TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Irene L Pynn. Irene’s plays include I, Cockroach, The Church of Saint Bearer, Enter, Pursued by a Whale, The Train, How to Field Dress an Android, and several ten-minute shorts. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild, and her work has been produced throughout the United States and abroad. Irene holds an MFA in writing from Seton Hill University and a PhD in Texts and Technology from the University of Central Florida. Her other publications include short stories, short plays, interactive plays, alternate reality games, and a novel. This is “Chicken is Served.”
It’s not that I have trouble controlling my emotions. What I really lack is willpower. Maybe, if I’d been stronger, I could have prevented this whole thing.
I sat in my car at the corner of Church and 5th Avenue. Yeah, you’ve been there: The chicken fast food restaurant that shall not be named. The one my ex said was contributing to my thighs.
“Please drive around,” the metallic voice commanded. It spoke to me, disembodied, through a box painted to look like a pig’s snout. You know their slogan: Eat Chicken, Save Pigs! Everything is absurdly decorated to resemble what a pig might create in a fast food restaurant.
I think the narrative they’re going for is a dystopian hellscape where pigs rule the world and want people to forget how delicious they are. Some half-baked attempt to graft human thought and personalities onto animals. I guess hog logic leads them to recommend chicken meat as a diversion.
They’re pretty violent, too, these humanoid farm animals. You’ve seen the commercials. Pigs with crazed eyes and bloody axes, chasing mindless chickens across a field. A pig catches up to one of the stupid birds. The screen goes black. For two full seconds, we hear the gruesome sound of metal hacking into guts. Then a red font bleeds onto the screen: Chicken Is Served.
Hilarious, sure, but I’m not sure why tofu and other options haven’t occurred to these little, pink, axe murderers. Whatever. They’re pigs. They’re also, it seems, unrepentant misogynists. News broke yesterday about the chain’s support for a certain mayoral candidate. You know which one. Apparently they’ve sent him bajillions of dollars in campaign contributions – all after he made that speech about women needing to control their emotions.
“Please drive around,” the pig voice encouraged again, but I didn’t obey. I idled there in the drive through, my foot still resting on the brake. Through the sole of my shoe, my car rumbled gently. The low-key tension resembled a growing conflict in my heart.
I’m a vegetarian, but I still eat at this restaurant every day for lunch. Don’t judge me; they have amazing salads and waffle fries. Their main menu attraction and bizarre marketing tactics never bothered me.
But the campaign contributions did. As I stared at the rusted piggie snout of the voice box, I realized I felt betrayed. Betrayed by my city for voting that lunatic into office. Betrayed by my favorite fast food restaurant for making it happen. Betrayed by the homicidal piglets I’d come to feel really affectionate toward.
Most of all, I felt betrayed by myself for learning about these political leanings yesterday and still coming back for waffle fries today.
That, I think, was the moment I became a super villain, or whatever they’re calling me in the news. I’d like to say it wasn’t my fault. I’d like to say they pushed me to this point. But…
There is nothing quite like the anger that grows inside someone who is, at least in part, battling a guilty conscience. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned by herself.
“Ma’am?” I scowled at the pig box. Was there a camera? Could some poor part timer see me projected in fuzzy black and white on her indoor monitor?
“You’re a woman,” I snapped at the snout.
“Don’t apologize for that,” I said.
“No, I mean, I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Do you need to add to your order?”
Behind me a man in a huge, red pickup truck leaned on his horn. BEEEEEEP. Why did it sound like my ex boyfriend’s voice? “Haven’t you had enough to eat?” I heard “Eaaaaaaaat” in the truck’s aggressive BEEEEEEP.
I moved my left foot to the brake and pressed my right on the gas. The tension increased as my engine revved loudly.
The snout spoke again. “Ma’am?” The horn behind me sounded, this time staccato bursts of lunchtime impatience. BEEP. BEEP. BE-BE-BE-BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.
Now it was my boss. “Don’t. Touch. The Thermostaaaaaaaaat.” I took a deep breath. “Do you still want your fries, ma’am?” “Excuse me,” I said as calmly as I could, and I stepped out of my car. “Ma’am?!” Now the man in the truck beeped longer. I saw him there in his perch, like a puffed- up Jersey Giant, pink arms with massive fists flapping on his steering wheel like processed meat still somehow remotely sentient, still trying to get a message across. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!
Inside my head, a voice was screaming, It’s not the mayor. It’s not Jason. It’s not the restaurant. It’s not your boss. It’s not even this truck guy. It’s you. Why are you here at all, handing these people your money? I hated that voice most of all. I strode toward the pickup, my anger a barbeque fire blazing out of control, higher and hotter, the longer that man beeped at me.
Now he shook his pink arms from the safety of his driver’s seat. Some classic symbols of anger, some obscene hand gestures, and the rest was wild waving accompanied by mouthed words like “bitch,” “slut,” and other things related to my anatomy that I don’t care to repeat.
Get out of that truck and face me, coward. It wasn’t rational. I know that. But neither are pigs who butcher chickens to avoid becoming bacon. Neither are politicians who believe women occasionally want to be attacked. And neither was this guy’s reaction to me holding up the line.
You’ve asked whether I feel remorse for my part in what happened next. The simple answer is yes. Of course I do. And if you ask the guy in the truck whether he feels remorse for rolling down his window and spitting on my dress, the truth is he probably wishes he hadn’t taken it that far.
But human beings aren’t like other animals. We’re complicated. We say and do things we shouldn’t. We make mistakes. We regret them, and then we fall into the same patterns again.
Especially when we’re angry. And, on that day, with spittle sliding down the front of my flower print to drip, steaming, on the concrete, I was angry.
In most ways I’m ashamed of what I did. But, as this was the first day I realized I had super powers, I wasn’t in full control. That’s probably to be expected.
They say women can’t control our emotions. They say we’re ready to explode at any moment, at the slightest thing. Any slightest thing.
The days of all these slightest things. The years of lower salaries. The decades of oppression and violence and the growing, nagging sensation that we’re being told we’re useless, crazy, needy, even when we aren’t. Herded into a corner, farmed for our meat.
Yeah, sure. Eventually some of us may find it difficult to control our emotions. So I exploded. Literally. Apparently that’s something I can do, though I’ve never been aware of the ability before.
I knew it was going to happen, but only seconds in advance. There was a moment when I was going to cuss out the dude in the truck, and the next moment I knew I had to get away. I had to go somewhere safe where I could burst without hurting other people. The closest place was the back door of the chicken restaurant, the one with the squiggly door handle that looks like a pig’s tail. I dashed to it, gave it a yank, and ran inside. There was a thin hallway – it’s dirtier than you want to know – and to my right was the door to the freezer. I slipped in there, closed myself in, and that was that.
All around me, chicken wings flew into pieces, flailing and flapping as if they were trying to escape even now, naked and dead in cold storage. I don’t know what I looked like. I’ve heard a few employees peered through the freezer window to see something that resembled a person on fire, my body stiff, my arms out at my sides. Head tilted back. Mouth open in a silent scream.
“Possessed,” the headlines read. “Hysterical.” It was bright. I know that. The light that burned out during my explosion was nearly blinding, and it hurt my eyes even though I was the source.
Afterward, there was a calm like the quiet you feel when you duck your head under cool water. Everything was muted. Slowly, my senses returned, and I was aware of three things: A mess of destroyed meat, a collection of shocked faces, and a long, loud beeping coming from a car horn outside.
“You brought this on yourself,” they said as they drove me away in handcuffs. “You should be ashamed.”
And I am. I don’t know what activated my powers that day. Maybe it was some chemical in the months of super-sized waffle fries. They’re hardly a healthy lunch choice. I should just have stayed away. You’d certainly think that, after learning about the politician they support with their profits, I could have.
If only I had more willpower. That’s what I tell myself. If only I could have exhibited a little more control, maybe none of this would have happened.
Kat Evans has been performing in Chicago since 2006 with theatre companies such as Promethean, Black Button Eyes, The Hypocrites, and City Lit. You can see her onscreen in feature film NONTRADITIONAL, and Web Series: Lucky Jay Seasons 1 & 2, Geek Lounge, and Why Don’t You Like Me? You can hear her opinions as a guest on Fox Valley Film Critics and Reel Geek Girls. Kat is part of the performing and writing ensemble of Starlight Radio Dreams, and is the creator of the audio serial comedy, Truth Kittens. In addition to Starlight, you can hear her in podcasts Our Fair City, and Toxic Bag.