Pecking Order

There are fourteen tiny chicks in a box at my feet, hopping around, testing their wings, eating, drinking, pooping, napping, and then starting the sequence over again. They are utterly defenseless, so small they’d not even make a good hors d’oeuvre for a predator, but they don’t seem to know this. When I reach down to get one, they chirp in vociferous protest and scramble away as if escape were possible. Think of the energy they’d save if they just laid down and accepted whatever came their way–warmth, light, food, clean water, a snuggle with a human–or a quick end to a short life. Instead, they react to perceived threat with every fiber of their fuzzy little beings. It’s both comical and profound.

Chickens do not seem to engage in self-reflection. Among their favorite treats are chicken eggs and chicken meat. Their opportunistic cannibalism doesn’t appear to trigger any crises of conscience, and it doesn’t bother me either. They’re cute, and I’m pretty sure they like me. After capture, they relax in my warm hands, and some drift off to sleep. I can’t be sure, but it looks like blissful surrender.

“Well, it’s not,” God says, as she joins me, latte in hand.

“Where’d you get that?” I ask. I have my beer, but the latte looks good.

She flashes the telltale Starbucks logo and nods at the chicks. “They’re playing dead. It’s a last resort.”

“They are not,” I say.

God leans back. “Chickens are one of my prototypes,” she says. “But there are some design flaws. They have pecking orders and will literally kill and eat the hen at the bottom, especially if she’s an outsider. I’m not proud of how this has turned out so far.”

When God says things like that, it triggers my reactivity. “Yeah. And what’s the plan exactly? If the lion lies down with the lamb, what will the lion eat? Grass?”

God scoops up one of the black chicks and makes cooing sounds. Exasperated, I continue. “And if chickens kill the weakest member, doesn’t that make the flock stronger? And why would people born with a penis want a vagina? And if you have the chance to enslave someone for free labor, why not? Isn’t this why you gave us women, guns, and germs?”

God puts the chick back among the others, sips the last of her latte, and folds her hands. I slither to the floor. My plan is to play dead when God picks me up. But God just sits there, smiling and waiting. I look with longing at her soft, giant hands.

“Won’t work,” she says. “You’re too old to play dead.” She helps me change the water while the chicks chirp frenetically. “They’re so darn adorable,” she says.

“And versatile,” I say sarcastically, still wishing for an easier way, a less disturbing set of truths.

“And versatile,” God says, in a calm, dark voice. “Versatile.”

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