Ashley Hutson’s flash fiction, “Hen of God,” was selected by Ross McMeekin for the ongoing Plougshares column “The Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week.” In the blog post, Ross deconstructs Ashley’s piece and talks about the role of ritual throughout “Hen of God.” It’s a thoughtful examination and celebration of Ashley’s story, and we’re glad to see this piece highlighted and discussed over at Ploughshares.
Sister Catherine began holding an egg in her mouth during Mass to feel closer to God. Her tongue smoothed over its cool roundness before the Lord’s Prayer; she pressed it against the roof of her mouth during benediction. After two weeks of this, in a fit of faith and daring, she began using her teeth to maneuver it in and out of her cheek.
At the end of the third week, she felt the Holy Trinity enter her. A back molar, cracked in childhood and jagged as a pysanky needle, slit open the egg’s hard shell on a Sunday morning. God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit oozed down her throat, warmed by the heat of her mouth.
When she returned to the abbey after the service, she plucked the pierced shell from between her lips and placed it under her bed. At lunchtime, she walked through the kitchen and picked up another egg, concealing it in the folds of her sleeve.
After entering the nearest restroom and locking the door, she pulled up her underskirts, pulled out a tampon, and slipped the fresh egg inside her. All the nuns bled together, but her blood would mingle with Christ’s. The thought filled her with a swoony kind of love, the kind of love she felt when swallowed wafers became the fingers of God. She dreamed the egg would be subsumed by her body, traveling inward, upward, until it reached the heart.
At evening Mass, she sat carefully. There was talk of Jesus sucking a sponge of vinegar, of bleeding, dying, resurrecting. When it came time to genuflect, she bowed on one knee.
Sister Catherine heard the muffled crack before her body felt it. As she knelt by the pew, she felt the egg crumble inside her, releasing its thick, yellow yolk in a slow, searing gush.
She did not move. She wept. This was God’s rebuke, she was sure. There was no way she could keep him carefully enough: her body would not hold him.
She prayed with shut eyes, but God did not answer. He only touched her blood and slid out, wetting her thighs, staining her tunic, leaving her empty.
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She came from Massachusetts. She looked different and we were worried. But we let her join our prayer group.
We made some conversation. We had our sharing time. There was coffee in the boiler, donuts in the box. But long it had been since we had somebody new.
We all sat in a circle and talked about the weather. She said she followed moon cycles as they connected her to earth. She was excited by constellations and, gee, the sky was so clear here. She said she was a Taurus. She ate a jelly donut.
We asked her for privacy and gathered by the coffee. We talked and thought about it. Massachusetts had Salem, and didn’t Salem have those witches? We knew nothing of astrology, and she was quick to bring it up. She had taken the last donut.
The reading for tonight was from the Gospel of John. She talked about the Greek, how it was written for the diaspora. When we asked of Massachusetts, she said the community was open minded. Ideas came up at prayer group where they interpreted the stories. They were not fundamental.
We looked at her in silence. We had let her into prayer group.
We asked her for privacy and gathered by the coffee. Witches came from Massachusetts, but did they go to prayer group? We tabled it right then and went back to the circle.
She talked while we all read. She had opinions about everything. She looked so at ease, while we were all on edge.
We asked again for privacy. She said that made her nervous. While we gathered at the coffee, she asked us lots of questions. Were we angry at her presence? Was it wrong to have opinions?
We came to a conclusion. She joined out of desperation. She was obviously possessed.
We turned just then and spied at her from the table. She smiled so weakly as she fumbled in her purse. She asked if she should leave. She removed her ring of keys.
We told her she should stay and surrounded her quite quickly. We found a jump rope and bound her. We gagged her when she screamed.
We decided to say a rosary. We chose the Sorrowful Mysteries. We prayed and laid on hands. It took fifteen minutes.
We knew about possession. A man had spoken at prayer group. The possessed would talk rapidly, looking stretched with few wrinkles. Her skin was already smooth, so we couldn’t be so sure. But she spoke very quickly as the gag was removed.
She apologized for her opinions and begged to go on home. She said her head was hurting and the pain was really bad. Another sign of possession.
We said another rosary. We chose the Joyful Mysteries. We prayed and laid on hands. It took half an hour.
She cursed us then to pieces, yelling we were out to get her. She was clearly paranoid. All signs she was possessed.
We went to the church and brought back holy water. We doused her by the handful. She screamed as the water hit her, but she was dry in ten minutes. We blamed it on the demon.
We started a novena and she got real silent. We laid on hands and felt the air chill. We all stood and chanted. We dribbled more holy water.
She wilted and then looked at us, her face shining with peace. She nodded, seemed renewed. We sang a song of praise. She asked to be untied after she sang along.
We drank a cup of coffee. We had a silent prayer. It lasted a full ten minutes and it filled us all with joy. We hugged and hurried home while she laughed, waving goodbye.
But we still don’t know why she never came back to prayer group.
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