Today, we have Ally Lester on a visit, and as the crazy chicken lady I’ve become these last few years, I grew a little teary reading this post. And since we’re talking Orpington Buff, I can inform you that I’ve promised my oldest daughter we’ll get some and have been talking to a man in the village who has a few, and he’s promised me eggs I can hatch. I’ll give it a month or two until it’s a bit warmer outside.
Hello everyone! Thank you so much, Ofelia, for having me to visit today. I’ve come to remind everyone about my short gay Valentine’s-ish day story, Playing Chicken. But Ally! Why is it Valentine’s-ish? I hear you ask, dear reader!
That’s the thing!
It’s actually a retelling of the old Welsh myth about St Dwynwen, who’s saint-day is 25th January. She’s often called ‘the Welsh St Valentine’—she had an unhappy romance with a chap who got turned into a block of ice and needed unfreezing. She ended up taking holy orders and has a small chapel associated with her in north Wales, with a well full of eels. I wrote about the myth itself at Nell Iris’s blog back in January if you want the background to the story; or like all my Celtic Myth stories there’s a bit about the legend in the book after the story.
Instead of repeating myself here, I thought I’d actually talk about how the chickens ended up in a myth retelling. Anyone who follows Ofelia knows that she is a Chicken Person; and I am too. We drive poor Nell a bit bonkers with our chicken-chat in our early-morning writing sessions in our online office.
I grew up on a smallholding. My parents owned a seven acre plant nursery where we grew flowers and vegetables and also kept sheep and chickens. I first earned my pocket money by having a hundred ex-battery hens and selling their eggs on a Saturday in the local market. From there I moved on to breeding rare breeds of hens. My father was interested and it was something we did together. His first job in about 1930 had been on a chicken farm in Leicestershire, where they sent eggs and meat down to London. He was paid by the work he produced and could still pluck a chicken in six minutes at the end of his long life.
I left home for college when I was nineteen and did various non-agricultural jobs for quite a while—secretary, computer programmer, teaching IT, working with Mr AL doing lighting and technical services for theatre and conferences. After we had the children though, those things became difficult and I went back to chicken breeding. Originally my plan was to supply us with eggs and meat and sell a few hatching eggs and young birds to cover our costs—free food, essentially, which is my favourite kind.
However, things expanded quite rapidly and I ended up running a stall at the local market selling eggs and keeping a couple of hundred laying hens and a dozen breeding pens of rare chickens, and ducks and quail. Oh, and running courses teaching people how to keep them and raise them.
I like poultry, okay? I find them interesting!
So. The children in the village started calling me The Chicken Lady and the people at the market called me The Egg Lady. The various friends I’d made over the years teased me mercilessly about my poultry obsession.
And Playing Chicken kind of fell out of that. These days I have a handful of birds to give us eggs and look pretty in the garden. I don’t teach or do the market or breed. It’s all too complicated with the other things we have going on. But I still get teased by anyone who knows me and when I wrote the story last year to cheer myself up, it seemed very natural to put chickens in it.
They’re Buff Orpingtons if you really want to know!
🐓 Playing Chicken 🐓
Marc returns home from London to his isolated Welsh cottage for good, having found his ex boyfriend shagging someone else in their bed. Who’s the thin, freezing cold man with the bruised face he finds in his barn? Will the tenuous connection between them grow, or fade away?
A 9,000 word short story to mark the Welsh St Valentine’s Day, St Dwynwen’s Day, the 25th of January. With chickens.
Excerpt from Playing Chicken – Rudimentary First Aid
His first aid kit was rudimentary but covered the basics. Antiseptics, dressings, butterfly strips. It should do the job. He hauled it out from under the driver’s seat, eyeing the squeezed-in boxes disfavourably. That was going to be today’s job, he supposed.
He was so taken up with his mission that he forgot there should have been a chicken in the porch until he turned back toward the house. He blinked in disbelief. She had a friend. Two friends. They were sat in a row on the back of the garden bench underneath the parlour window. As he watched, they jumped down, one by one and stood in a line, as if waiting for him. The two new ones were very clearly the same breed as Chicken Number One. Big, fluffy, orange. One had more exciting headgear than the other two and was a bit bigger, so he guessed that was a boy-chicken. Cockerel. Cock. He sniggered quietly and then stopped himself as the first chicken…he could tell it was the original one because it had a bit of black in its tail and the others didn’t…looked at him disapprovingly.
Obviously cock jokes were out. The telepathic chicken didn’t like it.
“Sorry,” he said. “I was just getting the first aid kit for Mal. I’ll stop.”
He performed a shuffling dance around them to get back indoors. “You’re like the Midwich Cuckoos,” he told them. “You are not coming into my house. Stay outside. It’s bad enough having a porch full of chicken shit.”
Mal was on his feet looking at him in alarm when he stepped through the parlour door, and the dog was standing beside him, hackles up.
“Who were you talking to?” he asked in a panicked voice. “Is someone out there?”
Marc shook his head. “Chickens,” he said. “I seem to have chickens living in the porch. It’s fine. He narrowed his eyes. “What makes you think there might be someone out there? Who hurt you?”
Mal sat down on the edge of the chair and ran his hands over his cheeks, pulling a face. The dog sat beside him and put her chin on his knee, staring up at him, and he absently began to pet her ears. Marc knelt beside him and opened the first-aid box.
“My ex’s dad,” he said, quietly, after a moment or two. We’d split up anyway. Ages ago. But he saw me in Welshpool a couple of days ago and wanted to drive the point home.’ He shivered. “I’d only gone down into town to pick up some food and bits.” He winced as Marc turned his face toward the light and began to wipe the cut against his hairline with antiseptic. “I’d left Anghared up here, else he wouldn’t have got near me.”
The dog gave a small woof as she heard her name.
“Would he, girl? Stupid man.”
“So how did you end up in my barn?” Marc said, gently fixing butterfly strips over the cut. It had come open again and was bleeding a bit, but it looked like it would be fine. “Come on, let’s look at your ribs too, while I’m at it.”
“They’re fine, honestly. Only bruised.” Mal pulled away and Marc just looked at him. Mal sighed. “All right, all right.” He began to unzip the big hoodie he was swamped in and winced again. Marc raised an eyebrow, silently asking for permission and then reached out to help when Mal nodded. There were a lot of layers to get through and it took a while to gently extract him. The cold was still coming off him in waves and he was shivering badly as he said, “I’ve been staying up in the woods. But I felt too bad to get home. Anghared found me, didn’t you girl? And we needed somewhere out of the cold. I’m freezing, still.”
He was shuddering, which was probably a good thing in retrospect, Marc thought. He hadn’t been shivering at all when he’d first come inside. Incipient hypothermia. He had a quick look and a gentle feel of the ribs. They were badly bruised but he couldn’t feel anything shifting around, so he’d call that good. Mal’s skin was icy cold under Marc’s fingers.
“Bath?” he said. “Or body-heat?”
“Ugh,” he screwed his face up. “Do I have to?”
“Yes,” said Marc firmly. “I don’t want you to die on my first day home for two and a half years. If that’s all right.”
About A. L. Lester
Ally Lester writes queer, paranormal, historical, romantic suspense and lives in the South West of England with Mr AL, two children, a terrifying cat, three guineapigs, some hens and the duckettes.
She likes permaculture gardening but doesn’t really have time or energy these days. Not musical, doesn’t much like telly, likes to read. Non-binary. Chronically disabled. Has fibromyalgia and tedious fits.