Channie Greenberg, Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs
To: About the Book
Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs
(KJ Hannah Greenberg)
Publisher: Bards & Sages Publishing
Also at: Amazon.com
Length: 244 pp
ISBN: 153355868X; 978-1533558688
“I’m so happy... I’m bleeding!” chanted Tongan.
Spencer lowered his multifocals and shrugged. Even in middle age, his wife was ditzy.
“I’m not getting older, after all!”
“You’re still the same age.”
“But I’m menstruating!”
“That makes you happy?”
While everyone else in their extended family was feasting on lemon-flavored ducklings at a resort, Spencer was home with Tongan, fussing over the occupants of their chicken coop. Neither their hens nor their rooster were well.
The birds had contacted fowl pox. Some of them had died. The couple was nursing the rest. Soft food and warm, dry nesting boxes were what the veterinarian had suggested. He had said, as well, that the surviving birds ought to be able to get past the contagion.
If only the chickens had had no joy in eating mosquitos, all of them would be alive, mused Spencer. Meanwhile, his singular human hen was daydreaming about brooding.
“Tongan, we’re too old for babies.”
“Change of life children. Happens, sometimes. Any spunk left in you? Let’s find out.”
“Ouch! That hurts!”
“Well, get off the sofa and put on some dance music.”
“I need to tend to the birds.... I don’t love their blisters any more than they do.”
“Come here, big boy....”
“Uh-uh. I gotta check the temperature in the coop and clean out those beds. Yes, I’ll remember to wear gloves.”
“Come back to me sooner than soon.”
Spencer raised and dropped the full span of his shoulders. His wife, who had grown up in a home where eggs were seen as rare, culinary treasures and where humans, too, were regarded as precious, ought to know better; if he neglected the chickens, those birds would be lost.
He, on the other hand, had been raised on a farm. Life cycled. Things died. He grasped that nothing was fertile forever, the soil, excepted, given the large amounts of chemicals his dad had dumped regularly onto their fields.
When Spencer returned to their living room, he found his wife prancing, alternating between washing dishes and boogying.
“Do you want to make a baby?”
Spencer’s shoulders drooped more. His favorite bird, the rooster, had had scabs on its crown. The fowl seemed, if it was possible for a dumb bird, forlorn. What’s more, many of the surviving hens had beak ulcers. They seemed exhausted. For the first time in decades, the coop was nearly quiet.
“Did you hear me? Do you want to make a baby?”
“Ugh. You’re bleeding.”
“Not now. That’s disgusting. Next month, when I ovulate.”
“Are you still ovulating?”
“Not consistently, but we could practice. Might take years ‘til we catch an egg.”
“Seriously? You’re already a grandmother.”
“Seriously. New blood makes a granny young.”
Spencer opened their ice box. In a short amount of time, he was purring over reheated spaghetti and sauce. He had taken it upon himself to add a dash of salt and of pepper. Tongan hovered near the kitchen table.
“Maybe the hospital will let us birth for free...oldest mama and pops in the county.”
“Still on this?”
“We need to talk about the chickens.”
“Crummy, that pox business.”
“I think, after they heal, we should sell them and level the coop.”
“I’m tired, Tongan. This raising livestock and foraging for salads is no longer working for me. I want to move to the city, to buy all of my comestibles, and to treat you, weekly, to ice cream or slushies.”
“The farm store has slushies. We always made our own ice cream.”
“I’m tired. If we sold the back acres, too, we could retire in style.”
“What about the sheep? The horses? The cats and their kittens? The dog?”
“Sell ‘em all. Well, maybe not the dog. When we buy an apartment, he can come along.”
“With his fleas?”
“With his fleas.”
“Spencer, that’s a problem.”
“No, the retirement. I’ve begun to think about wallpapering a nursery and you’re looking for a rocking chair.”
“That is a problem, Tongan.”
Spencer burped. He then chopped a lovely lemon/tomato/cucumber salad, which he topped with comfrey leaves, and offered his wife a plate.” We have to figure something out.”
“Want Elizabeth?” Spencer referred to the stuffed giraffe Tongan liked to clutch whenever she felt a need to sit on their sofa and cry.
“Thanks, no. More, salad, please. What if we stopped foraging for victuals? I could make a cake without frosted violets. I don’t need to eat fiddleheads every spring. Our side garden can become good enough for me.”
“Wish it were that simple.”
Tongan frowned, uncertain as to whether it was a good time or not to tell the man, whom she’d loved for decades, that she had recently won big at church bingo.” It’s not the kittens, is it? Those cats keep away the rodents and eat the snakes that scare the sheep.”
“It’s not the kittens, Love.”
“I’m not the man you married.”
“Sure are! How ‘bout a vacation? We’ll sell the back acres and go on a cruise. You’ll recharge. I’ll gestate a baby.”
“What is it about hormones that makes women deaf?”
“Cruise won’t do?”
“Dear Heart, our youngest is enrolled in that big agricultural college. Our other five are married with kids. Before you know it, that oldest grandson of ours will also be in university.”
“It’s the chickens.”
“You love that rooster.”
“Like a brother.”
“He survived the pox.”
“He’s covered with scabs. He’s not pretty.”
“Don’t think so. Hard to tell if a chicken feels itchy, though.”
“Male pride, I mean.”
“You used to have it. Then we had children and those children had children. To truly understand life, you just need to begin with eggs.”
“Could be. I hate to see the critter so miserable.”
“Thought you said he didn’t care.”
“Could be. If not for the pox, we’d be at that fancy resort, too. ‘
“That bothers you?”
“How long have you known me?”
“So it’s not the lemon-sauced ducklings or the chickens with fowl pox?.”
“You think you’re too old to be a pa.”
“Aging faster than me?”
“I’ve gotten old?”
“You’re no longer...urk, I mean you....”
“Still like to snuggle. Could wait for cuddles ‘til after my bleeding if I have to.”
“And making a baby? You said that nursery wallpaper and....”
“At my age? Highly unlikely.”
“But the bleeding....”
“First time in five months. My innards are tuckered out. Girls talk. If we had a dollar for all of my dreams, we won’t have to sell any property.”
“You’re saying that to make me feel better.”
“Maybe. I don’t really want to sell the farm. You don’t, either.”
Spencer sighed. It was as though his wife’s greater consciousness had drawn out his fatigue. Instead of feeling he was diminished to the point of near nothingness, he was feeling a little perky.
“Well, cuddling would be nice after you stop bleeding. I can’t believe you started again. What’s up with that?”
“Change of life, Darling.”
“Sell the horses and keep the property?’’
“And do what with it? Increase the sheep herd?”
“Replace the chickens, too?”
“Nah. I like that rooster. Life happens. He’ll be okay. Hens don’t care if he’s ugly.”
“I understand that sentiment.”
“If not for your blood, I’d wrestle you for that comment.”
“I’ll take a raincheck, payable on presentation. There’re still fiddleheads in the freezer. I’m steaming some. Want butter?”
About the BookIncludes works initially published in Bewildering Stories:
- Short Story: “Hedgehogs Démodés”
- Serial: The Perils of Dr. Laura Whitfield
“Unexploited Relations among Space Lobsters on Jupiter”
“Mentioning the Aliens”
“A Certain Visitor”
- Serial: The Owmapow Chronicles
“Of Crustaceans and an Emerging Writer”
“Deep Sea Mothers”
“Owmapow Gets Fired”
Our problems are often no more than small, furry critters that are capable of casting grand shadows. If we spin so that we face our challenges, instead of allowing ourselves to be thwarted by them, we, not they, become the conquerors. Perspectives that empower such actions do not necessarily transform our inner dwellers into cuties, but do take away much of their fiendishness.
Accordingly, although Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs looks like a mild-mannered collection of brief fictions, it is at once also a savage series of realizations about human nature. This book’s roughly seventy flash and short stories are as much about means to confront our occupational hazards and relationship foibles, as they are “simple tales” about dogs, cats, lobsters, and weird, space-faring eukaryotic organisms.
All that has ever been murmured about the coterie of creatures contained herein is true and then some; these furry and scaly players are often sweet only when sleeping. Thereafter, these monsters, who are disguised as lanolin exporters, as incumbent politicians, or as alien spore, these strange or familiar fiends, growl, yap, roar, or look askance at readers that mistake them for simple beings. People, these characters posit, are the worst of beasties.
Fiction, more than co-play, therapy, or odd intimacies, continues to reveal humanity’s brutish tendencies. Accordingly, the creatures that populate Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs know that the narratives that contain them are as much curative tools as entertainments. Goblins and guinea pigs, even when dressed as dragons and dormice, help us identify our terrors and help us cope with other folks’ manifested creepy crawlies.
Whereas there remains much work to be done to compensate for the damage caused by imaginary hedgehogs, there likewise remains much praise to be given to those rodents for their illuminating frenetic behavior. Those bugs, like their fellow fauna, especially as found in Friends and Rabid Hedgehogs, teach us important truths about ourselves.
Copyright © 2016 by Channie Greenberg