RUBBER HUMANS • by Michael Snyder

“I’m thinking of getting a reduction,” Teresa said.

“Not you too…” Chuckie rolled his eyes, but it looked like yet another anxious blink. “Let me guess, your beak?”

“No, my breasts. I mean… I come from a naturally voluptuous flock. But whatever they’re using to spike our feed has ballooned me up like a Hollywood tramp. Just last night, I dreamed I was slow-motion jogging on the beach in a red one-piece.”

“Chickens can’t jog.”

“It was a dream,” Teresa muttered. But she was already preoccupied with her own reflection in the fender of Farmer John’s antique pickup. “And what’s wrong with my beak, anyway?”

“Nothing, your beak is fine. Just like your breasts. And Sally’s wattle.”

“Oh, doesn’t it look fantastic? Makes her look months younger.”

“Actually,” Chuckie said, stealing a quick glance across the fenced-in yard at Sally. “I hadn’t noticed.”

***

“What’s wrong, dear?”

“We don’t farm any more,” Farmer John lamented over the sound of his wife’s metronomic knitting needles. “It’s gone from a gol-darned assembly line out there to a gol-danged country club.”

His wife didn’t look up. “Hate to say I told you so, dear.”

“Free-range this,” he said, “and organic that. Sometimes I think we tried to get too big too quick.”

“Not we, dear.”

“Should have settled out of court. But who coulda seen this coming?”

Me, she thinks. My father, half our farmer friends, and most of the animals. What she said was, “Crazy world.”

But he’d insisted on pleading his case to a jury of his so-called peers, testifying yet again that his birds had room to roam, that he never tried to trick them into overeating by leaving the lights on all night, that the only thing he’d ever snuck into their feed was antibiotics. It was genetics, not drugs. And no one ever actually tried to prove otherwise. Rather he was simply found guilty by association. But his wife knew all this. She was the one that tried in vain to convince him to settle out of court instead of throwing in with that horde of smooth talking litigators and their ridiculous countersuits. “John, dear,” she had said. “We don’t need protection from doing what’s right.”

“I found a buyer for the tractor,” he said. “And what’s left of the herd.”

Mrs. John stopped her knitting and gaped at her flannel-clad husband. He could barely meet her eyes.

“So,” she said, her voice a raw salad of bitterness and resignation, all drizzled with buttermilk sadness. “The cows?”

“How else can we afford the laser?” His head lolled sadly as he spoke. “And I hate to bring it up, but one of us is gonna have to get certified in certain… um, procedures.”

“Why me?”

“You spent a year in nursing school.” He tapped a thick sheaf of legal documents arranged on his side table and added, “Besides, you’d rather build the miniature latrines?”

She sighed and clicked her needles together miserably.

***

“Okay, smart guy,” Teresa said to Chuckie. “What do you plan to do with your cut?”

Teresa was referring, of course, to Chuckie’s take in the now notorious class action lawsuit of 2016, wherein all poultry-centric quick-serve restaurant chains were sued for both physical and emotional damages, thus at risk of losing their proverbial shirts. The general consensus regarding the American chicken populace is that these domestic birds now have more expendable dollars per coop than common sense. This lawsuit, although temporarily blunting the reign of many fast food giants, is not without benefit to the American economy however. It turns out that chickens are every bit as vain, materialistic, and aggressively non-thrifty as their human counterparts.

“Venture capitalism,” Chuckie said.

“Oh, lord. What kind of snake oil did you fall for?”

“Actually…” Chuckie made a strange gesture with his beak, the human version of licking his lips. “Rubber people.”

“What’s that you say?”

“You know how for years we’ve had to watch floppy fake chickens take all manner of abuse in comedy sketches?”

“I suppose.”

“Well I’m investing in a little poetic justice by helping capitalize a line of novelties.”

“But the whole point of rubber chickens is to humiliate us, right? That’s why they’re all mottled and plucked.”

“Right, right. Exactly. So the base models will be bald, with modest upcharges for big fat stomachs or embarrassingly small genitalia.”

He paused to silently do the math again. The enormity of it all made him dizzy. Or maybe it was the sound of the colossal green tractor being towed away.

“So,” Teresa said coyly? “You really think my beak is okay like it is?”

“Better than okay.”

Chuckie took one strutting step forward and Teresa rested her twitchy head on his feathered breast.

***

What Mrs. John meant to type into her Google machine was, “avian surgery + laser + cosmetic.” Her fingers had a mind of their own however and tapped out, “lawyer + divorce + affordable.”

***

Meanwhile, on the other side of the coop, Sally and her surgically enhanced wattle stared tiny meat cleavers at the back of Teresa’s neck.


Michael Snyder has the coolest family on earth. They inhabit a tiny corner in Tennessee. His stories appear in print and online, most recently at 100 Word Story and Shotgun Honey. As far as he’s aware, Michael has never been sued by chickens. He may or may not have been juggled.


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