Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Matter of Truth

An article Garrison read in a magazine confiscated from Cabin 3 on the magic practices of the Azande in the Sudan, sent him to temporary ecstasy. He immediately drove out and bought a scrawny New Hampshire Red hen from a farmer, one of eighty-two emaciated birds the man free-ranged on a quarter of an acre just north of Pine Key

A short time after midnight, Garrison heard Sweeney banging around out back. The cab door of the semi slammed a couple of times and Sweeney went into a coughing jag that seemed to go on forever. Sweeney gagged and spit and carried on out there until Garrison thought he might have bought the chicken in vain. Suddenly it went quiet.

Garrison took the frazzled hen out of the double-thick shopping bag and untied her legs. She was an old hen that couldn't cough up an egg in a hormone factory and Garrison reasoned rightly that he'd paid a buck more than he should have. But then, he didn't want to ask Fry for one of his. He flat didn't want to explain why he wanted it. He took the popcorn bag off the counter and fed the bird on the rug. The bird went crazy and Garrison got more excited by the second.

When he was sure the hen had ingested enough, he began asking it the question. Underneath it all, he was ashamed of himself, but he had to know. "Did Spring do it with Sweeney?" He tried the subtle approach. "Did that nice little man out back of this motel, take advantage of my beautiful Spring?" Garrison watched the feasting bird for any sign of faltering, but he knew the chicken would eat popcorn long after they stopped being hungry. Keeping that in mind, he emptied the bag on the floor and assumed a more direct approach.

"Chicken, did my Spring do jump on that truck driver?"

The hen went on eating, which led Garrison to believe maybe he was wrong, and if he was wrong, a great emptiness stood just around the corner. What would he do if he was wrong?

He had visions of going home after his mother and father died and sitting on the front porch rocking away to total madness, his body finally rotting right there in the chair, then going to bone and clacking along with the rocker until the sun and the buzzards ate every last trace, until all that remained was the porch, a pile of gray dust and the infinite screaming silence that held no peace.

The hen kept on eating. "Did Spring have intercourse with Billy?" Garrison waited a full twenty minutes. According to what the ritual said; if the answer was NO, the bird would walk right off, but if YES, if indeed Spring had done it, the hen was due to keel over at any second. Garrison sat down and opened a beer. Maybe the hen didn't understand him.

"How about it, hen? Did my sweet Spring have sexual relations with a truck driver?"

The hen stalked the motel lobby and even went so far as to poop under the wall clock. Ordinarily, Garrison would have strangled the bird at that point. The hen stopped pecking at the spots in the rug and shook herself. Could he be wrong? The hen preened. She looked up at the blinking, silent TV with disinterest. Finally she waddled over to the computer table next to the counter and settled into the carpet beneath it.

Garrison continued to drink beer, his adrenalin so high he thought he'd scream. The damn chicken was ok! It had to be. It just had to! He leaned over in the chair and checked out the hen. Her eyelids fell lazily, but no...No, she wasn't dying. The book must have been right. No bird could survive that much rat poison.
He stepped over to the fridge for another beer. When he returned the hen hadn't budged, so he went over and spooked her. She flew at the front door, squawking and flapping and carrying on until Garrison wished to hell he hadn't done it. She flew up on the counter scattering papers everywhere. He had to get that bird out of the office.

Garrison opened the front door and hooked the screen door open. When he turned around the bird was gone. He peered over the front desk. Somewhere he heard papers rustling, but no hen.

It took a full three minutes to find the hen upside-down in the wastebasket, her yellow feet running a curious marathon up the metal sides, coming to a slow wretched finish along the newspaper weather report calling for snow showers and a low of 29 degrees in higher elevations, while the bird's head flopped over a Battle Creek story, COOL CAT FREED FROM SODA MACHINE.


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