out of the chicken house, George said. Ill work
on it later. He narrowed his steel gray eyes, and his white
eyebrows furrowed. I mean it, Billie Jean.
Billie turned the burner off under the peas. I got plenty
to do round here without doing your work, too. She
heaved the steaming pot from the stove and poured the peas into
a colander balanced in the sink.
I got peas to put up, she continued. And washing
and ironing to do. She pushed back a thick wave of gray
hair that had loosed itself from the tight bob low on her neck,
and then patted her face with a dishtowel that was slung over
Billie filled the pot with water again and put it back on the
burner. She sensed Georges eyes boring through her and turned
around. What? she asked.
I have to go to Shreveport to get that tractor part, and
I know youll go in that chicken house and fix it just to
Billie took the colander of peas from the sink and poured them
onto a towel shed spread across the counter. She ran her
hand back and forth, smoothing the pile until there was one thin
layer of purple hulls covering the towel.
I dont know why you dont just let them mail
the part to you. Save yourself a trip, she said with her
back to him.
Cause theyll charge me an arm and a leg postage. Then
if it aint right, Ill have to mail it back or drive
to Shreveport anyway.
Cheap old coot, she whispered, still fussing over
Hard-headed old woman, he mumbled back.
Before the screen door slammed George yelled, Stay out of
the chicken house, Billie!
By noon, Billie had put forty bags of purple hulls in the freezer,
brought in the ripe tomatoes, making sure to get some green ones
for frying, and finished the laundry.
She sat in her chair by the window and worked on an afghan shed
been crocheting while she watched the news. Her gaze wandered
to the chicken pen. Her hands slowed to a stop as she studied
the lopsided little house in the corner of the yard. Probably
just needs a nail or two, she said. Two by fours in
there is rotten. And we got all that brand new wood. . .
The dog at her feet looked up at her with liquid brown eyes. He
stretched in the dappled sunlight that fell across the rug, sighed,
then rested his head on his paws.
Dont be trying to talk me out of it now, Roy,
she said to the dog. You heard the weather report just like
I did. What if that house blows down tonight with all my hens
in there settin? Whatve I got then? A tractor part
come special delivery from Shreveport, thats what.
Billie tossed her afghan onto the table. The old hound scrambled
to get out of her way as she headed to the bedroom to get into
her working clothes.
Billie always wore dresses. Thats the way she was raised.
She did her cooking and cleaning and harvesting from the garden,
all in a housedress and apron. But for hard work, like clearing
the garden, and in this case, fixing the henhouse, shed
put on a pair of Georges pants.
She rolled a cuff in a pair of tan work pants, and then tried
them on. George was a good six feet tall and Billie topped out
at four eleven and three-quarters. Baggyyes, but theyd
do. She put on one of his shirts and finished off her outfit with
her floppy straw hat.
Leaving the bedroom, she caught a glimpse of herself in the full-length
mirror on the back of the door.
Yes, she said, crossing her arms over her chest. I
do look like I been swallowed whole. But only you and me knows
about this, Roy, and if you tell George, Ill have your hide.
She found Georges hammer and filled her pockets with an
assortment of nails. Roy shuffled behind her. Billie ignored him
as she dragged one long two by four and then carried an armload
of short ones to the chicken yard.
Hens scattered, flapping their wings and stirring up a cloud of
dust as Billie marched through the yard. Inside the henhouse the
air was thick and smelled of mildew, no doubt due to the leaky
roof that George had also promised to fix, but hadnt.
She brushed the hay from the ledge and laid down the hammer and
a handful of nails. It was dark and cramped in the corner where
she had to work, and she leaned back at a precarious angle over
the nest box to see what needed to be repaired.
That dont look so bad, she said to a brown hen
sitting at eye level in a nest next to her. Ill have
you gals fixed up in no time.
Im gonna make a little noise, ladies, Billie
said. But yall will be dry tonight. She gave
the wood a whack with the hammer. It didnt move. One more
blow, then another, and still, it didnt budge.
Not as rotten as I thought, she said. But its
gotta go. Billie braced herself against the ledge and raised
the hammer, landing a blow at the base of the wood where it met
In one splintering crack the wood gave way and folded under the
larger beam above it, trapping Billies arm between the ledge
and the two by four. Roy bolted from the chicken house, returning
seconds later to eye her sheepishly from the doorway.
Yes, I know, she said. Now Ive done it.
George is gonna get riled for sure.
Billie heaved with all her strength, but the wood didnt
budge. She leaned back, hoping her arm might slip from its hold,
but the only thing that gave was the shirtsleeve. Something
else for me to mend, she said, adjusting her stance and
pushing the wood again. Nothing.
Her arm was numb under the wood, and she tried to move her fingers,
but couldnt tell if she was moving them or not. She wanted
to scream out for help, but the farm was thirty-five miles from
town and ten miles from the closest neighbor. There was a chance
that an unexpected visitor could free her, but that wasnt
likely. At two oclock Lester would bring the mail, but he
would only come as far as the mailbox a mile away unless there
was a package to be delivered.
If George had only had that part mailedI wouldnt
be in the henhouse to start with, she finished out loud.
Billie rested her head against a nest box. The hen behind her
rustled in the hay, then clucked before settling again. Billie
looked at the torn shirtsleeve. Theres gonna be more
than this shirt to mend when George gets home and finds me stuck
in this henhouse.
Flies and gnats buzzed her face, and her forehead beaded with
sweat as the afternoon wore on. She heard the squeal of Lesters
brakes when he stopped at the mailbox and continued down the road.
Her stomach rumbled and her mind wandered. What if her arm was
broken? Would she go into shock soon? Pass out from the heat?
Get snakebit and die before George got home?
Ah yes, when George got home. The humiliation was more than shed
be able to stand. Itd be months before she could put this
henhouse thing behind her. Maybe there was a way to smooth it
over, make him forget what shed done.
Chicken and rice, Billie said. Ill make
chicken and rice for supper. Hell be so happy he wont
remember to be mad.
Chicken and rice was Georges favorite dish, but she hadnt
made it since theyd taken up irritating each other as a
hobby. Fifty years ago when they were newlyweds, she made it often.
George would come in from the field and hang around like a hungry
hound waiting to have his plate served. Hed stand behind
her at the stove, wrap his arms around her waist and kiss her
neck. A chicken and rice supper was good for at least a week of
sweetness on Georges part.
Roy lay down at her feet. Billie inventoried the contents of her
kitchen in her mind. Yes, she had everything she needed. George
would come home, find her out here, and set her free. Hed
lecture her something terrible, and then hed smell supper,
and it would all melt away. Hed smile and forget all about
the mess she made in the henhouse.
Maybe she could even make it look like she was just gathering
eggs, and all this was an accident. In a rush, she brushed the
nails off the ledge, but then saw the hammer on the ground out
of her reach.
Roy looked up at her. Yes, and I guess these clothes are
a dead giveaway, she said.
No, shed get caught, but the chicken and rice would win
him over. She might even turn the radio on like they used to.
And after supper, with the soft sunset light streaming through
the windows, theyd get lost in the sounds of Henny Youngman
and the shuffling of their feet across the hardwood floor. George
would be so enamored by the meal and the evening she created,
he wouldnt have the heart to scold her.
After supper when theyd go out to the porch, Georges
belly full of chicken and rice, he might even tell her he loved
her. Billie knew he still did love herand she loved him
tooitd just been a while since either of them had
heard the words spoken.
She closed her eyes and a wide smile slid across her face. Yes,
chicken and rice would fix it.
Through the open kitchen window the phone rang. Shed turned
up the ringer and the answering machine when she went to the garden
Hey, Billie, it was George. Im gonna stay
over in Shreveport tonight. The part aint in, but itll
be here first thing. Im staying at Jacks. See you
sometime after noon tomorrow. And Billie, stay out of the chicken
Billie slumped against the wall. Shed been out here at least
five hours and now she had another eighteen to go. Dang
it, she stomped the loose floorboards.
She was getting out of the henhouse, and right now. Billie used
her foot to nudge a piece of wood toward her. After several attempts
to raise one end by stepping on the other, she succeeded and was
able to grasp it. She shoved it between the boards close to her
arm and leaned on it with all the strength left in her.
Cmon, just a little, she urged. Roy whimpered.
Raise it up just a bit and I can slip my arm out. There.
Billie was free.
Her arm was bruised and stiff, but nothing seemed to be broken.
She picked up the hammer and nails and then hauled the wood back
to the porch. Covering her tracks inside the henhouse with hay
and swearing Roy and the chickens to secrecy, Billie left the
The next afternoon she heard the rumble of Georges truck
coming down the road. She stood at the stove stirring dinner and
The screen door slammed and George called, You fix that
No, she answered, her smile twisting into a crooked
George stepped into the kitchen. He sniffed the air and stood
behind her, peering over her shoulder at the pot on the stove.
Smells great, what is it?
Billie patted his hand lovingly as she turned from the stove,
and in the sweetest voice she could muster, said Pot roast.
Mason was born in Louisiana, but has resided in Texas for
more than thirty years. Lisas literary genre fiction and
poetry have been published in college magazines, e-zines, and
literary periodicals, and she has won awards for both poetry and
short fiction. Her writing reflects the charm of the southern
traditions of her upbringing.