Fiction | Issue 1 (April 2023)

This Is Not A Story About Chickens

Judy Darley

A breeze wafts in through the open kitchen window and ruffles the chickens’ plumage. I stare into their orange eyes, trying to find the right question to ask.

“How do you…” I begin. I reach out and take my sister-in-law’s hand in mine. Though the pine table we sit at is narrow, she seems a long way from me. “How are you sleeping?” 

“Better than in years,” Zoë says. Her slender shoulders lift and fall, sharp through the thin t-shirt she wears. “Better than since before your brother got ill.” She squeezes my hand. Her loose wedding ring has grown loose. I don’t think she means it to, but it pinches my skin. 

There are four chickens in all: one on each shoulder, one in her lap and one perched on her head like a feathered crown. I imagine the waxy yellow claws digging in, but Zoë smiles at me serenely. I have to admit, she looks more relaxed than I’ve seen her for some time.

The chicken on her left shoulder clucks conversationally. I pull back, trying to remember if birds are more likely to attack if you make eye-contact.

My brother’s order of service sits on the table, propped between the salt and pepper pots he made in the shape of two velociraptors. I pick up the salt pot and tip it to let a few grains tumble from the hole in his skull. Zoë’s smile doesn’t slip. I think of all the bowls, cups and plates my brother shaped and glazed and all the strangers with his work in their homes who have no idea how privileged they are.

If I was Zoë, I’d want to go to those strangers’ houses and demand every piece back. Maybe smash a few. I envision throwing a clay goblet against the wall and watching shards rain down.

She doesn’t seem to share my urge to break things.

One piece of the set is missing, though. A sugar bowl used to nestle with the dinosaurs. He’d made it to look like an egg. The lid and base fitted together with perfectly matched jagged edges.

“What happened to the…?” I imagine Zoë throwing it to the floor – sugar mixed in with the shattered ceramic against the tiles.

Zoë shifts the chicken from her lap into the crook of one arm and stands. She picks up one of the mugs he made, cradling it in her palm.

I accept the tea she manages to pour without disrupting her flock. The hen on her head emits a soft bk-bk sound.

She opens the fridge door. Inside, eggs sit in rows like expectant faces raised and wanting answers.

“There’s no milk or sugar,” she says. “Can you drink it without?”

I remember being six or seven years old and my brother telling me that chickens see more than humans do, because we only have three cones in our eyes, while chickens have a fourth that allows them to see ultraviolet light. He said it helps them understand which of their chicks is healthy, and which to let go.

“Without’s fine,” I say. I extend my arm towards Zoë again, half wanting the chickens to give me a good, hard peck. The birds on her shoulders watch intently as I take her hand again, resisting the urge to grip hard enough to hurt.

Judy Darley is a fiction writer, journalist and occasional poet from Bristol, UK. Her fiction has been described as ‘shimmeringly strange’, possibly because she can’t stop writing about the fallibilities of the human mind. Judy is the author of three fiction collections: The Stairs are a Snowcapped Mountain (Reflex Press), Sky Light Rain (Valley Press) and Remember Me to the Bees (Tangent Books). Find Judy at 

X (formerly Twitter): @JudyDarley