The Mushroom Farmer, Chapter 5

The mushrooms had been planted on soggy dead bamboo leaves covered with a plastic sheet to help keep them moist. Now the mushroom farmer had to wait for 20 days. It would be a new year before anything mushroom-y appeared.

Stringiness would be the first mushroom sign.

Stringiness like wet cobwebs.

Then would emerge pins. White dots.

After that, mushrooms would bulge like the mushroom farmer’s arm muscles.

The future: this would be it: bulging mushrooms: if the mf keeps the pile moist.

He can do it. Let’s feel confident in him. Think of how happy he will be, how proud we will be of him, if he pulls this off.

Very happy; very proud: the good kind. The earned and well-deserved kind.

Encouragingly, water drops have condensed on the plastic.

Drop drop drop drop, drop drop, drop.

Machete slits punctuate the sheet, “to let it breathe” according to the instructions the mf watched on the internet.

The water drops look collectively like breathing; like complicated breathing. The drops were different sizes — small, medium, big — and in different patterns: solo, duets, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets and so on unto rivulets running in canyons between ruffles of the one-ply sheet.

That was the pretty, look closely and see that the universe is amazing part.

Simultaneously, the mushroom heap also looked like a corpse. Face-down in the field, the way the mushroom farmer’s wife once said she expected to find him. She had only said it once, the way people say things that really matter. A year ago. Two years ago. Seven years ago. Would she even remember saying it?

To collapse face down in his garden would not be a terrible way for the mushroom farmer to go. Here and then gone. Roll me up and smoke me when I die.

It was not his intention to collapse, however. Oh no sir-ee-bob. The mushroom farmer had mushrooms to grow! And share with the hungry.

That was really key. The mushroom farmer felt an obligation to provide food. That’s what farmers do. While the mushrooms were in the process of becoming, the mushroom farmer had to attend to lettuce, kale, broccoli, onions, garlic, oats and four laying hens.

The lettuce, kale, and broccoli especially needed to be weeded. In the mf’s garden, the most prevalent weed was grass, lawn grass. This inversion of the suburban backyard paradigm pleased the mf, who felt on to something, he didn’t know what. You had to be careful weeding out grass; careful not to accidentally pluck out the lettuce, broccoli and kale. This was painstaking work, not the sort of thing the mf liked or was good at. He felt his capacity as a human expand by the minute as he exterminated individual leaves of grass. Not everything had to be happy, joyous and in constant flow state. This was a lesson the mf studied with each leaf of grass he conscientiously pulled from the earth, honored with a telepathic eulogy addressing its perfect right to be there but… sorry! — and flicked aside.

The grass needed to go in order for the nascent greens to emerge from background greenness and fulfill their shapes: the nestled crown of lettuce, the upright proclamation of kale, the broccoli spear. All of this potential was hidden and defeated by grass, which is why it had to go. Not everything could thrive together all at once. This was the lesson the mf had a really difficult time getting the hang of.

Meanwhile, the hens were happy. The mf wondered how they could be made happier. He had just ordered them two forty pound bags of chickenfeed, so that would help. He wished he could arrange for them to have fresh greens in the coop. Nasturtiums, lemon verbena, borage. This is what he wanted for the four birds who kept him company during the day and gave him eggs.

However, the hens’ big three-clawed feet trampled all earth in the coop to compacted dirt, chickenshit, and decomposed cantaloupe rinds. The mf had strewn clover seed around the coop several times, and not a speck of green ever emerged. In his experience, the chickens were ruthless in their extinction of sprouts. He had seen something somewhere about a planter that would grow greens inside a chicken coop, and that was something he wanted for them, along with a waterproof shelter for the rainy season.

The mushroom farmer wanted to provide for more than food and shelter with his hens, though. He wanted to play with them. One fun game was Fly the Coop. In this game, the mf arranged a barrier of palm fronds and black plastic bird netting around the banana trees, and then let the hens out to probe the perimeter and find a way to break free.

The chickens examined their expanded enclosure studiously. Each eye on each the side of their heads took in its side of the scene. They clucked to each other. They stuck their beaks into gaps until they found bigger gaps. When one of their round yellow black-dotted eyes found a gap above them, they began to prepare for flight with an implosion of feathers, throwing off invisible sparks of potential energy. They clucked mightily when they were about to overcome the barrier, they clucked as if to fight the battle of Jericho; then began to flutter, then fly.

A hen who has flown the coop is triumph in bird form. Oh, how they byok. Especially Lucky, who of all the hens had the least gumption, was the most cautious and most likely to be lost or be left behind. When Lucky summoned the gumption to fly the coop, oh how she did byok. She byokked and byyokked and byyyokked. The whole neighborhood knew that Lucky had flown the coop, and we could all feel proud.

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky has been writing stories and essays since he was a music snob prodigy in early-1970's San Antonio, Texas. Since then he has written about not only music but also baseball, gardening, teaching, parenting, cycling and the... glory of love. Lit Hub and The Sun have published his work, and so has the Austin Chronicle. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he teaches English to some of the nicest kids in the world at an arts-themed public high school downtown.

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