Issue 199, Winter 2011
Once upon a time there was a girl who spent so much time looking at her hens that she came to understand their souls and their desires intimately. A hen is anxious, while a rooster has an anguish that is almost human: he lacks a true love in his harem, and, what’s more, he has to keep watch all night long to be the first to catch the distant light and to sing as loudly as possible. Such is his duty and his art. Coming back to the hens, the girl had two of her own. One was called Pedrina, the other Petronilha.
When the girl thought that one of the hens was sick in the liver, she smelled under its wings with the straightforwardness of a nurse, for this smell was what she considered to be the greatest symptom of illness. Well, the smell of a live hen is no joking matter. Then she asked her aunt for a remedy. And the aunt: “There’s nothing wrong with your liver.” Taking advantage of her closeness with this special aunt, the girl told her whom the medicine was for. She thought it was a good idea to give it to Pedrina as well as Petronilha to prevent any mysterious infections. It was almost impossible to give them the medicine because Pedrina and Petronilha spent the whole day scratching in the earth and eating rubbish that damaged the liver. And the smell under the wings was the stench of that rubbish. It didn’t occur to her to put deodorant on them because, in Minas Gerais, where they lived, no one used deodorant, just as no one wore nylon underwear, only cotton. The aunt continued to give her the medicine, a dark liquid that the girl suspected was nothing more than water with a few drops of coffee: and then came the hell of trying to open the beak of the hens to give them what would cure them of being hens. The girl did not yet understand that it’s impossible to cure humans of being humans and hens of being hens, insofar as a human, like a hen, has miseries and splendors (the hen’s consist of laying a perfectly shaped white egg) inherent to its species. The girl lived in the country and there was no pharmacy nearby to consult.
The other infernal difficulty came when the girl discovered that Pedrina and Petronilha were skinny beneath their bristly feathers even though they ate the whole day long. The girl did not understand that fattening them up meant speeding them to their destiny on the dinner table. So she returned to the most difficult task: opening up the beak. The girl became an intuitive expert on hens in this immense yard in Minas Gerais. And when she grew older, she was surprised to find out that the word hen was slang for “playboy.” She failed to notice the comical gravity of the situation:
—But it’s the rooster who’s so worked up, he’s the one who wants it! The hens don’t do anything special! And it’s so fast you can barely see! The rooster is the one who is trying to find one single love and never succeeds!
One day the family decided to send the girl for the day to visit relatives who lived far away. And when she returned, the one that, alive, was called Petronilha no longer existed. Her aunt broke the news:
—We ate Petronilha.