From “Pearl’s Comedy Coop” To “Freak Show Chickens”

Freak Show Chickens

This draft of a chapter comes a little later than the last one which I shared. Tension builds as The Bottle Cap Lady begins to take a greater part in the story.

“Yeah, I see you got them Freak Show Chickens!” yelled The Bottle Cap Lady from the street. “And you ain’t nothing but a Freak Show Old Man!”

She had been walking back and forth, up and down our little block, from her house on the corner to the dead end turnaround.

Like most days when she did this, she was wearing her waitress apron. It had a lace-trimmed pocket for her order pad and matched her lace-trimmed waitress hat. The hat was her favorite part of her uniform, and she wore it like a diamond-trimmed tiara.

Pearl loved The Bottle Cap Lady’s hat.

It might have looked like she had gotten her old job back, but she still had on her house dress underneath. She missed being a waitress. When she wore her apron and hat, she felt as if she was somebody. The Chicken Place has been a landmark restaurant in our neighborhood for many years. It still has a big statue of a white chicken on the roof which has withstood many hurricanes and nor’easters.

Some days, The Bottle Cap Lady would just keep walking back and forth on our street as if she was looking for something or someone. Occasionally she would step into someone’s yard and look behind their trees or in their shrubbery. It was as if she was playing “Hide And Seek” and looking for someone but never found them.

“What are you doing with them chickens? Teaching them tricks for the circus? You and your Freak Show Chickens! Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

“They’re all white like little clowns. Give them some red noses to go with them silly hats and you’re in business. The Freak Show Chicken business!”

“Don’t pay any attention to her,” I said, adjusting my newspaper so The Bottle Cap Lady couldn’t see I was talking. “Just stay calm and quiet. She doesn’t know what she is saying.”

Pearl was particularly troubled. She was the only one who had ever worn a silly hat, and that had been the night of Pearl’s Comedy Coop. Now because of it, she felt she had put the whole flock in danger. She wanted to get out and run away from me, from the other chickens, and even away from Blanche.

“Look at that little one running and hopping around like she don’t got any good sense in her head, her Freak Show Chicken head!”

Pearl could feel the pecks again even though she and Blanche were separated from the others and Blanche had become too weak to peck her.

Peck. “Be.” Peck. “A.” Peck. “Normal.” Peck. “Chicken.”

Pearl heard and felt every bit of it all over again. Only this time instead of the others asking her, she asked herself. “Why can’t I just be a normal chicken?”

Pearl’s face looked troubled. She wanted to run away from herself too, but that is never possible.

“Pearl, there is nothing wrong with you being yourself, even if that means you are different. You are not a Freak Show Chicken, and you never will be.

“I love you, Pearl. We are going to have more shows and more hats and more anything else you want. Just don’t be afraid to be yourself.

“She is as wrong as wrong can be about you.”

Blanche nodded in silent agreement.

By then, The Bottle Cap Lady had move further down the street to another house.

“Why didn’t you go and peck her on the head and tell her to stop?” asked Pearl.

“People don’t do things the way chickens do them.”

“You could have at least told her to stop.”

“But she did stop, didn’t she?”

“Yes, but you didn’t say anything to her.”

“I didn’t have to. Her own conscience told her to stop. A conscience is a powerful thing. It’s when a person doesn’t have a conscience that you have to watch out.”

This big word was new to Blanche and Pearl, just like The Bottle Cap Lady’s behavior was new to them.

They wanted to believe me, especially Pearl. It was easy to believe me when I was right there with them, but they would still be cautious while I was away from home. That was probably a good thing.

When I got home from work the next day, there were a few pieces of corn left scattered around in the old run area. They were white shoepeg kernels, a kind I only rarely give my chickens.

“The Bottle Cap Lady was here again,” is all Pearl would say.

Gracie and the others said the same, but told me more. She only went to the smaller coop beside the driveway. She never went to the large one in the backyard where the others were. She was either too afraid to go any further into our backyard or was only interested in Blanche and Pearl. They looked like the big chicken on top of The Chicken Place.

These visits happened more than once over that season. Sometimes she just stood, leaning over to look more deeply into the wooded brambles, and you would not even know she was there. Other times she was mean and difficult to ignore. After each of those mean times, she would leave Blanche and Pearl a treat the next day.

I was unsure if she had been giving them corn because she felt sorry for her behavior or if she was trying to gain their confidence to take them away. So I asked Pearl to tell me more about what The Bottle Cap Lady did when she came into our yard.

“She is always very quiet when she visits us, and then she gives us something to eat. She goes away with her head down.”

Pearl took a few steps like The Bottle Cap Lady would take to show me how she moved. Then she paused and looked around nervously.

“There was one time that she said something to me.”

“What was it?”

Pearl tried to stand the way The Bottle Cap Lady stood. With a raspy old hen voice she carefully repeated the words exactly as she had heard them.

“Someone as pretty as you should never have to look at someone as ugly as me.”

Then she made a sound someone holding back tears might make.

“What do those words mean?” she asked. “What does that sound mean?”

“I think they mean she is sorry and she can’t help herself.”

Pearl thought all these things over very carefully.

One of the worst and scariest times for us was when The Bottle Cap Lady stood at the edge of our driveway and started yelling more loudly than ever before.

“I’m going to come and get that big fat lazy chicken you got there and take her in to The Chicken Place. They’re going to look at her and give me my job back as a reward. There has never been a bigger chicken and I bet there has never been a juicier chicken either.”

She laughed a deep throaty laugh, “Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”

Then she did a little dance in a circle, flapping her arms like they were chicken wings.

“Why don’t you just be a normal old man with normal old smelly chickens?” she called out one last time. Then she tossed her empty beer bottle into my yard and staggered home.

“Blanche isn’t lazy. She is just not feeling well,” said Pearl. “Why can’t she see that?”

Then after a long pause, she added, “And why don’t you just be a normal old man?”

“That’s a fair question, Pearl,” I said. “Because a normal old man would call the police and have her arrested. And that’s not what I want. More importantly, that’s not what she needs.”

“What does she need?” asked Pearl.

“A miracle. Just a simple everyday miracle.”

Pearl had not yet imagined she would be the one to play a part in giving The Bottle Cap Lady that simple everyday miracle.

But she would.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

Pearl’s Comedy Coop…There’s More Than One Kind Of Dancing In Paris!

More Than One Kind Of Dancing In Paris

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?

My Life With Gracie…New Ways Of Looking At The World

A New Way Of Looking At The World

Recently I’ve used some weekend time to experiment with other styles of illustration. This has mainly been driven the realization that any lengthy illustrated book, like a novel, would likely be quite expensive with full-color illustrations. Using black-and-white illustrations only would seem to be the best alternative.

But even so, as you can see in today’s main illustration above, I can’t get away from having at least some color! Even what appears to be black-and-white is actually a warm black-and-white.

When I put a filter over this illustration to make it truly black-and-white as below, it feels to me like some of the “life” went out of the illustration. See what I mean?

For further comparison, below are two different styles of the same basic illustration. On the left is what you would normally see here on “My Life With Gracie.” On the right is a different way of looking at the world, at least the world of my chickens.

Personally, I’m unsure which I prefer. (My chickens like the scratchy texture, but then scratching around is a good part of their day!) Most likely it will depend on the type of story and intended audience.

For me, one thing that really stands out as a major difference is the eyes. On the left, they seem blank and unblinking. On the right, they seem more alive.

Anyway, just wanted to share with everyone what I’ve been thinking about and working on.

Also even though we have finished our little series on “Gracie’s Summer Reading List,” Amelia spotted a book that we didn’t get to read yet. The title? “Amelia Bedilia Unleashed.” If that wasn’t enough to get her attention, the cover also has shiny glitter on it. Chickens love shiny things like glitter.

Thanks for looking and reading!

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!