He never imagined roosters would be on his agenda. Even when the student called to complain, he listened half heartedly and distractedly. He thought she was one of those whiners always looking to torment everyone around them to somehow make it through the day. She complained about how her night ended before dawn and she no longer had a life. He asked if closing her windows at night might lessen her distress, and she hung up on him.
His mother had left him the apartment. Located on the outskirts of his home town, it was neither large nor impressive. It was surrounded by a yard and a garden, a fence and a gate. Her heart had told her he would not be able to make a living teaching literature and writing liturgical poetry. Experience had taught him that earning honorariums was not his strong suit. When he was paid, it was pennies. Occasionally he felt inspired to write a short story. Then his fee was a little higher. For the most part, he gave his permission to journals to print his poems without compensation. He would show his little boy, who lived separately with his mother, the black Frank-Rühl lettering of his name. The child would sound out the letters slowly, gathering them to form words, then giggle and ask, Daddy, why does this say Yonadav Ronel? You’re Yonadav, Daddy. Why are you written here?
Then he would hoist the child onto his shoulders and the two of them would walk through the fields. Father would show son a pretty hoopoe, a little reed warbler, a gray willow warbler, but his mind was elsewhere. He would be pondering the threatening gang of crest-heads that terrorized the garden of his mother’s home.
A few months ago, no longer able to bear the calls of the cheeky cocks in the wee hours of the night, the student moved out in a huff. She could no longer study, she rebuked. He assumed she was oversensitive, an embellisher, and almost asked to spend a night in her apartment so he could assess the magnitude of the disruption.
One night, six months later, when he was about to get into bed in his small studio apartment in the center of town, the new tenant — a cook at a laborers’ eatery in the market — called to report that the gang wandering underneath the porch, composed of ten roosters, twelve hens, and a battalion of chicks, was violent, loud, and getting on his nerves. At three o’clock every morning the birds flew up to the tops of the silver poplar trees and crowed him awake.
Yonadav surfed the internet to study the phenomenon and learned that there was no magic cure. His hands were tied. His mother had never hosted roosters in her garden, but after her death these uninvited guests came to call along with a company of tiny chicks, moving through the neighbors’ yards to the garden that had been abandoned. They took over the neglected grounds, searching for seeds and other treats, strolling leisurely, proving their ownership, naturalizing, bragging, breeding, taking over and taking power, and at night spreading their wings to retire to the tops of the silver poplars, where they slept the sleep of the just.
Wild roosters kept procreating. Push them out the door and they’d come in through the window, down from the sky or up from the ground.
This all took place in the days when he hardly came over, his new life taking up more and more space in his daily routine. After the new tenant called him, he came by. No one in the neighborhood knew who owned the birds. Street cocks. First, he wrote to the city’s Department of Sanitation, then filed a complaint. He was waved off with unhelpful answers and baseless advice. They even sent over a municipal inspector who stopped by to take a look and muttered, What’s all the fuss about? This isn’t a gang or even a flock. It’s barely half a chicken. Other wise guys proposed he scatter poison, but warned him against the stench of death that would cloud the air, causing the tenant to complain once more, this time about the pollution. Animal rights organizations might paint him to be a villain, and the city would find him guilty for the injustice and fine him. In his search for a solution, he found a professional animal catcher who demanded two-hundred shekels for every bird he caught, which would be transferred, alive and well and with its dignity intact, to a distant quarantine.
He returned to the garden again to survey the offensive population. On the first count he got twenty-one, and on the next twenty-five. Another day, he spotted a female sitting on eggs, behind it ten little ones waddling along, chirping meekly. Wiser folks suggested he let it go. There was no cure for this epidemic, this unprecedented plague. Wild roosters kept procreating. Push them out the door and they’d come in through the window, down from the sky or up from the ground. They were strong and cunning and determined to defeat mankind.
The neighbors’ daughter, Ayala, a thirty-four-year-old art therapist and a lover of all creation who lived with her parents and treated children in a separate shed in the yard, stepped outside to see what he was up to on the other side of the fence. She examined his actions with concern, clicking her tongue, Oh, Yonadav.
He used to covet her back when he was two years above her in high school, but nothing ever transpired between the two of them save for casual chit-chat and teenaged teasing. She would come to class in shorts, her hair down, a sash tied around her head like some Roman princess. Her gray eyes were often cloudy. While he started a family, she gallivanted around India. Though the years had preserved her freshness, she now bore the marks of seriousness. Now, she hinted that he ought to find mercy in his heart. When he ran the numbers again, he found no end to the expenses, and smiled at her desperately. He promised he would only remove the birds indefinitely, causing them no harm, and asked if she was able to sleep properly. She laughed and said that at night she thought about Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Lorca. He raised a brow.
After distress turned his heart to hate, he found a supplier in southern Israel who offered a long metal cage with a sensitive, accurate coil; a trap that could capture four, even five birds at once. All Yonadav had to do was place a bait on the path toward it and inside — millet, bird feed, or any other delicacy — and cock the mechanism. This is the last one I have in stock, the supplier urged. I’m coming up tomorrow for business and can deliver it to you in my truck. I won’t charge for the shipping costs. Yonadav was tempted. He said yes. Once negotiations were complete, he opened his pocket and sealed the deal. One thousand of his finest shekels.
The next day, the trap was delivered to his yard. He bought some feed at a pet store, and the supplier from the south demonstrated how to cock the coil as Ayala watched them from behind the fence with compassionate concern. The tenant made a solemn promise to watch from the porch and summon him if a rooster took the bait. And no, he added with a smile, I have no need for them. The restaurant I work for is vegetarian.
Five days went by before the coveted call arrived. At the end of a long day of teaching, after confronting some students who had cursed and teased a classmate, Yonadav strode, gripped with excitement, toward the garden of his late mother’s home. Two green-orange roosters, yellow-eyed and bold of gaze, were scampering through the corridor of the entrapment, clucking furiously, protesting their incarceration. There you are! He cheered, pleased, then unlatched the gate and reached two confident hands toward the grumbling red crests. But the roosters retreated to the back of the narrow, elongated cage, their tails raised, their wings flapping, jostling and screeching to the high heavens.
Yonadav began to devise plans and scheme plots to bring them closer to the opening. First he placed a water bowl near the gate, then a fresh dish of feed. Then he prodded them with a stick to force them to draw nearer. Finally, desperate. He crawled into the apparatus on his stomach, advancing, burning with sweat, stretching his long arms. The roosters maliciously pecked his forehead and fingers, shoving and screaming, running and slipping away from him. His fingers could not grab their necks or legs. When he finally squeezed out of the trap, his arms scratched, his skin dripping blood, his shirt filthy with dirt, dazed and shaken, the prisoners took advantage of his momentary weakness, slipped out from both sides and around him, and broke into a wild run as he lunged at them with the remainder of his strength, only to trip, defeated, over the irrigation hose. They strode and flew about like winners, advancing toward the gate of the yard with deafening clucks, and vanished. He listened with marvel to the juicy swear words that would have made his students proud, finally realizing they were coming from his own mouth.
From behind the fence, Ayala watched the scene, hands on her cheeks, stifling a laugh. Yonadav. He hadn’t noticed her. She ran inside and returned with a glass of cold water, but he turned his back on her.
With bitter defeat, he drove away, but not before cocking the trap once more and promising himself that next time he would come equipped with a sack to slip over the gate before he goaded those little devils inside like flies into jam. The entire way to his weekly date with his son, thoughts sprouted inside of him, giving birth to thought spawns that bonded like multiplying links, blending and entangling and throwing off the rest of his day. How did those bastards get away from him! He, who had served in an elite military unit?
When his son asked for ice cream, he lost his temper and told him to shut up. When the boy cried out and ran off, he chased him around the playground and pulled him out from under a bush, hugging him and begging for forgiveness. The two of them sat, holding each other tightly, for minutes on end.
After a ten-day wait the tenant summoned him to task once more. Yonadav arrived that afternoon with an enormous sack — courtesy of the school janitor — some thread, and scissors. His eyes scoured the next-door yard for his neighbor. Inside the trap was a healthy orange rooster with a formidable crest, raging back and forth, screeching his complaint, protesting the quarantine. Purring through his wide smile, he slipped the long sack over the gate of the trap, smoothed out its edges, and only then unlatched the gate.
The rooster flocked widely into the depths of the snare. With a sly grin, he quickly tied the sack shut, then turned back to see if the neighbor was watching his accomplishment. She wasn’t at the fence. He walked over and called her name twice. Her mother stepped outside in an apron and rubber gloves. She smiled at him, asked how he was doing and what he was doing, then once he answered, informed him that Ayala had gone off on an artist’s retreat and was due back at any moment. As they chatted on and he swallowed down his disappointment, the young woman walked into the yard in multi-strapped colorful sandals, dragging a checkered rolling suitcase behind her, a small pack on her back, her head adorned with that same high school sash, and her expression tranquil and tan.
He watched as the man climbed back on his bike and started peddling, one hand holding onto the handlebars, the other gripped around the winged scoundrel.
He waved the sack at her, his eyes beaming victory. Then he assured her the rooster would be transferred safely. He was about to meet a man who had a yard where birds lived comfortably and would gladly take the rooster in. The mother retreated back home stealthily while the daughter nodded in silence. Surprising himself, he asked if she wanted to go out later for a cup of coffee or some delicious ice cream and catch up.
No, she answered, I can’t, I need to get settled in, maybe tomorrow, give me a call. Then she turned around and left him, perplexed, at the gate. He called after her, saying he didn’t have her number, it’s been years, but she was already swallowed inside the house. The entire drive to his meeting she would not leave his thoughts, which gave birth to thought spawns, blending and entangling like a ball of yarn.
First the phone rang and the yard owner asked to be reminded what intersection they had decided to meet at. Then he called again and said he couldn’t tell if it was this intersection or that. After Yonadav explained the location again, and gave him directions, and listed all the traffic lights on the way, as well as landmark trees and buildings, and signs and stalls to watch for, the yard owner repeated confidently, Got it, pal, got it, and hung up. From the depths of the sack in the backseat the rooster sounded a meek, defeated croak.
He waited at the intersection near the entrance to a military base where he performed reserve duty when summoned. He waited forty minutes. The air conditioning stopped working. The heat of the day beat through the windshield. Minutes fell like leaves; time ticked. When he was about to despair he saw in his rearview mirror a heavyset man in a white shirt and black pants, a black fedora atop his head, a bluing gray beard resting against his chest, struggling to pedal on an old bicycle, approaching on the shoulder of the road at a pace that seemed to get him nowhere. After long moments that felt like eternity, the yard owner approached the car window, out of breath and drenched in sweat, his lungs nearly bursting. When he could just barely speak, he said, I misunderstood you. I thought you’d meant the other intersection.
Yonadav watched him. There was something ridiculous about his appearance, the way he leaned his bike against a signpost, the sweat dripping from his wavy forehead, his protruding gut. Did you bring a basket or some thread? Yonadav asked as he handed over the large sack. Because I need this back.
No need, it’s no trouble, the yard owner replied, shoving his long arm into the sack and pulling out the panicked rooster, closing his fist around both the bird’s legs. I’ll just hold it while I ride my bike home, he said, then added with blasé indifference, I have about fifty like this one in my yard.
He watched as the man climbed back on his bike and started peddling, one hand holding onto the handlebars, the other gripped around the winged scoundrel. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The cock turned over instantly, its yellow eyes narrowing with conniving, its beak pursing brashly. It spread its orange wings assertively, slipping out of the gripping fist, and flying off with enraged screeches, zooming through the barbed wire fence of the military base and vanishing in the tangle of green beyond, leaving the yard owner frozen in place, the bicycle protruding from between his thighs and a wide, stupid grin hanging from the lips that were crowded by the bluish gray beard.
Yonadav covered his eyes with his hand in disbelief. He stood like this for a long spell. Then he got in the car and drove back to his mother’s house. He would stand behind the fence, watch the roosters, and wait stubbornly until she came outside and invited him in.
Levana Moshon was born in Tel Aviv and currently lives in Givat Shmuel. She graduated from Bar-Ilan University with a degree in education and geography, and is a writer, journalist, teacher, and storyteller. She has published forty books for children and young adults, and four novels for adults: Excision (2019), The Silence of the Plants (nominated for the Sapir Prize in 2015), Sour Love (winner of the Tchernichovsky Award), and Blue Woolen Wire. Her work has appeared in anthologies in Hebrew and Spanish. Many of her children’s stories have been published in various children’s magazines and read on the Israeli radio program One More Story and That’s All, including “Hana‑a Half of Banana,” ‘Stories of Idioms,” “The Cuckoo’s Bakery,” “The Farmer and His Faithful Horse,” “Crown of Glass,” “A Tree of Coins,” “The Princess and the Onion’s Clothes,” and many more. She has won the ACUM Award twice.
Yardenne Greenspan is a writer and Hebrew translator. Her translations have been published by Restless Books, St. Martin’s Press, Akashic, Syracuse University, New Vessel Press, Amazon Crossing, and are forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Yardenne’s writing and translations have appeared in The New Yorker, Haaretz, Guernica, Literary Hub, Blunderbuss, Apogee, The Massachusetts Review, Asymptote, and Words Without Borders, among other publications. She has an MFA from Columbia University and is a regular contributor to Ploughshares.