[lit-ideas] Hereabouts

  • From: David Ritchie <profdritchie@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 6 Sep 2015 10:54:41 -0700

Here's an elbow grab, the move much favored by ancient mariners: my subject
this week is spoiled food and chickens.

With everyone gone, I cleared out all leftovers. First I gave the girls moldy
lemon cake; they made what to me were new, highly-appreciative noises.
Possibly Marie Antoinette was right, this may indeed be how you stave off
revolution. I then gave them almond milk that had turned.
"White water tastes strange, wouldn't you say girls."
"Yes, yes."
"Hints of..."
"I don't know exactly."
Much swilling and gargling.
"Well, if you push me, I'd say there was a back taste of nuts."
"You did ask."
"How could white water be made of nuts?"
"I have no idea."
"No brain, more like."
"I heard that."
Then one evening I tossed rotting fruit and veg as their evening lure.
"Wait a bloomin' minute."
"This isn't breaaaaaad?"
"Or Cheerios."
"Certainly isn't cake."
By the time they thought to turn on me, the door to their pen was locked.
Buckwheat crepes and the skeleton of a salmon with pieces of flesh still
attached were next. Both offerings were warmly received by the chickens but
the nature of that reception was quite different. Pancakes were torn apart
pretty much silently with quiet ululation to follow. ("Ululation" is as close
as I can come to the noises appreciative chickens make. If you prefer to
stretch the concept of purring, maybe that's a better description).
The cooked salmon, by contrast, provoked conversation.
"It's quite atavistic," said Appenzeller, who had run across from where she was
brooding. "Don't you think?"
"What's atavistic?" Cheddar asked.
"This is."
"Looks like bones to me."
Mimo gave Cheddar one of her withering stares. "Appenzeller means that the
experience of plucking flesh off bones takes her back."
"She's something wrong with her back?"
"No, Cheddar. Back in time."
"If we can go back in time, I'd like to see Wensleydale. Which part do I eat
to do that?"
Peccorino was unusually late to the feast; she's normally the first to any
food. "Sorry, ladies, I was wrestling a worm."
Rocky summarized the conversation thus far. Peccorino took a bite. "Much
better than any worm, I'd say."
Mimo, "I believe they do something to food, the gods. It doesn't taste like
everything out here in nature. Remember when they gave us fish before...wasn't
like this."
(I'd given them raw fish once).
"Sashimi," said Cheddar.
"What's that?"
"A word Wensleydale used to describe worms. Said she noticed that food from
the gods was the opposite."
"How can worms have an opposite?" This was Rocky.
Appenzeller added, "Quite the beak on her, that one."
Peccorino nodded, "Bit weird around the edges."
Mimo said, "Didn't she say something about nature being raw in tooth and claw?"
"Red," said Cheddar. "Red."
Rocky had a thought. "I wonder if we could just ask the gods for particular
menu items? Put in requests?"
"No harm trying," said Peccorino.
"Might get cake," said Appenzeller, hopefully.
"I'll go," said Mimo, deep in thought.
I'd been listening through the kitchen window, so I anticipated and opened the
"What ho, Mimo!"
That set her back.
"What ho!"
"What does that mean?"
"Your greeting."
"It's from P.G.Wodehouse."
"Well tell him to take it back. A simple 'hello' suits you better."
Peccorino came up behind her. "Where's the beef?"
I said, "I beg your pardon?"
"Granted," said Mimo, with a little curtsey. "We were wondering if we could
order beef? Perchance?"
"Prepared like the fish, if at all possible." Peccorino added.
"Bit high up the food chain for you, I'd have thought."
"Should we take that as a no?
I'd read that chickens kill mice. "I think you might be better off catching a
few mice. Earning your keep. Like the cats."
"What's a keep?"
"What's 'earning'?"
I decided not to explain.
When I went to lock them in that evening, tossing in a piece of moldy bread,
four of them ran into the pen; Cheddar balked. Getting her in took a while,
which meant that I had time to notice, darting among the old vegetable
peelings, a little field mouse. Alive. Completely unthreatened by the beaks
above. I mentioned this to the assembled bread gobblers.
"Live and let live, is our view."

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon

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