Blood and Feathers

The Cienega Expressive Therapy Center can be found in a small log cabin a few miles off the main highway from LA to Palmdale. Sited upon a groundwater spring it’s a small green oasis amongst the scrub and desert along Canyon Road, with a welcoming homestead feel, ducks and geese roaming free in the yard.

Today Ashlin Geres arrived in a positive mood. She’d considered drama therapy, but it was too close to home, so settled on expressive writing. During the first session Ashlin was warned the therapy would be intense and emotionally draining. But right off the bat all she’d felt was release, freedom, her troubles lifted and gone. Dr. Jakschetz had changed everything in her world. A magical cure, the elixir of life even, all the same she’d paid for 6 sessions and there were two left to go.

Dr. Jakschetz welcomed Ashlin through from reception to his study. He seemed sterner than usual, still casually dressed in jeans, a Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned to the navel showing a mat of silver hair, but now with an intense serious frown on his face.

“Ms. Geres, expressive writing therapy involves participants writing about a past trauma and expressing their most private thoughts and feelings. Yet your first attempt, a vicious post-apocalyptic tale of genetically engineered monsters, this cannot be linked to your past. Moreover the emotional content was entirely superficial; screaming, violence, more violence, then suddenly, inexplicably, uncontrolled sexual lust.”

“I’ve had a surprising life, Dr. Jakschetz. That piece contains more personal trauma than your wildest dreams.” Ashlin giving him her most disarming smile.

“Let’s return to that piece later. Your second attempt started well, your emotional response to discovering your husband was having an affair was open and honest, a true glimpse of your inner thoughts perhaps. Yet you soon drift off topic, to a vacation in Acapulco, and from here your piece degenerated into a catalog of casual sexual encounters; lesbian liaisons with your girlfriend, anal sex with her boyfriend, culminating in group orgies involving oral gratification and bondage in which you adopt the role of dominatrix spanking the male partners to orgasm. I will accept I found it a stimulating read. But it revealed little about your underlying emotional condition, Ms. Geres.”

“But writing was helpful therapy, Dr. Jakschetz. And I’ve found my vocation - I can be a writer, I’m sure of it. OK, it may take a while to master details like characterization, dialog and viewpoint…but that’s just mechanics, technique. How hard can it be as long as you’ve got a good plot?”

“I am concerned about the conclusion you are reaching from our sessions, Ms. Geres. So today I would like to participate in something quite novel. Together we shall attempt to unravel the deeply repressed psychological problems haunting your psyche. Please relax upon this couch facing upwards to the ceiling and empty your thoughts.”

Dr. Jakschetz walked to the veranda door; outside his young son was happily scooting round the yard on his tricycle. Opening the door Jakschetz was greeted with a gentle “buck..buck..brroook..brk-ook” and a brood of chickens entered, pecking his feet. Jakschetz took a bag of corn from the table and began scattering it over the floor, onto the couch and then across Ashlin’s stomach.

“This afternoon’s therapy session is based on experiments documented in the study notes of Benjamin Rush, the father of American Psychiatry, a pioneer in expressive treatments for mental health issues and a keen back-yard poultry keeper. We shall explore your mind through the medium of chicken.”

Two hens, flapping clipped wings vigorously and with a curving trajectory, managed to spring onto Ashlin’s stomach. They both stared intensely at Ashlin, more than a little scary, coming forwards with swift little steps, movements not unlike the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, heads gyroscopically level at all times. They both stopped. One reached down to peck corn from the cleavage of her dress.

“Now focus. Your mind in the mind of the chicken. Look at yourself on this couch. What do you see Ms. Geres?”

“I see a worried woman.”

“Good, progress. Why are you worried?”

“I’m worried she’ll shit all over this DKNY chiffon print. It’s dry clean only.”

“I’m rushing. Let’s start again. You’re aware chickens obey a distinct pecking order, established, of course, by using their beaks to intimidate their rivals? Once order is established there’s little fighting, but for a new entry to the brood, life is tough. In the world of writing Ms. Geres there are the dominant roosters, the giants of postmodern literature perhaps, then the established elder hens, journalists and crime writers, regular layers. Ordinary, yet productive. I think, Ms. Gere, in writing terms you are more an aging sterile battery hen, your cloaca feathers grasped and pulled until the skin is raw and bleeding. Your amateurish attempts at literature belong at the very bottom of the pecking order, yet you live in a fantasy world, believing you can be a writer whilst you suppress and bury the past, the emotions that haunt your psyche.”

Confusion suddenly flooded Ashlin’s mind. Was Jakschetz just another crazy quack? Earlier she had wanted to thank him for all he had done; now she lay here, chicken shit and grain all over her new dress, while he pitched insults at her. Or was he revealing the truth beneath her façade?

A sudden crash interrupted the session. Jakschetz’s young boy had peddled headfirst into the glass doors of the patio. Startled, a hen lurched forward and pecked Ashlin sharply on the nose, a gash drawing blood that streamed across her face to mix with the down feathers tumbling onto her high-gloss lips. Ashlin leaped to her feet, birds flying.

“Look, yes, I was a low-grade actress. And I’ve done cheesy B movies, some porn too. It’s no shame. I was well paid. I had fun. I don’t care Jakschetz. But, like they say, never work with children or animals.”