THE WRITER’S LIFE | FICTION
“As I was walking down Stanton Street early one Sunday morning, I saw a chicken a few yards ahead of me. I was walking faster than the chicken, so I gradually caught up. By the time we approached Eighteenth Avenue, I was close behind. The chicken turned south on Eighteenth. At the fourth house along, it turned in at the walk, hopped up the front steps, and rapped sharply on the metal storm door with its beak. After a moment, the door opened and the chicken went in.”
My literary mentor – Paul Auster – was once accused of using the convenience of coincidence in his writing. He pointed out that real life is often stranger – or more coincidental – than much which a fiction author could imagine. Then he compiled stories of American life in I thought my father was God and other true tales. The collection includes The Chicken, (above) from Linda Elegant of Portland, Oregon.
Auster and me both subscribe to the theory of fictional reality, which posits that in an almost infinite universe, somewhere – possibly a long time ago in a galaxy far away – everything which has ever been written in fiction has really happened.
I was already acquainted with a chicken which hatched from a Campbell’s soup tin, and who believed she was God. She hung around for a while, then disappeared into the obscurity of omnipotence, where you don’t want people to know where you are.
THE CHICKEN BEHIND THE DOOR
I’ve found it difficult to write, talk, and even think lately, with the weight of many lives on my mind. I used to write so that I didn’t have to explain myself to people, instead referring them here. It’s because there’s so much in my head, and that I find it hard to speak to others, that I talk to myself. Far easier – and more entertaining for the reader – if I place myself in my own fiction.
There was a knock at the door, or rather a rap, a rat-a-tat-tat. Curious, I opened the door. There was no-one there.
I looked down, and there was a chicken. I invited her in.
“So,” she said, “what’s up with you?”
“To be honest,” I replied, “I don’t know. I mean, I can’t put a finger on an individual irritant, because there are so many.”
“Have you got fleas?”
“If I have, then they’ve given up jumping for a living. They’ve taken up residence. I feel permanently trapped. There are many places I’d like to be but I lack the means to get there.”
“Well, fleas don’t eat wood.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“I think you have worms.”
“You’ve buried yourself,” the chicken said. “You’ve stuffed yourself full of problems which you don’t talk about. Let me give you some sage advice.” Coming from a chicken, that was ironic.
“You’re right,” I said, “but I’ve not eaten for days.”
“The oven blew up.”
“Literally. No, actually. The main element blew.”
“Mind if I take a look?”
“Be my guest.”
“I already am,” the chicken said, walking to the kitchen. “I can’t believe you’ve finally let God into your life.”
“Well, I’m here. Could you open this door for me please?” She pointed to the oven. “Thanks.” Then she walked in. “Close the door. Please.” I did. “Now,” she said, more quietly, “turn the oven on.”
“Are you sure?”
“I want to test your faith,” the chicken said from behind the oven door.
So I put the oven on 190°C and forgot about it. I came back to the typewriter to write this diary entry for my blog. Everything this far is what I’ve written since the chicken who claims to be God got into the oven.
“You’re right,” she said, clanging the door closed behind her, “it’s fucked.”
“Like I said,” I said.
“And yet you doubted me.”
“I am God. I cannot be cooked and eaten. Placing myself in the oven proves this.”
“But I already told you it was busted.”
“And yet you shut me in there and turned on the heat.”
“Because I knew you’d be fine.”
“So you believe in me.”
“Well, you’re here.”
“So you believe in God.”
“If God is a chicken which invites itself into my studio, then gets into the oven, asks me to cook it, then gets out unharmed, that just tells me my oven is broken.”
“But has it not occurred to you,” the chicken said, “that you would not put a live chicken in your oven, and that I have no feathers? There’s no fleas or flies on me. See? Here I am, naked.”
She had a point.
So I put her in the freezer to keep her quiet. Once I’ve got a new oven, I’ll be having God for dinner.
© Steve Laker, 2020