And the front door opened.
Say what you will about my ex-husband (I frequently have), but the man possessed a great deal of calm aplomb. The cat was quacking excitedly, and I was swearing in a breathless song of irritation and exertion. The Princess, somewhat delighted by the hue and cry, met him at the door. “The cat is being bad,” she informed him, and pointed into the kitchen.
Now, CrankyDuck!Cat had heard the arrival of the other Huge Human in the Household, and since the bathtub left a little to be desired as an escape route, he made an amazing, desperate leap. Chicken scattered, my cursing rose in volume and also in creativity, and he squeezed past me as I made a fruitless grab, somehow banging my head on the loo door. (Don’t ask.) He zoomed down the hall, scrambled past the Princess, darted between my ex’s shins (hammering him on one with the remains of the chicken ruff) and escaped into the hall beyond.
I arrived a few seconds afterward, fire in my eyes, my hair wild, my shirt torn (I do not even know when that happened) and a cascade of obscenities falling from my lips.
My ex prudently flattened himself against the wall, I darted past him and out into the hall, and chased the damn cat all the way down to the fire door. Whereupon I cornered and dove for him, and he probably would have escaped had not the chicken tripped him again.
The poor chicken, merely a ragged shadow of its former glory, shed even more bits of itself as I carried the clawing, biting cat back to our apartment. I stalked in through the door, holding him by ruff, chicken ruff, and hind end, my arms stiff to keep him from taking chunks of skin out of my tender person.
My ex swept the door closed, I tore the chicken free of the cat and dropped him. He bolted again, into the Princess’s room, where he squeezed under her bed and spent the next three hours growling balefully and cleaning the results of the whole episode from his fur. I am not sure whether he considered the entire event a victory or a crushing defeat.
So it was that I stood there, still swearing, clutching the remains of the chicken and hyperventilating. Finally, when my heartrate calmed down, I found both the Princess and my ex staring at me.
I stared back, beyond words.
Finally, my ex cleared his throat a little. “I’d, uh, ask how your day was, but…”
That did it. I sank down onto the floor, still holding one much-abused chicken, and started to laugh helplessly. The Princess began to laugh too, more out of sympathy than anything else, I guess, and she came up and patted at my wild hair, her version of putting me to rights. My ex glanced in the kitchen, took in the explosion of chicken everywhere, shook his head slightly, and sat down on the floor too amid the wreckage, so as not to be left out.
When the laughter ended, I held up the poor chicken. “This, um, was dinner. But he got stuck in it.”
My ex nodded. “I’ll call for pizza,” he said, looking a bit perplexed. “Lili?”
“Do you know you’re bleeding?”
Not only had CrankyDuck punctured me a couple times, but I also had a scalp wound from diving under the table or running into the bathroom door. I nodded, a bit breathless, and fixed him with a mock glare. “Your cat,” I said. “Your damn cat. I am not picking up chicken in the hall, goddammit.”
He began to laugh, which set me off again, and the adventures of Chickenhead ended with all three of us helplessly giggling on the floor. Ever afterward, our code for “I am just not even dealing with that” became “I am not picking up chicken in the hall, goddammit.”
To this day I’ll mutter it to myself, though the ex is nowhere around to hear me. I guess divorce closes off a whole country of shared catchphrases. And writing this now, I realize something else.
I was in sock feet the whole time. This, my friends, is probably where “shoeless and screaming” started. With a chicken-headed cat.