pub.
She and Anthony always stayed until closing and left together,
but once they reached her room, they bid each other goodnight. That night Anthony
had been drinking quite heavily and, whether because he was drunk and horny
or because the alcohol had dulled his inhibitions she didn’t know, he asked
her if she wanted to leave with him. She knew exactly what he was getting at,
but none-the-less, she replied, “But we always leave together. You always walk
me home,” playing dumb, stalling the moment.
“You know what I mean,” he slurred.
It would probably only take two more beers to blur her vision
enough, so that Anthony’s comical face had sex appeal. Perhaps three more beers
to distort her image of herself enough, so that she could allow her naked body
to be seen by someone else. She would feel more like a kibbutz volunteer if
she did, but then again, come four forty-five in the morning, fifteen minutes
before the first egg collection, she would wake up next to him and from then
on have to deal with the set of complexities one not-guaranteed orgasm would
She had been contemplating her answer, when Gilad ran up to her.
“Come on. Quick,” he said. “A cow’s giving birth. Any minute
now. I know you wanted to see it.” She turned to Anthony.
“Do you want to come?”
“Nah, I’m too drunk. You go. I’ll see you tomorrow,” he downed
the rest of his beer. She hesitated. “Go. It’s fine. I’m fine,” he said.
She and Gilad ran through the kibbutz, through the night, to the
cow farm where the loud moans of a heifer echoed.
“She’s having trouble getting it out. We might have to kill `er,”
Gilad said handing her knee-high rubber boots.
The heifer lay on its side, its swollen stomach rising and falling
with each labored breath. Several kibbutzniks stood around it, yelling in Hebrew,
trying, it seemed, to figure out what to do next.
“Stand there,” Gilad said, indicating a spot a few feet away from
the heifer along the wooden wall.
She watched him crouch down, on his knees, his back facing her. She stood on
the balls of her feet, in order to see over his shoulder. She saw him lift the
cow’s tail, revealing a swollen, dilated cow-vagina. He took off his watch,
put it in his pocket, and reached, elbow deep, inside the goopy hole. When he
pulled back out, two tiny hooves were protruding from the vagina.
“It’s the wrong way around,” Gilad told her over his shoulder.
“We’re going to have to do it ourselves.” Two kibbutzniks left and returned
with a medieval looking device – a metal wheel, with a crank and rope. They
tied the rope around the two hoofs and then Gilad coaxed the calf along, while
another kibbutznik turned the crank.
“If this doesn’t work, we’ll have to kill her,” he called over
“Don’t kill her. Please don’t,” she said and then inwardly scolded
herself for sounding too sensitive, too girly. As the crank turned, the rope
shortened, and the heifer moaned, more and more of the calf’s slick body became
With one more turn of the crank, one fierce tug, the calf’s head
popped out. The kibbutzniks rejoiced in Hebrew, slapping palm against palm.
She stood there in awe.
“Worked out pretty well, hey?” Gilad said, handing her a bottle
with milk. “You feed it, while we take care of the mother. It’ll try to stand.
Watch where it falls – they’re pretty unsteady at first and can break easily.
It might want to suck on your fingers, but don’t let it. Those little fuckers
can practically suck one off.” He walked over to the calf with her, took the
bottle back, roughly opened the calf’s mouth and stuck the bottle in, tilting
it upward. He then motioned for her to hold the bottle and walked off.
She sat there, the tilted bottle in her hand, watching the little
calf, slick with goo, lying there, suckling fiercely, its eyes barely open.
It tried to get up, as Gilad said it would, and fell back down. When it wanted
the bottle again, it reached for her finger at first. She was overwhelmed by
what she had just witnessed. She was full of tenderness for this fragile creature.
She also had some alcohol running through her blood and she began to cry.
“They’re pretty cute, hey?” Gilad said, now standing to her side.
“So cute,” she replied.
“No matter how many times I do this,” he said, “I always think
it’s a shame we gave to kill the little guys.”
“Kill it!” she exclaimed. “No! But why?”
“Veal. You’ve seen those little huts with the calves chained to
`em, right? That’s so they can’t move that much, keeps the meat tender. When
this ones grown a little, we’ll kill her.” He took a large stapler and stapled
a number to the calf’s ear – 275.
“Can I visit it?” she asked.
“Sure, but don’t get too attached.”
She had gotten attached. She visited it every day and named it
after a stuffed animal she had as a child. She snuck it treats – kibbutz issued
lemon wafer cookies and salty crackers. And as she stroked its nose and scratched
behind its ears, she talked to it. She told the sweet creature about her life
back home, the friends who she felt were more like her than any of the kibbutz
volunteers and her parents who loved her so much, perhaps too much. She missed
them deeply, but was too proud to tell them so in the letters she wrote. She
told the calf that she wasn’t the person she thought she was, that she was weak
and let things affect her too much. And, sometime tomorrow, in between collecting
eggs, she would have to say good-bye to it.
You wave away the flies that have gathered in the corners of
the calf’s eyes. You try to loosen the thick leather collar that tightly
hugs the calf’s neck. You whisper in its ear. You tell it that you would take it away
if you could. The calf’s large, glassy eyes look into yours and it nuzzles you,
asking for another cookie. You think that it needs you like it needs the mother
it hasn’t seen since the day it was born. You think that it loves you unconditionally.
“Rega, rega,” the volunteer leader ran toward the bus, waving frantically. The
girl followed. They made it. The door opened. She climbed aboard and found a
seat, all the while acutely aware of her overalls and chicken stench.
On the ride to the hospital, she stared out the window. She didn’t
look at the palm trees, soldiers hitchhiking, or the little kids selling bananas
and bread to passengers in cars waiting for the light to change. Rather, she
looked at her own reflection in the glass – the dirty, fuzzy image the bus’s
window provided her with.
When you are alone, you stand stark naked, in front of the mirror.
Scowling at the clusters of acne on your face, you run your fingers over them
and feel how rough your skin has become. You count the hundreds of bed-bug bites,
all of which have been scratched at furiously, all of which now have scabs.
Calling attention to them, makes them itch even more and you scratch until there
are dots of blood along your limbs and torso. You see how much weight you have
gained in the past few months, how your once prominent features have dulled
behind a thick layer of flesh. You pinch at your waist, pull at your thighs,
squeeze your ass.
“I don’t ever want to go home,” you think. “Not looking like this.”
The bus stopped in front of the hospital and she got off with
the other passengers – mostly old, many with canes, one coughing repeatedly.
She then realized that there was no one there to tell her what to do next, so
she followed the other passengers into the lobby of the hospital, and then into
a line. When she reached the line’s destination, a counter with several women
behind it, she explained her situation. The woman didn’t speak much English,
so she pulled up the sleeve of her shirt and showed the woman her bites.
“Skin. Sixth floor,” the woman said, handing her a ticket.
“What is this, a fuckin’ delicatessen?” she thought to herself
as she made her way up the stairs.
On the landing of the sixth floor, she saw a waiting room with
about a dozen people and a sign that read number 32. She looked at her slip
and saw that she was number 57. I’ll be here for a while, she thought to herself.
She found a seat between a young man and a little boy with a bright
pink ball. The man was fidgeting with something on his arm, which she discretely
tried to get a look at in order to figure out what it was. Her discretion was
unsuccessful though. He turned his arm toward her to show her that near his
shoulder were two bumps. He grabbed the bumps with his thumb and pointer finger
and moved them around.
“What are they?” she asked.
“No speak English,” he said. She smiled and looked the other way,
but he poked her in the side to get her attention once again. He made a gesture
of a gun with his hand, shooting into his arm.
“Bullets?” she asked.
“Mmmm,” he nodded.
The little boy dropped his pink ball and she went to pick it up
for him. A few feet away, she tossed it back. She then saw that the little boy
was covered in boils that oozed a nasty puss. He caught the ball and tossed
it back to her.
“Great,” she thought to herself. “I came in here with a harmless
case of bed-bugs and I’m going to leave with the plague. It’s like a leper colony
in here.” But she played with the little kid because it passed the time, because
it made him happy and because his beautiful mother, a tall thin black woman
with an intricate tattoo outlining her face, nodded in approval.
Half an hour later, the little boy and his mother’s number came
up. They entered the door on the left. A minute after that, her number came
up and she was motioned by a nurse to enter the door on the right.
In the small, dimly lit room was an examination table, a desk,
piles of books, and a fat Israeli doctor in a swivel chair. He gestured for
her to sit on the examination table, after which, he got up, and hit her knee
with a motion similar to a karate chop. Her leg extended and then fell back,
dangling off the table once again.
“You’re the skin doctor, right?” she asked.
“Hmmm,” he said, not looking up from something he was writing
on a clipboard.
“I don’t really know what I’m doing here. I just have bed-bug
bites. See.” She pulled up her sleeve to show him. “Tons of them, but it’s just
the bites, not the bugs.” “Take off your shirt,” he commanded.
She did as she was told and covered her bulging stomach with her
arm. He looked at her back, her chest, removed her arm and looked at her stomach.
He ran his fingers over several bites. She stared at the wall while he did all
this. Then he walked over to his desk, opened a drawer and returned to her with
a bottle of pills and a tube of ointment. As she put her shirt on and fastened
the straps of her overalls, he went back to his desk and began scribbling on
“So, should I take these pills and rub the ointment on the bites?”
He looked up, nodded, and then resumed scribbling.
“Um, okay, thanks,” she said, hesitated, and then left.
Outside once again, she was about to toss the pills into the trash
because she doubted that oral medication could do anything whatsoever for bed-bug
bites, but then figured she best have some proof of her visit to the hospital
for the volunteer leader.
She had forgotten to ask when the bus would be returning and decided
to hitchhike back to the kibbutz. A little ways down the street from the hospital,
she saw the little boy with the oozing boils, bouncing his ball. He smiled when
he saw her and tossed her the ball. She saw that his mother was on a pay phone
a few feet away and decided to play with the boy until the mother was done.
A few passes later, the mother returned. She was wiping away tears. She pulled
her son close to her and led him away. The girl watched them go and smiled when
the little boy turned his head and waved good-bye.
Someone from the kibbutz saw her hitchhiking and picked her up.
When she got back, it was late in the afternoon and her shift on the chicken
farm had ended a few hours ago. She made her way to her room and, exhausted,
stripped down, climbed into bed and fell into a deep sleep.
When she awoke, it was dark out and Anthony was sitting on the
edge of her bed, looking at her and stroking her hair.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“It’s creepy,” she said.
He stopped. “Sorry.” She pulled the sheet closer to her body.
“Anthony, I don’t feel too well.”
“Well, you are burning up.”
“I knew it. I caught the plague.”
“Are you gonna die?”
“I wasn’t before, but I might now.”
“Go back to bed. I’ll bring you something to eat later.” He left
and she fell back to sleep.
She awoke again a few hours later with a start. It was the sound of thunder
cracking combined with rain pelting down on the tin roof. It was the lightning
flashing, casting momentary plaid patterns from the curtains across the room.
It was the very fact of being alone, hot as hell, with the sheet stuck to her
sweaty body that made her get out of bed immediately.
She stumbled over a tray with a cup of tea, a bowl of soup, and
a piece of bread, ants swarming around it. She wrapped the sheet tightly around
her, opened the door, and ran outside, almost falling on the slick, muddy grass.
She arrived at Anthony’s, dripping wet, and opened the door.
“What’s your problem?” he asked from bed.
“Scared of the storm?”
“You want to sleep here?”
“I don’t feel well and the hospital sucked.”
“Shut up. It’s fine.” She peeled the sheet off, put on one of
Anthony’s shirts, and crawled into his bed, her back facing him. They lay there
silent, her body shivering, and then he began to stroke her wet hair.
“I’m sorry. You want me to stop. I’m being creepy, right?”
She didn’t answer and he continued to stroke.
“What is it?” he asked.
“They are going to kill my calf tomorrow.”