There is no ordinary

Messenger | By Megan Staffel

Once, on a cold and snowy morning, there was a sharp, aggressive knocking on the glass door in our kitchen. It was a chicken.

“What’s that chicken doing?” Graham asked. The chickens lived in the shed behind our house and when the snow was deep, they rarely went outside of the small shoveled area in front of their door.

“That’s just a crazy one. She always wants something. Ignore her.” That is, more or less, what I said. It was a slow, relaxed Sunday, the animals were fed, and I had a cup of hot tea in my hand. So I turned around and went back upstairs where I was reading. In our family, I was the authority on chickens because I was the one who fed and watered them, and collected their eggs. And it was true, there was one hen who was far more talkative than the others. Every time I went outside she ran up to me, complaining.

Graham stayed at the table reading the paper, and the chicken, standing in deep snow, knocked the glass. When that had no effect, she flew up and hit the pane with her talons. That got his attention. He pulled a jacket over his bathrobe, slipped his bare feet into boots, and went outside to investigate.

The birds were panicked. He arrived just in time to see a blur of feathers and stripes turn into an enormous raccoon with a chicken in his mouth. So Graham raced back, found his 22, and leaving the door open, ran to the shed.

My husband is a good shot even with an old, little used gun that has a warped sight, and his first bullet found its mark. “It was a raccoon!” he shouted up to me. I said something in response, something admiring, maybe I said, “My hero!” and went back to my book. Several hours later I came down for lunch and there was Graham on the phone, and next to him, busy looking around, was the messenger. “What’s she doing here?” I said.

We realized the hen had been in the house for hours. She must have slipped in when Graham left the door open. But there weren’t any droppings. Somehow, she had figured out that a place that didn’t have straw on the ground required different behavior. Quiet was the other change. She had been absolutely quiet as she walked around.

I marveled at her grasp of abstract notions.  That we meant safety, that the big shed was the place where we lived, that the way to find us was to go around the big shed to the one door that was glass and make a big sound.

I like to remember this event. It reminds me that when I think I know what’s going on, I can be mistaken, that there is the unexpected in the ordinary. No, better yet, that there is no ordinary, not anywhere.


NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Megan Staffel’s stories have been published in NER, Ploughshares, Northwest Review, Seattle Review, and other journals, and collected in Lessons in Another Language (Fourway Books, 2010). She is the author of the novels, The Notebook of Lost Things and She Wanted Something Else and a first collection of stories, A Length of Wire And Other Stories. She teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers and has contributed to A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on their Craft.

Megan Staffel

Tertium Quid

Fiction from NER 32.4


Meredith was a good person. She had been young once, but now she had entered the age of entropy, and the great media machine of American culture gunned past her, its probes searching out juveniles. Movies, music, TV shows, like bathing suits and bras, were not created for a person like her. Sixty and beyond, it was the age no one wanted to be reminded of, except of course the other women who had reached it also. They were an army that is no longer needed yet still wanders the countryside, doing all of the things they were taught to do despite the fact that no one was watching.

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Megan Staffel is the author of two novels, The Notebook of Lost Things (Soho, 1999) and She Wanted Something Else (North Point, 1987), and two collections of  short stories, including the recently published Lessons in Another Language (Four Way Books). Her stories have been published in numerous journals including New England Review, Ploughshares, and the Common. She teaches in the M.F.A. Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Announcing the New Issue of NER (Vol. 32, #4)

The new issue of New England Review has just shipped from the printer, and a preview is available here on our website. Order a copy or subscribe today to receive the full content of this beautifully printed issue of NER.

In these pages, you’ll find new stories by Peter LaSalle, Zana Previti, Katya Reno, Caedra Scott-Flaherty, Gregory Spatz, Megan Staffel, and David Yost, appearing alongside new poems by Larry Bradley, Adam Giannelli, Janice Greenwood, A. Van Jordan, Laura Kasischke, Matthew Olzmann, Jacques J. Rancourt, and Carrie Shipers.

In nonfiction, Eileen Pollack revisits the ranch house of her childhood, Theodore Leinwand contends with Charles Olson contending with Shakespeare, Robert B. Ray asks if movie stars are ultimately unskilled workers, and Jonathan Levy makes a case for the use of dialogues in learning. Plus a new translation of Virgil’s Aeneid Book 5 by Ian Ganassi, Samuel Butler‘s thoughts on memory, Norman Davies on “How States Die,” and cover art by Tim Fitts.