The Lesson (A Fable)

Published May 23, 2020 by Nan Mykel

Mine is a tale of initiation. Were it otherwise I would invoke the muse. Please note, gentle reader, that I content myself with a statement of theme. Gods, as they appear herein, are but the mere acknowledgements of a symbolic convention older than my own breed, perchance. At any rate, to begin with an invocation to a muse would be an act paralleling selling one’s daughter to provide her with a dowry.

My tale and I begin, ab ova. For it is inescapably a fact that I am a chicken.

Phrased another way, in emotional language, a small white hen.  A chicken, whose brain disturbed itself, alas, not with ways and means of mounting the barnyard pecking order, but rather grasping that lightning often accompanies rain, and that from eggs come biddies. A beady-eyed chicken whose neck jerks when she walks, whose head will tilt and her little comb flap just like all the rest of the chickens in the barnyard, though she tries and tries to break the habit.

Had this chicken realized at a tenderer age– (here I can’t help shudder at what is implied by that phrase)–the inferior position relegated chickens in the intellectual world, she undoubtedly–yea, indubitably–would have chosen a model other than her mother, or her mother’s kind, to emulate. However, habits rooted in the very nest proved  difficult to overcome, and even now I find myself drawing my head back sharply, aghast at the thought of performing an act so gross and irritating to me, and even so completing the circle which has fenced me into my own particular type of hell.

It seems I have always known where little chickens come from, if not where they will go. But to this day I am not convinced that one out of ten of my sisters realizes the significance of the lovely white oval eggs in her nest daily. Perhaps that is why they part with them so peacefully. As you shall see, my reason for allowing my nest to be daily robbed was very different.

Things went well on our farm. When the rains came down we roosted–how I despise the word–in our hen house until the sun came out again, bringing the fragrance of dirt steaming upward in a heavenly earthy manner.

The humans who fed us did so generously.

Not being high on the pecking order, still I managed to keep strong and healthy. The humans protected us, also. Once a weasel had almost worked his way into the coop from the pasture side, when one of the humans, chancing by at that time and hearing our fearful cry (although mine was more of outrage than fear, I verily believe and maintain), the human disposed of the vile animal and mended the place in the coop which had left us exposed to the whims of passing animals, as it almost were.

As I grew older and laid my own eggs it seemed only natural that the humans should take my offspring and hatch them themselves. They seemed so much cleverer and capable than all the hens in the yard. I suspected that even our rooster was far inferior to the humans, our protectors.

It was rather a lonely life I led, in the chicken yard. I was the scorn of my instinct-ridden sisters as well as the scorn of my masters who saw me, rightly, as a feminine fowl.

With the dawn, the first beams of which coming through the slats in the chicken coop woke me, invariably came a feeling of exhilaration. Our rooster crowed grandly, and morning was to me a new chance. That is what I felt it–another chance. Another chance at what I couldn’t have told you, but it was welcomed.

Day began. Small particles danced in the sunbeam entering the slits in the slats. I saw the spider in his web in the corner, apparently still asleep. I saw my sisters, my poor dumb clucks of sisters, apparently still asleep. The arrival of food would stir them, however, and they, with slapping wings and squawks, would flock outside for the grain, leaving me sitting in the coop thinking of our frailties.

What an albatross it is to be a chicken. Or should I say more correctly that my albatross was my nature? Or perhaps it was my spirit which was not compatible with my nature. Nevertheless, I was a lonely but contented chicken. It seems my days were filled with observing. Thanks to the humans there were things, events to observe. Large machines lumbered by the chicken coop. Young humans danced nearby, even made musical sounds with instruments.

They could do infinitely more with their mouths, and as unnatural as it may sound, after listening to the screaming, singing and laughter of the young humans, the staccato muttering of my sisters irritated me.

It was to escape, momentarily at least, the senseless chatter of my sister hens that I wandered from them one day when it was getting warm again, and found myself farther from the coop than I had ever been before.

It was a glorious morning and I felt happiness swell under my inescapably white-feathered  bosom, (breast, I believe it’s called), as my feet took me to the rear of the human house, and I found some edible scraps around the screen door.  The steps led up, and being of a curious nature I hopped up to see if perhaps a mess of grain lay there. I was not so hungry as inquisitive.

Hating chicken noises as I did, and being unable to imitate any others, I was naturally speechless there on the steps of the human house. I reached the top of the steps and there was no pile of grain. I raised my head with a jerk and realized that I could see through the screen door on the back of the house. There the humans were, not very far from me. Each had an egg in front of him, and was scooping the insides out and devouring them….

Everything in front of my eyes went black, and when it got gray the light was spinning round and round. Half flying, half stumbling down the stairs, I departed.  They were eating my biddies…

Perhaps this is a humorous tale to you, reader. A ridiculous chicken who aspired to values more human and, as she felt, therefore higher than her calling.  “A chicken who thought she was a woman,” I can almost hear you say. But reader, dwell on this: I knew no better; I had been in the world less than two-year when I inadvertently came across a truth indigestible to me.

If the fact that the practice is not indigestible to humans, and this is taken as a pun and made light of,  then I can only believe it a morbid sense of humor on the reader’s part, and cry out in my small fated clucking voice against the injustice of a world that I do not understand.

Away from the back stairs I staggered with grief.  The stones in my gullet gritted alarmingly, and I nearly swooned with strange emotions rushing through my poor chicken head.

I did not head back to the coop, however. My path led away from the farm and over the furthest horizon.


Nan, Time Wrinkles, 2015

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