by Marian Allen
Désirée watched everybody at the church pitch-in pass up her deviled eggs and go for Margarita’s. Up until Margarita joined St. Lawrence’s Episcopal, Désirée had been the deviled-egg diva.
What was worse, Margarita’s were superior.
“I keep my own flock,” Margarita always said. “No, no secret ingredient. Just the usual. I don’t have a recipe. It’s nothing special, really.”
Désirée just wanted to slap her.
This is where it ended. Désirée opened the sandwich bag in her apron pocket, snagged the last of Margarita’s eggs and sealed it into the plastic.
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At home, she squeezed the yolk out onto a plate and smeared it around. She inspected it under a magnifying glass. She transferred it to her mouth, rolled it around on her tongue, savored it, meditated on it.
Sweet onion. Dill pickles. Celery. Mayonnaise. Mustard–Dijon? Paprika? What?
She bit into the yolk-less whites. Damnation! Even the bare whites were delicious! Elusively spiced. Subtly fragrant. Did she marinate them? What?
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I tried. I asked if I could see the chickens that laid such delicious eggs. “Not while they’re molting,” indeed!
So Désirée had parked nearby and picked her way through a strip of woods to Margarita’s hen yard. Now she lurked and watched as dusk thickened.
There were no chickens in sight. Evidently, Margarita really did keep them cooped while they were molting.
A light went on at the front of the house. Bluish flickers said “television”, meaning outside work was officially over.
Désirée crept up to the henhouse window. It was too dark inside to see, but she could smell. Herbs, spices, flowers–It smells like potpourri, that’s what it smells like! What she didn’t smell was chickens.
She snapped on her penlight and held it close. She undid the latch and eased open the door, moving gently so as not to startle the hens. How embarrassing, to be caught snooping!
The hens looked decrepit: thin, dispirited, nearly featherless. No wonder Margarita didn’t want anybody to see them! She probably starved the poor things to force them to molt, believing it would increase post-molt laying.
There were no roosts; the bedraggled hens huddled on their nesting boxes. Gingerly, Désirée plucked a dangling straw. It wasn’t straw, it was a sassafras twig, smelling like concentrated root beer.
A feather fluttered to the floor. It was reddish-gold, no color she had ever seen in any chicken–in life, in a catalog or online.
The feather burst into flame.
In less than an instant, in the time it takes for realization to jump from one synapse to another, Désirée knew what was so special about these birds.
A fireball engulfed the interior of the henhouse, sending gouts of flame out of the windows and half-open doorway. When the flames died, the coop held only a flock of young birds just entering their prime.
Désirée was never seen again. The phoenix dies and is reborn in this world. Not so, Episcopalians.