Andy Warhol looks a scream

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FLASH FICTION

With my fight for independence still very much ongoing with DWP, and mindful of a personal promise to keep writing and not let them take this from me, I remembered I’m a part-time surrealist, and I’ve not written much which is real or unreal lately.

Initially I thought I’d write a short story about poverty, food banks, and the UK government’s economic genocide. I decided that could wait, after I spotted a writing prompt which might permit me wider thought: ‘A can of soup’.

So I mixed up some paints to tell the real and fictional lives of a writer…

Chicken soup

CAMPBELL’S CHICKEN SOUP

I was hungry and lately I’d had a cold. I fancied chicken soup and CBeebies, or repeats of Doctor Who with Tom Baker and Matt Smith. But my cupboards were bear and my pre-pay meter low, so I decided to use the last of my electricity to heat a tin of Campbell’s soup given to me by Andy Warhol.

This being a piece of art history, the can displayed no use-by date. Given who it was from, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I found an egg inside. Instructions too. I was to place the egg in an oven at the lowest possible setting, checking on it every two hours until it hatched.

My cooker is electric, so the lowest setting is 70 degrees. Fearing this might be a little warm, I left the oven door open. An egg was unlikely to attempt escape, but it would eventually hatch. My anxiety dictates I don’t go out much, but I had someone else to feed now, so I ordered some seeds on the internet.

After a couple of days, a yellow chick hatched and began frantically chirping at me. Too small to peck at the seeds I’d bought, I fed it liquidised food from a syringe I happened to have lying around.

It was impossible to tell if my chick was a boy or girl. In any other setting, if it’d been a girl, she’d have been reared for egg-laying, or fattened up for human consumption. A boy would be discarded, often destined to be reptile food. I called it Lenny, or Len, after Leonard Hofstadter, or Helen of Troy.

For the first few nights, I slept in the kitchen next to the warmth from the oven, waking every couple of hours to feed Lenny. In return, she (I’d decided) gave substance to my lonely life, where lately I’d have put my head in her home if I cooked with gas. After about a week, Helen was pecking at the seeds I’d bought.

I let Len live in the oven and left the door open. If she wished, she could have the run of the flat. She grew quickly and after a month, she was of a size which wouldn’t look out of place in a supermarket freezer.

Some birds are born with very large head-to-body ratios (the corvids, penguins, parakeets and parrots), and many are as intelligent as dolphins or the great apes. All birds are born with instincts. The first is imprinting the face they see on hatching as that of their mother.

I was Leonard Hofstadter’s mum, noted psychologist Dr Beverley Hofstadter. As though prompted by that, Len developed some strange behaviour, and I wondered if it might also be instinctive.

Lenny kept getting out of the cooker and pressing the buttons on the front. She started plucking at her feathers, as though preparing herself for roasting, like an old Doctor Who on a carving trolley at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. I had a depressed chicken. Was it because mine was the first face she saw when she’d hatched? Or was Helen actually Leonard, burdened with a childhood lived in shadows? I switched the oven off at the mains.

Just lately I’ve been so broke that I’ve had to choose between eating and heating. Now I’ve got Len, I took a doorstep loan and put money on the electric key, so she wouldn’t need the oven to keep warm. It means she can watch TV as well, and she loves CBeebies.

Tomorrow we’ll visit the local charity shops to buy my chicken some toys. We’re out of food, so we’ll have to go to the food bank as well.

© Steve Laker, 2019

It all started when Andy Warhol painted a Campbell’s soup can. I just wondered what happened to what he painted. Can’t tell them apart at all.

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