Part of what is unusual about chickens is that they have always been women’s livestock: woman and chickens just seem to have a natural harmony.
—“The It Bird” by Susan Orlean
Montene’s sitting there in her desk in the front row not four feet from me smiling and patting an old book.
I looked at her and she looked at me and we both knew that after I finished all of my start-of-class blather about what we were going to do today and did you guys give the field trip information to your parents and what we were going to do next week and whatnot that she was going to tell us about that dang old and dusty book.
I finally shut up and said it looks like Montene has something to show us. I juked The Teaching Stick at The Lectern of Speaking to my right and she bolted up there.
This book, Montene said, it’s called Mary Cary—Frequently Martha and it’s about a little girl named Mary who lives in an orphan asylum.
Montene was holding the book up so everybody could see it. Montene’s definitely got the show-and-tell gene.
Groans. Some other indescribable noises from her audience.
Montene looked at me with an expression that wondered if she was doing okay or should she maybe go sit down since everybody’s being atomic butt heads.
I said keep going … this is great stuff and you’re doing great. I meant it. I winked at her. When you see delight of the academic and burning need-to-perform-an-unscheduled show-and-tell in a child’s eyes … that’s great stuff.
Montene sort up bounced up and down on her feet. Okay, she said … this book was written a long time ago by this lady here … she pointed at the author’s name on the front of the book … Kate Langley Bosher in 1910 … and I haven’t read the whole book yet but this little girl … she’s twelve … she’s sort of not normal but when she’s acting like Mary she’s nice and when she’s acting like Martha she’s real mischievous.
The typical bits. Clapping. Knuckle touching. High fives.
I waved The Teaching Stick around. Montene, I said, keep going.
Montene said that’s really about it. She hadn’t finished it all yet. She said it’s dedicated to someone named Virginia.
So it’s a novel?
Montene didn’t quite know the answer.
I said is the book made up.
Yes. I’m sure it is.
It is. It’s called a novel, I said. A nonfiction book is a fact-based book about something.
Then it’s a novel. It was written a long time ago, too. Montene asked, So do I get the chicken for talking about my book?
I asked her to go sit down. Once she sat down I took hold of the wiggly plucked chicken and tossed it to her. Yes, you get the chicken. Courage to prepare and perform show-and-tell insures it, I told them.
Montene caught the wiggly plucked chicken and put it on her desk top. She looked at the chicken for a while and then looked up at me. She looked like she was going to cry.
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