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Our chickens never lay eggs. They run around the garden until Opa catches one and chops off its head with the hatchet. He places the chicken on an old tree trunk that has many cuts from all the previous chicken beheadings. He lets me watch each time. He tosses the chicken head high into the air and the cat catches it. Then he lets go of the body and laughs as it runs around flapping its wings. I know it’s looking for its head and I feel sorry for it, because the cat has already dragged it into a corner and is chewing away on it, purring. I don’t like the cat. Sometimes it takes a long time until the chicken stops. But Opa says, it doesn’t feel any pain, because the brain can’t tell the body that it hurts. Mama doesn’t want me to watch when he kills chickens and she tells me to stay inside when he says we’ll have rabbit for dinner. Opa was a butcher before the war.
Oma and Opa live on the top floor. It smells different up there. Not bad, but funny. I don’t know yet that it’s the smell of old age. It’s ointment, and soap, mothballs, and the stuff that Oma sprays on the clothes when she irons them. She puts a wet cloth on whatever she’s ironing and when the iron touches, it goes “swish” and steam comes up and she lets me touch the cloth and it’s all warm and moist.
I like Oma, but I love Opa. He is tall and he has a round belly that doesn’t wobble, it’s not soft and you can put your head on it and it doesn’t budge. His head is bald, and he has this wreath of white hair around it. The bald part of his hair is like a dry landscape with stray hairs that refuse to go where all the others went, and there are light brown spots and his scalp is very dry. His eyebrows are white and bushy and I sometimes take a comb to them and brush them all upwards and then he rolls his eyes like a madman and we both laugh. He has small curly white hairs growing out of his nostrils and ears. Sometimes he asks me to cut them with the nail scissors. I’m extra careful, because I’ve seen how he cuts himself shaving and it never seems to stop bleeding. I’m scared of blood. He has a bulbous nose that’s webbed with very thin red lines and Oma says that’s his blood pressure, but I don’t know what that means.
published 1 December 2011
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