How often is the fragility of a rubber chicken considered? They’re bought as novelties, as toys, or, in this case, as a tribute.
But rubber rots and, in time, chicken heads fall off their bodies.
You’ve come to accept this truth. Yours had darkened and flaked, dried and grayed over the years. You left both pieces—head and body—on top of your garbage, hoping the custodians would see it and understand the weight of it all, how you’d ceremoniously taken it from the top shelf of the bookcase in your office, not ready to part with it, but knowing it was time. How you said a quiet goodbye.
You hoped it would be placed gently in the dumpster at the commencement of the funeral you imagined. Were you a child, you’d have buried it in the backyard, next to the graves of hamsters, of birds and turtles you’d found and tried to save.
In the years that it sat in that place, you didn’t think of it as a rubber chicken, nor did you consider its fragility. It was a touchstone, a talisman, a grotesque watchman, keeping you safe. Keeping you close to memories of your grandpa.
You saw it and thought of a cardboard box, stored under stairs, pulled free on weekends or days after school. You thought of abalone shell, skeletal foot, Fruit Fresh can full of broken bits of crayons. Plastic flask, foam sandwich.
You think now of your first rubber chicken and you wish you still had it.
You think of the man who gave it to you. The man who saw you, who saved you. You think of dumpster diving and of pulling spindly pine needles from the grill of the Chevrolet. You think of candy and false teeth in your grandpa’s starched shirt pockets, of fedoras and ties on Sunday, of bean liquor sopped with white bread.
You think of oak trees on summer nights and a song you thought he’d written for you. You think down through the leaves of the old oak tree and it is all decades ago. Recliner with orange corduroy. Strong, warm arms and more love than your parents knew how to give you.