“Daddy Norton has fallen and broken his leg,” announced Ryan Seacrest, grinning widely from the rabbit-eared television in the corner.
“Turn that shit off, would you?” From the kitchen, Jimmie Dale’s mother squatted to remove her once uniform, now scuffed, white nurse’s shoes.
Brushing the remaining salt and cold McDonald’s fries from his lap, Jimmie Dale rolled himself to one side before standing, his threadbare recliner groaning with their combined effort. He would turn that shit off this time. He’d watched this episode a dozen times before, anyways. It was the most rewatched episode on American television, the season two finale in which Daddy Norton, while attempting to complete the Human Hamster Wheel Challenge, slipped from his handhold, falling twenty feet to the unforgiving stage floor. The audience raged as Ryan Seacrest clapped, his teeth the only thing whiter than the shards of bone protruding from Daddy Norton’s leg. Ryan Seacrest kindly held the microphone for Daddy Norton, so Daddy Norton could accept defeat gracefully, without having to remove his hands from around the oddly bent femur beneath him. Jimmie Dale just knew Daddy Norton would fall and break his leg, just as Jimmie Dale knew Liza Lee, the toothy girl from Iowa who lost her first husband in a tampon factory fire, who completed the Human Hamster Wheel Challenge without incident, would win. Jimmie Dale knew Liza Lee would win from the first airing of her extended interview, in which Liza Lee described seeing God in the still smoldering tampons, their blue and white strings blowing in the smoke-filled wind, waving like scattered war-time warnings across American fields of grain and corn.
“Who knew cotton was so flammable?” Liza Lee wondered, clutching her burlap and lace wedding dress, cattle wandering in the green screen background. “I just want to do this in memory of my first husband,” she promised, announcing her campaign to end tampon use in the United States.
As red, white, and blue confetti streamed over the stage, as Liza Lee clutched her shaking hand over her mouth, as her life changed irrevocably, Jimmie Dale strode the three steps from his recliner to the TV. As he turned that shit off, the screen froze for an instant on Liza Lee’s face, shining in the rolling lights, before flicking off, silent and empty.
Without the television, the trailer was dim as the dusk outside. Jimmie Dale’s mother closed her eyes and rubbed her sweat-stained socked feet, groaning softly as the dozens of bones and muscles moved and worked against each other in her work-worn toes.
Jimmie Dale squeezed past without acknowledging his mother, pushing through the trailer door, the half-torn screen flapping open and closed behind him, banging loudly even as he crossed to the wire chicken trailer across their dirt yard. Jimmie Dale stood in the gate of the coop, scanning the enclosure. Clucking quietly, Jimmie Dale called for Liza Lee, a young New Hampshire Red, not quite to laying age. Liza Lee strutted past Daddy Norton, an older Plymouth Rock hen. Stepping inside the enclosure, Jimmie Dale reached forward, entangling his fingers in Daddy Norton’s salt and pepper feathers. He pressed her wings together against his chest, warmed by the chicken’s elevated pulse against his own. Carrying the hen out of the coop, reaching for the axe that lay against its peeling-painted side, Jimmie Dale leaned close, so only Daddy Norton could hear.
“We can’t all be winners.”