Chickens are okay, they just can’t do a whole lot. They strut and they strut and they buck, buck, buck. They muddle through the puddles, pecking in the muck. They eat worms, seeds and bugs. They lay eggs every day. For most chickens, that’s what life is all about. But for Cordelia’s chickens, it wasn’t enough.
“We’re bored,” they clucked. “We want to do something new and exciting.” It sounded like, “bawwwwk bawk bawk.”
“I understand,” Cordelia replied. “I once felt bawwwk myself. It lasted two minutes.”
“Bawwwwk bawk bawk,” said the chickens.
“All the time!” said Cordelia. “That’s dreadful. We’ll have to do something about that.” She told Anacely, “Abuela, the chickens need something to do.”
“Isn’t laying eggs enough?” asked Anacely.
“Nope,” said Cordelia.
“I think it should be,” said her grandmother. “Tell them how much we appreciate those eggs every morning.”
“But laying eggs is no fun,” said Cordelia.
“Really? Are you sure? Have you ever tried laying one?” asked Anacely.
Cordelia admitted she hadn’t. “Still,” she insisted, “they need something more exciting in their lives, like games to play.”
“Very well,” said Anacely. “I suppose it’s up to me.”
The next morning, when Cordelia awoke, she rolled over and looked out the window. There she saw Anacely clapping a slow rhythm. The chickens were standing in a clumsy row, their big butts sticking out toward Cordelia, their heads tilting to one side. They were listening very respectfully.
“All right then,” Anacely told them. “Let’s give it a try. One and two and one and two and . . .”
The chickens looked bewildered. It seemed to Cordelia they were saying “Awwwk! Oh dear, oh my, this is not proper chicken behavior.” But after a few magic words from Anacely, they paired up, beak to beak, and attempted a simple dance step or two. Unfortunately, this ended quickly when one chicken stepped on another’s foot. They both fell over, landing on the chickens next to them, who tumbled into more chickens. A great deal of alarmed squawking, flapping of wings and ruffling of feathers ensued.
“Up, up, up,” said Anacely. “Come on now, don’t look so sheepish.”
“Bawk! Just what do you mean by that?” said one chicken, wondering if she had been insulted.
“Sheepish means embarrassed,” Anacely explained. The chickens hadn’t known this, so now they looked more sheepish than ever.
“I thought it meant we looked woolly,” said another chicken.
“Or that we were clumsy dancers,” said a third.
“No, no that’s not it at all,” Anacely reassured them. “When sheep are embarrassed they are called chickenish.”
For some reason, this made the chickens feel a lot better, and they were able to get back to work. Anacely continued her rhythmic clapping, singing along as well: la, la, lalalala, la, la, lalalala. The chickens stood and tried again. This time they did a little better, stepping front and back, side to side, with only a little bumping, and no one fell down.
“Buck, buck, buck,” they cackled, pleased with themselves. They practiced for the rest of the day, and for every morning after that.
One day a neighbor, Solomon Tizza, dropped by to trade a fresh jug of milk for a basket of eggs. He was a large, smiling, happy man. Solomon knocked at the front door. When there was no answer he walked around back. What he saw there was so startling his legs went tingly and he sank to the muddy ground. It was only sheer luck he didn’t spill any milk on his overalls. His mouth dropped open, his hair curled up and his eyes grew wide. He rubbed them with balled up fists, then looked again. Nothing had changed.
Right in front of him stood 27 chickens in a line. Their wings were stretched across each others’ shoulders, and while Anacely clapped the beat they were dancing the can-can, kicking their legs, left, right, left, right, as high as they could. Chicken legs are not very long, so their kicks weren’t very high, but the effect was still startling. Nearby sat Jack the Dog and three frogs, all watching attentively. When the dance ended Solomon Tizza sat, stunned, for a full minute before bursting into applause.
The chickens had never been applauded before. Some of them thought he was clapping a new dance rhythm, and tried frantically to keep up. Anacely laughed and explained to them what all the clapping was about. The chickens were pleased.
The next day Solomon showed up with his wife and children. Three frogs were joined by 17 more. The day after that there were 21 people and 23 frogs. In no time at all, the whole village was lugging picnic baskets through the mud, heading for the show. Forty-three children sat up front, where they could see better. Thirty-seven frogs sat in their laps.
This all would have been fine except for one thing: the chickens weren’t used to this kind of attention. Normally, hens are humble creatures, although roosters do tend to crow. But dancing chickens, applauded daily, can become overly proud, which is exactly what happened.
First, they insisted they needed makeup before performing. So Anacely would apply lipstick, rouge and mascara, which looked very silly on chickens. The hens thought they looked splendid. They insisted on having a mirror installed in the hen house, which Jack the Dog arranged immediately, since he never used his anyway. The chickens decided that seeds and bugs were terrible for breakfast. Instead, they demanded peanut butter sandwiches and imported French snails. One day they announced it was scandalous to be dancing naked. Although Anacely pointed out their fine coats of feathers, they clucked strong disagreement and refused to dance until provided with matching lime green tutus.
The muddy backyard no longer suited them. They demanded a horse-drawn wagon to take them into town, so they could dance on a real stage in the village square. A simple platform was built to suit them, but the chickens grumbled about standing in the rain, so a roof was added. The chickens clucked at the cold, so walls, a fireplace and a chimney were built. Then the audience couldn’t see them so a whole new theater had to be constructed, with seats for hundreds of people. An immense sign on the roof read: “Chicken Palace.”
This still wasn’t enough. Their vanity was spinning out of control. At first, they hadn’t even dreamed of being treated as equals by human beings, but now they saw themselves as quite superior to people. They weren’t entirely sure at first, so they asked each other, and they all agreed: we are the best. After all, we can dance. We have lime-green tutus and a theater named after us. The evidence is clear.
They posted flyers the next day, reading: “The most amazing chickens in the world!” “The most beautiful chickens in the universe!” and “The best dancers ever!”
Fathers went home and asked their kids, “Did you know those are the most amazing chickens in the world?”
“That is so cool!” their children answered.
Mothers went home and asked grandmothers, “Did you know those are the most beautiful chickens in the universe?”
“We are so lucky to have them here.” the grandmothers replied.
Children went home and asked little babies, “Did you know those are the best dancers ever?”
“Ga ga,” said the babies.
The more people spread the news, the more excited everybody became. On Friday night dozens of villagers came to the Chicken Palace early, to make sure they got seats. Visitors who traveled all the way from Drain--even Mrs. Crumbley, the librarian-- stood patiently in the rain or sat in puddles, huddling together for warmth. Some were just starting to get grouchy when the chickens showed up, riding in a wagon pulled by Horatio the horse, driven by Jack the Dog, and followed by 37 hopping frogs.
“There they are!” screamed the fans. The crowd surged toward the wagon. People in back were shoving. Everybody wanted to be in front where they could see the chickens up close, and maybe even touch them. They were pushing so much the wagon started to tremble and tip. Finally it tumbled over with a crunch and a thud, followed by terrified squawking, frogs croaking and Jack the Dog barking an alarm.
The chickens in the wagon were all thrown clear. Up the street they waddled, as fast as they could in their lime-green tutus, trying not to step on the 37 hopping frogs. Jack the Dog urged them on, running back and forth and barking encouragement. The crowd chased after them, led by the mayor. Three people were hollering “We want your autographs!”
“But we don’t know how to write!” hollered the chickens. Seven people were hollering “Give us your beautiful feathers!”
“Aggh!” cried the chickens, “not our feathers!” Forty two people were hollering, “We must have your tutus!”
“Buck-buck-bkawwwk!” The chickens cried. “This is way too exciting. What have we done?”
They ran as fast as they could, but the crowd was close behind. The chickens were terribly worried about what would happen if their fans caught up, but at the last moment, as they turned a bend in the road, they tumbled, beak over chicken feet, into a slime-covered swamp. As if that wasn’t bad enough, dozens of nasty, hungry snakes suddenly slithered out of the muck, with chicken dinners in mind. Jack the Dog barked. Frogs popped up like green firecrackers, then zipped away in all directions. The chickens leaped straight up, flapping so hard their feet barely touched the swamp and skedaddled away as fast as they could.
At least now the fans had given up. They didn’t want to squish their way through a snake-infested swamp. Besides, the chickens didn’t look like famous dancers anymore--they looked like slime-coated porcupines.
Finally, the fans went home. So did the chickens. They all clucked in agreement that things had gotten completely out of hand--and they didn’t really need all that vanity and excitement after all. Since that time they’ve been completely satisfied back in the chicken coop. As it turned out, having friends like Cordelia, Penca, Anacely, Horatio the horse and Jack the Dog was a lot more important than being chased by fans.
As for Chicken Pride, it faded away. The mirror in the chicken coop was ignored, gradually disappearing under a coat of dust and mud. The makeup was stored under a nest and forgotten. They kept the tutus, however, and they still work with Anacely on new dancing skills, but only at home in their own backyard, and only with frogs for an audience. Mostly they strut and they strut and they buck, buck, buck. They muddle through the puddles, pecking in the muck. They happily eat worms, seeds and bugs instead of peanut butter sandwiches and French snails, and they lay eggs every day. For most chickens, that’s what life is all about. And after all they’d been through, for Cordelia’s chickens, that’s just fine too.