Tsk Tsk Tristesse

by Jesse Rowell

Above the Hamakua Coast where trade winds pushed palm fronds and bamboo leaves, where culverts spilled water from mauka showers and the smell of something dead, two pet roosters crowed.

The silver rooster, known to breeders as a Silver Laced Wyandotte, sported feathers the color of ivory and lead, brown filigree and an emerald-black tail. The ivory feathers of his hackles matched his ivory shanks and toes. He stood beside his companion, a Rhode Island Red with striped plumage. Hackles arched, they called out to the dawn together. They called out until morning cast over the coast.

Together, their movements coordinated, the pair strutted side by side and chased pigeons. As the dominant species of landfowl they could not tolerate other birds in their territory, a well-groomed lawn below a lanai that extended to a fenced off gulch. Handsome, lives spent in servitude to no one, they lived as pretty objects to look at on their owner’s lawn as the sun moved behind eucalyptus trees.

The silver rooster, the elder statesman of the lawn, led the red rooster and the red rooster followed. The bond between the two rooster breeds, like that of a benevolent dictator and his subject,  showed an uneven companionship, but a companionship nonetheless that blurred their feral nature with their domestication. Silver’s noblesse oblige and red’s mirrored movements, the type of kinship animals of higher intelligence displayed. Friendship forged from years surviving as the non-native species brought to this strange land. Their color splashed against a riot of green, huddled together against slashing rain.

When pigeons watched them from the safety of a fence the roosters flattened their backs and charged at imaginary foes, and they wiped their beaks across blades of grass satisfied that they had accomplished something. Hidden violence above their heads moved in and out of view with the smudges of red in the weeping bottlebrush trees.

It started with a guttural sound deep in their throats. They faced each other, silver and red. Hackles raised. Wings flapped over a perceived slight. Instinct and aggression pushed them. They had no choice as the complaint that had provoked them was forgotten and they focused only on dominating the other.

Tattered strips of dry banana leaves scraped like crepe paper in the wind. Cat’s claw brambles, the weight of their yellow flowers and thorns, smothered ‘ohi‘a lehua trees. Under an ornamental hibiscus hedge, red flowers in bloom, deep in the dark rested the body of the red rooster. Its striped flank didn’t move. The silver rooster pecked at its body and left when it didn’t rise. On subsequent days he returned to visit the body and tsk tsk at the state of his companion, tsk tsk at his own isolation, the smell of rot rising in the humidity.


Jesse Rowell is a University of Hawai‘i at Manoa graduate, writer and tech consultant living in Honoka‘a. He is published in National Public Radio, Impulse Journal, Cirque Journal, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine, and Ab Terra Books.

1 Comment

Filed under Fiction

One response to “Tsk Tsk Tristesse

  1. Such animal and almost human behaviors with the wiping of the beak and the straight back while charging. Delicious read.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s