[lit-ideas] Sunday Something

  • From: David Ritchie <profdritchie@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 14 Sep 2014 11:34:51 -0700

My rule is to base the week's tales on real events, which is awkward, because 
Wensleydale died this week.  She died in the bathtub, but not like Marat.  
Something that evaded the antibiotic's reach got her.  Maybe she was too far 
gone before we started treatment; maybe she didn't drink enough of the 
solution.  It was a relatively peaceful end, especially by chicken standards.

When a great soul leaves there's naturally some discussion about what to do 
next.  The proposal to use her as crab bait was quickly nolle prosequied.  It 
being garbage day, another possibility would have been a quick trip to the bin 
before the truck arrived, saving much decay and stink.  One third possibility, 
a viking funeral pyre, was also mooted but we thought it might revive flock 
memories of roasting chicken and, as the fire danger is high, the sensible 
thing seemed to be to try to dig a hole in the hard clay.  With pick and shovel 
I went to work in the wooded part of the garden.  While digging I could see why 
this ritual had taken hold among humans.  Mordant wit will help with grief, but 
a good hard sweat is also helpful.  It's a mistake, I believe, to hire this 
task out. 

Mimo came up, "Not a lot of point digging there; ground's hard and there's nor 
worm nor bug to be had."
"I'm not digging for food."
"Looking for particles?"
"Nope.  Nothing light about this."
Appenzeller arrived, "Whaaaaat's he doing?"
"He's digging."
"That I can see, but why?"
"Dunno.  He says it's not light he's after."
"Very heavy that clay.  Bugger of a thing to turn."
I leaned on the shovel, "Wensleydale died."
"Oh yes?  We assumed she'd gone for a long walk."
I explained, "We're going to put Wensleydale in the ground here."
"For a dust bath?"
"Bit deep for a dust bath."
It was like talking to children.  "Yes," I said, "she's going to take a long, 
heavenly bath."
"Hardly seems fair," said Mimo.  "I mean, we have to dig our own baths."
"Rank favoritism," pronounced Appenzeller.
Rocky arrived, "What ho!"
I'd never before noted a chicken using a PG Wodehouse's aristocrats' favorite 
greeting.  I asked reflexively, "Have you been reading Jeeves and Wooster?"
I looked up, "What caused you to say, 'what ho'?"
"It's what *you* say...  to the other god.  Do I blaspheme?  Am I to be cast 
out...like Wensleydale?"
"You noticed she's gone, then?"
"We assumed that she'd blasphemed and been cast out...all that stuff about 
worshipping nature..."
Peccorino joined us, "Where's Wensleydale?"
At this point I expected Cheddar to come hurrying up and echo, "Wensleydale."
"Where's Cheddar?"
Mimo, "Lost in her own little world.  She's been funny since Wensleydale went 
Rocky, "Walkabout?  She blasphemed.  We agreed."
"You, yourself and I agreed, you mean.  I never!"
Whether accidentally or on purpose wasn't clear, but Rocky successfully 
diverted them from what could have become another serious difference of 
opinion. "Is that a bug?"  
E. arrived with Wensleydale's remains and tried to show them to all present.  
Busy with their scratching and bug hunting, they showed little interest 
initially but slowly,
one by one, they stopped and stared.  Mimo cleared her throat, "Funny position 
for sleep, that."
Rocky, "Awkward."
Peccorino, "We can't eat that, if that's what you're thinking."
Appenzeller agreed, "We're not cannibals you know.  If it's chicken."
There was considerable tut-tutting, Mimo, "No, no, we're definitely not 
cannibals.  If it's chicken, that."
Rocky wasn't entirely sure, "We're usually not cannibals.  Probably."
I asked, "Do you see that this is Wensleydale?"
Instead of answering, they wandered around, muttering to one other.  I'm not 
convinced they understood.

We put rocks on top of the hole, a good big pile, said a goodbye suitable for a 
pagan, and then I put the pick and shovel away and got on with hanging out 
laundry.  Cheddar missed the event.  We noticed when we saw her later that's 
she's very few feathers on her chest.  Having lost her political ally, she's 
probably dropped lower in the pecking order.  

Down below our yard, in the valley they were resurfacing a road, which created 
an almighty great din.  The chickens seemed more bothered by this than by the 
funeral.  As I hung the last item of laundry, they came up, looking for all the 
world like a union delegation.  

"We were wondering, this heavenly bath you mentioned...does it have music?"
"We quite like music."
"The wind in the firs, particularly."
"Very nice, the wind in the trees."
"Unless it's hawks."
"The wind's never hawks.  Hawks are quite different."
"Yes but they can be mistaken for an arpeggio."
"Can not."
"Can too."
"Not so...an arpeggio's...well I'm not sure exactly."
"Where's Wensleydale when we need her?  She'd know."
"Haven't seen her in a while."
I tried to reinforce the message.  "Wensleydale's dead.  That's how the subject 
of heaven came up.  Remember?"
They nodded.  "Our question is, will there be harps?"
"In the bath?"
I felt a bit like Cheddar, "Harps?"
"In heaven?"
You could see they thought we were finally getting somewhere, "Yeeeees."
"Why do you ask?"
"Well it's just that our feet seem well-suited to playing this particular 
"Instrument," Cheddar emerged from the himalayan berry bushes to join us.
"We couldn't be much help with a wind section."
"Unless, by wind, you mean 'ululating.'"  
General agreement, "We're quite good at that."
I smiled, "But not a chance with the trombones?"
Like a union official, Mimo had a firm idea in her head about what was 
non-negotiable, "Trombones are right out."

The last animal to see Wensleydale alive was Sonsie, our Maine Coon mix.  If 
there had been detectives involved in the aftermath of the death, and crime 
scene tape, since he's a big cat you'd think he would have been the first to be 
interviewed, but he's actually very chicken in regard to chickens.  E. was 
checking on her patient.  Sonsie spied a half-closed door, which of course is 
catnip to the curious.  E told him there was a chicken in the bathtub.  Somehow 
he failed to understand, or didn't believe her, so he put his front paws on the 
edge and peered over.  Bad move.  Even in her reduced state, there was not a 
hint of cower about Wensleydale.  Sonsie backed slowly away from the tub and 
then set about licking himself to demonstrate he wasn't scared and all was 
cool.  Unfortunately for his dignity, one of Wensleydale's last acts on earth 
was to imitate E.T., stretching her neck way, way high.  Her beak and eye 
appeared over the rim of the tub.  She fixed Sonsie with what in many senses 
was a deathly stare.  He immediately remembered something very urgent he had to 
do elsewhere.

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon

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