The Mushroom Farmer, Book Two, Chapter 2

Ahead of a deluge, the mushroom farmer put out oranges for the taking.

The mushroom farmer is eager to discover if his chickens have survived the deluge.

The deluge, so great it had shifted overnight from sound to shape, the rum-tum-tum of oceanic sloshing upon the bedroom roof becoming, in the wee-wee hours, a well-insulated box, insulated with synthetic, luxurious fur. Oh, what a good box to be in, underneath three blankets, next to the mf’s warm wife, who was steadily breathing into her curves, out from her curves, into her curves, out from her curves.

No chickens in bed, though. No chickens anywhere in the house. That’s a line you must keep drawn. Reader! If you ever find yourself in a house with even one chicken in it, that is a sure signal to scram. Get out now. The people who live there are koo-koo in a not good way.

Chickens belong properly in a song. Oopsy! I was supposed to write, “in a shack” but there are so many shiny things in here, it is easy to get distracted. Chickens do belong in songs. “Meet You at the Chicken Shack” by Lightnin’ Hopkins is a song the mf hopes to play on a front patio overlooking the Pedernales or Llano Rivers one of these days, after he retires from being a schoolmarm, and then for a long string of days to follow until the chariot from the sky comes along for him and his wife. “I’m a Country Boy” by Clarence “Frogman” Henry also makes fond mention of chickens.

Just as chickens belong in songs, so too do they belong in shacks, nice dry shacks that keep them from becoming rainsoaked, bedraggled, and disoriented. The mf’s hens are proud, chonky birds and it doesn’t exactly hurt so much as tenderize his heart to see them wet and splotchy in the morning après le déluge.

The good news is the hens are fine. Splashed-upon, yes, but up and at ’em in the early morn like always, catching worms.

These chickens are no fools. They see things through both eyes. One on one side, the other on the other. The mf admires their perspective-as-process: one side, other side, put it together, seek food and comfort. He himself is not this methodical, not at all. The mf is frankly hurly-burly in his own process. Hurly-burly and francamente whoopsidaisical.

But we are not here to criticize nor to condemn. The hens are fine. They peck at their layer pellets, yum. What’s in that stuff? Crude protein, sez the label. OK! ‘Nuff said. This reminds the mf of the time just minutes ago when his wife asked him when they were both in the bathroom what he was chewing on.

“Phlegm!”

Chickens may also have phlegm, or respiratory mucus if you prefer; however, the mf’s feathered friends did not demonstrate any trouble breathing. Sometimes a pellet will catch in their long, skinny throats and they will start hocking, not so loud as the back of the 30 Stockton bus through San Francisco’s Chinatown, but loud enough to cause concern that this chicken might choke, until you get used to it. Then it’s just another animal hacking noise, like the midnight vomiting of a beloved housecat: distressing, yes, but also comforting in the sense that it is not something worse.

Air-drying

And so it is with the mf’s after-the-deluge hens: wet but unbowed, pecking at pellets, running on instinct. The only problem is that there are only three of them. The brown one is here. The lighter brown one is also here. The one who is brown and light brown with a necklace of black and red feathers is steadily pecking away. But where oh where is the golden hen?

She is over there, beyond the coop, wandering. Indeed it is as the mf had feared: she is rain-soaked, bedraggled and disoriented. The mf must lure her back into the coop.

Fortunately, he has a humongous canister of oatmeal. He shakes the big cylinder and the golden chicken stalks away from him. This is how he knows she is disoriented.

“Silly!” he tells her, and shakes the canister again.

This time, she follows. To reward her faith, he take a pinch of oatmeal and casts it upon the rain-cleaned air, through which it flutters to the sopping wet dirt and to be methodically, meticulously and immediately pecked and swallowed.


The mf is patient, knowing that even if he wanted to hurry her along she will not be going anywhere until she has pecked the last itty-bitty grain. This gives the mf time to notice that the purple clover seeds he cast here in the muddiest corner of the garden only the previous evening have already turned from tiny black dots to little but discernable bloblets the color of toast.

This observation gives the golden hen time to reorient herself enough to trundle along beside the mf as he makes his way through the ramshackle doorway to the outer coop. The ramshackle barrier is a testament to the mf’s whoopsidaisical approach to coop architecture. Everybody’s good at something; farm construction will not be going on the mf’s resume.

The chicken coop of Dr. Caligari

The outer coop doorway consists of three yard-wide strips of chickenwire dangling from the top beam of a wretchedly out-of-plumb doorway. It has the look of two 8-foot two-by-fours and one 4-foot two-by-four staple-gunned together by someone who was in the middle stages of falling down.

Its visual representation of vertigo is exacerbated not only by the dangling vertical chickenwire but also by semi-overlapping swaths of horizontal chickenwire. Depending on your perspective it looks either like how time might actually function in quantum physics; or, a fucking mess. Furthermore, whatever this is supposed to be, it is useless as a barrier. Just last night, the golden hen and the light brown hen both charged straight through it like Bronko Nagurski.

The light brown hen, being intrepid, got back in; the golden hen got caught at the far end of the coop near the tangerine tree. She was caught between a length of normal chickenwire and plastic mesh. This represents a failure of hen stewardship on the part of the mf, and he feels bad about that.

But you can’t sit all day in a puddle of self-recrimination. With oatmeal, the mf lures the golden hen back through the portal to the outer coop, a recent annex meant to extend the chickens’ range and also frankly to encourage their pooping around the banana trees. The mf believes these trees to be capable of growing bigger bananas, which would be good for feeding more people.

On through the thick stalks and opulent leaves to the inner coop, indeed to the innermost coop, which the mf feels pretty sure is his own secret domain, unknown even to the chickens. The innermost coop may be found at the end of the property line, beyond the Pride of Madeira bushes, the compost pile, the sycamore and grapefruit trees, the straw-covered run and the terminus of the banana grove.

It is bone dry in the innermost coop, which is why the mf feels an urgency about bringing its existence to his wet hens’ attention. Here are pine shavings, fluffed up nicely in the cubic foot or two zone of dryness, protected overhead by a sturdy section of corrugated aluminum, and made even cozier by a blue tarp stretched out on palm fronds.

This is the one part of the chicken coop that does not seem to have been assembled by a person who was tripping. It is architecturally recognizable as a hovel. Indeed, the mf — in his mind — feels quiet pride about maintaining two hovels. There is this one, in the wayback of the chicken coop, where he is luring his wet hens with oatmeal so as to make them aware of it as an option for keeping dry during a deluge.

The chickens have other options. It’s good to have options. They can roost in the depth of the Pride of Madeira bushes. They can also hide in the so dark green as to be almost black leaves of the grapefruit tree. The chickens know how to hide in depths the mf has never dreamt of even though they are right there in his backyard.

And then there is the other hovel, at the opposite end of the property, near the southeastern edge of the parkway between sidewalk and curb. He thinks of this one as the King Lear hovel. There the mf has propped a blue bucket almost full of oranges, within an old abandoned United States Postal Service bin held down by a square cement yard paver. That bin ain’t goin’ nowhere. It will protect the bucket and oranges within from the rain much better than the overhanging gaily spray-painted cardboard boxes and gossamer webbing the mf stuffed into a spiky agave.

The bucket and bin, he shoved under the agave. The cardboard overhang, that may or may not offer further rain protection. Smart money on the may not. The gossamer webbing appears to have crossed over into reality from a dream on the rickety bridge of the mf’s theory that the webbing, meant to keep birds away from ripening watermelons and pumpkins, may also somewhat protect the sparkly sign that reads “PLEASE ENJOY.” However, he has his doubts that sparkly though it is, anyone will be able to read this sign since it is dark out and not pouring but gushing rain.

It is sad for people who are stuck out in this rain, people who live up the street and down two blocks from the mf; or up the street and over two blocks in the other direction. The mf thinks about them while he is thinking about all this other stuff. He thinks that maybe on this rainiest of rainy nights they will happen by the blue bucket and even though they are cold and wet and living in a hovel nevertheless still take and enjoy an orange.

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.

2 thoughts on “The Mushroom Farmer, Book Two, Chapter 2

  1. The perfect Jeopardy question “What is the 30 Stockton?”
    Little Feat, too, had something to say about Chickens.

    Like

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