Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Tall Tale . . . With Chickens

This is one of the stories I read on Sunday afternoon, at The History Center, as part of the Spring Writes Literary Festival. A little background: a few years ago I set out to write a story about something I knew absolutely nothing about, and to fill it with 100% nonsense. I don't know a thing about chickens, but I had a lot of fun imagining what might happen if a certain woman came into contact with a bunch of chickens.


Sophie hated chickens. Which was a problem, since her husband, my Cousin Jasper, was a chicken man, born and bred.

When he invited Sophie into his life she was prepared for all sorts of bachelor shenanigans: a mess of toenail clippings scattered willy-nilly on the bathroom floor, and more than a little belching and farting. But she was not prepared for chickens.

Had she been from around here, she would have known that Cousin Jasper and his chickens were as close as an owl and its hoot. But poor Sophie, coming from Pretty Marsh, she was as innocent as a minute. No good ever came from marrying the first man who asks you. Especially if you meet him at a Friday Night Barn Dance in the middle of August.

That very first morning when Sophie arrived in her new home, she saw it, she heard it, she smelled it: she was  living on a chicken farm.
Not being one to waste time, she headed straight for the yard to show those chickens who was boss. The way I heard it, she just hunkered down on the cracked earth and followed them around, staring right into their beady little eyes.
If you know anything at all about chickens you know they don’t go for no eyeball to eyeball contact — not from each other and not from a pointy-chinned woman like Sophie. The little chicks didn’t know what to make of her, but they didn’t like it one bit.
The chickens took off for their roosts lickety-split, squawking to beat Christmas, trying to get away from Sophie’s eyes.

Now, wouldn’t you think, in their churned up condition, they’d suffer from a stoppage of their functions? When I’m all jiggered my internal plumbing just shuts right down on me. But not those chickens. They started popping out eggs like there was no tomorrow. Ten, fifteen, twenty eggs a piece they were laying. Started in like that on the first day and it never did let up. Yes indeed, that’s gospel.
I know it sounds impossible, but that’s just because you never met Sophie. That woman was so single-minded in her detestation of all things fowl that she terrified those chickens into laying more eggs than was natural.
Cousin Jasper, first thing he figured was — witchy stuff. He was scared he’d gone and married him a genuine handmaiden of Satan. Well, that’s the kind of man he is, a tad simple, though he plays a real sweet harmonica.

But then the Agriculture Inspector came down to see what was what — tiny little government man all the way from Beaker Flats, had a mustache weighed more than he did. And he says he read somewhere, in one of those chicken magazines, that it could happen just like it did: chickens take it into their pea-sized brains to lay more eggs than the sky’s got stars and they just go ahead and do it.
He told Cousin Jasper that Sophie was no witch. She was a phenomenon. That’s what he said. And the chickens, they were a phenomenon too. That Agriculture Inspector, he said people were going to love this story: human interest, he called it. To my way of thinking it’s more like chicken interest.

The folks from the chicken magazine came to see what was up. And the people from Time Magazine, they came too. And of course there were TV cameras. A whole bunch of hoopla. And everybody who showed up, they had to pay cold hard cash money if they wanted a picture of those chickens. Sophie made the rule, and it was a good one.
She kept the dollars in old flour bags under the kitchen sink. Pretty soon she had more than twenty bags full of money. To say nothing of what she and Cousin Jasper got from selling those eggs. We’re talking a lot of money.

Close your eyes and picture as much money as you have ever seen in one place at one time. Now multiply that by about a thousand. And then go ahead and multiply it again by . . . I don’t know by what, you can just take my word for it, it was a lot of money.
Sophie and Jasper, they were rich. They were so rich they would have been fools to stay put on that tired little chicken farm, and let me tell you, that Sophie was no fool.
So she took Jasper by one of his bony wrists and she yanked him off to Savannah. Savannah, I tell you. And they had such a nice time there they never did come back home. Not even for a visit.
Cousin Jasper passed the farm on to me, seeing as how I am his only living relative. And I moved right in. Sophie was a fine housekeeper. I didn’t find a single toenail clipping anywhere. And believe me, I looked.
And in case you’re wondering if those chickens are still popping out eggs like so many marbles, the answer is no, they are not. The chickens I’ve got now, they’re as normal as can be. Which suits me just fine. Give me a brood of one-a-day chickens and I’m happy as a ghost on Halloween. I don’t need to be rich ‘cause I’m not planning on going anywhere. I’m staying right here with my chickens and my dog, Wyatt Earp, and I’m just as pleased I could hope to be.