As promised yesterday, this is a draft chapter from a new book. Just as a very brief background, Pearl does not feel as if she fits in and so decides to become a comedian to solve all of her problems. (As you can guess, there is much more needed than that!)
The background for today’s illustration is a lithograph poster of performer Jane Avril by French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Pearl seems quite at home on the stage, doesn’t she? And her banana hat matches the dancer’s dress and hair quite nicely too!
The evening for Pearl’s Comedy Coop stage debut finally arrived. Hanging over the nesting boxes was a picture of Pearl with one foot in the air. After her performance, this would be known as her “Trick Or Treat! Smell My Feet!” pose. Somehow Pearl had come up with “Admit One” tickets which she had passed out ahead of time.
After turning on the strings of lights draped above the seats and stage, I collected each ticket and helped everyone to their seats. Blanche had the best seat right in the middle so she would not miss anything. Gracie and Bessie were on her right. Emily and Amelia were on her left.
Then I laid out small, individual bowls.
“Would you care for complimentary roasted pumpkin seeds, madam?” I asked each of them, just as Pearl had coached me to say.
All of them chattered with excitement because this seemed like such a grand occasion. They didn’t get this particular treat every day. The strings of lights made all of us feel like anything could happen.
Blanche was the first to get to the bottom of her bowl, and she let out a cackle of delightful surprise when she saw Pearl’s face staring back at her from the bottom of the bowl. Everyone else hurried to see if theirs was the same, and they all were.
Pearl had been very resourceful and had planned extremely well. She had definitely fooled me with her comments about how she would “just be winging it” for her show.
There was no time to ask her about the tickets or snack bowls before she motioned for me to turn on the spotlight. As soon as it illuminated the brick wall backdrop, microphone, and stool, muffled clucks of excitement spread throughout the coop.
Pearl jumped and flapped to the top of the stool with confident precision. There were no fake falls or stumblings. She had definitely practiced this part well. Her audience sat waiting, quietly hushing each other.
Then everyone noticed her painted pink toenails. Low coos of amazement and approval could be heard here and there.
Then Pearl began.
“Trick Or Treat!” she called out to the audience as she held up her left foot with its bright pink toenail polish.
“Smell My Feet!” She called out as she switched to holding up her right foot.
“Trick Or Treat! Smell My Feet!”
All of the chickens were stunned and silent. They had never seen a chicken or any other animal look or do anything like this ever. I had a feeling this was not going to go as Pearl had thought it would go, and I was set to step in and rescue her.
“Why did the farmer cross the road?” she asked.
Then she paused, eyeing her audience from one end to the other.
“To feed the chickens!”
Much to my surprise, everyone thought this joke was funny. It made no sense to me, but to the chickens, it was hilarious.
Pearl was off to an excellent start. (I learned later this is a classic chicken retort to the old “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke which absolutely no chicken ever finds amusing.)
Even more to my amazement, my chickens could hardly keep their seats they were laughing and cackling so hard. Pearl was an instant star as far as the other chickens were concerned.
“How many farmers does it take to change a lightbulb?” she called out.
“Who cares? As long as they feed the chickens!”
Again there was more uproarious laughter. Then they turned and looked at me as if to say, “Don’t you understand how funny she is?”
Pearl flipped over onto her back and pretended to be taking a dust bath while telling her next jokes. Each one appeared funnier than the last.
“Why couldn’t the farmer write with a broken pencil? Because it had no point, and…”
There was a long pause, and everyone held their breath even though we all knew what was coming.
“…He needed to feed the chickens!”
While everyone was laughing so hard they had tears coming from their eyes, I glanced up and saw a light flip on in one of the upstairs windows of The Bottle Cap Lady’s House. There seemed to be a shadow on the blinds as if someone was standing there, but it was hard to tell.
When my attention returned to the show, I noticed Pearl had pulled out a tall hat decorated with bananas. It looked like one Carmen Miranda would have worn.
Suddenly I couldn’t help from joining in the laughter. Before I knew it, she had the hat tied under her chin and had popped off a brown beak cover to reveal her matching hot pink “beak-stick” shaped like a heart.
“What did the farmer get when he crossed a refrigerator with a robot?” she asked her captivated audience.
“I don’t know!” they all called back.
“I don’t know either, but it keeps the lettuce nice and crisp while it goes outside to…”
The other chickens and I called out as loudly as we could, “…Feed the chickens!”
There was uproarious cackling and wing flapping throughout the coop. Everyone was laughing so hard, I seriously thought they would all lay eggs right then and there.
Pearl held up her left foot with its bright pink toenail polish, waggled it and called out, “Trick Or Treat! Smell My Feet!”
“Trick Or Treat! Smell Her Feet!” they called back to her.
Then she did it all again except she switched to holding up her right foot.
They repeated this call and response faster and faster until Pearl was beginning to do a wild and crazy kind of dance. Later she would name it “The Dipsy Doodle.”
“There’s more than one kind of dancing in Paris!” she announced. “And there’s more than one way of being a chicken!”
I glanced up at the second floor of The Bottle Cap Lady’s House. There was now clearly a dark silhouette standing out against the light in a bedroom window. Then as if someone realized I was looking their way, the light went out.
Pearl did her happiest jumping dance on top of the stool to signal the show was complete. She definitely left her audience wanting more.
It took quite a while to get everyone settled down enough to have their mealworm treats before bedtime. There were still more soft chuckles and cluckles of “To feed the chickens! To feed the chickens!” as everyone began drifting off to sleep.
As I headed for my own back door, I heard a sharp and raspy sound like laughter. It came from the far corner of my yard, behind the chicken coop.
“Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”
I paused before going inside. The light was back on upstairs at The Bottle Cap Lady’s House, but there was no silhouette at the window. Then the upstairs light flipped back off. The sudden darkness was almost as startling as the laughter I had heard.
Perhaps I had imagined it all. Perhaps this was another one of Pearl’s performance tricks. Either way, I had to wonder what The Bottle Cap Lady had seen and what it meant for my chickens.
Pearl’s desperate hope in this chapter is that the other chickens will realize ballet dancing (which they all enjoy performing) isn’t the only kind of dancing in Paris and so there really may also be more than one way of being a chicken.
Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! I did enjoy the challenge of adding Pearl into a work by one of my favorite artists. It’s exactly the kind of thing Pearl would want to do herself. Can you imagine Pearl in any other famous works of art?