My mother is making an omelet again. She has a special hammer. There is a feather sticking to her bare heel. One egg can feed my family for one week straight, but not me. No way am I gonna shovel forkfuls of ostrich embryo in my mouth. They are nothing but stupid, dirty chickens from hell.

My father, the entrepreneur, plucked us from our green, suburban home in the western Chicago suburbs, and dropped us down in Southern Illinois to get rich quick. “Mark me,” he said. “Within five years, people will be begging for ostrich meat, lowest ratio of sat fat to meat going.” And here we are. Giant birds and farmer neighbors and omelets every day for the rest of my life.

The shell of an ostrich egg is about an inch thick, like a bone water balloon. Mom makes the hole, squats, and lifts with her scrawny knees to empty the shell like a jug into a big aluminum bowl like Wilma Flintstone. “Dammit Marion, I’ve done it again.” She’s getting better at choosing the unfertilized eggs but occasionally she slips. I can’t help myself, I look in the bowl and there it is, half-formed, a sprinkle of beak, of eye and the beginning of wings like a baby’s nipples. A Tabasco splash of blood and I almost want to heave myself. It’s her own fault. She agreed to this life.

Arlaina Tibensky

Arlaina Tibensky is the author of the young adult novel And Then Things Fall Apart (Simon Pulse, 2011) which was a Junior Library Guild Selection and received an ALA/YALSA Readers’ Choice nomination for realistic fiction. Her work has appeared in One Story, Inkwell, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Madison Review, and on The Dinner Party Download on National Public Radio. A recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Artists’ Fellowship in Fiction, Arlaina holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University and is an experienced workshop instructor. She is currently drinking a lot of coffee with almond milk and working on a novel.

Patrick Ryan on “Buying the Farm”

Suppose your family became involved in a business that obsessed them. Suppose it was almost all they ever talked about. And suppose they wanted you to get involved. Now suppose that family business was ostrich farming.

What does Marion, the narrator of “Buying the Farm,” have to say about ostriches? “They are nothing but stupid, dirty chickens from hell.”

Thankfully, the new issue of One Teen Story is about more than just ostriches. It’s also about being a teenaged girl trying to figure out her place in the family’s hopes and dreams. It’s about a teen who has an ostrich meat-obsessed father. And it’s about a guy named Veggie Carl (the only vegetarian at school).

We’re delighted to present you with Arlaina Tibensky’s often-hilarious story, “Buying the Farm.” We promise your opinion of it will be far higher than Marion’s opinion of ostriches.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
AT: I had a roommate, the sweetest, quietest person I have ever lived with, and we were standing in the kitchen and she tells me, “When I was a kid my dad moved us to an ostrich farm,” like no big deal. “A what?” I said and she said, “An ostrich farm. It sucked.” And I hit the ground running.
PR: Are you fan of ostrich meat? Are you anti-ostrich meat? And are ostriches the most difficult birds to farm, or what?
AT: I’ve never actually had ostrich meat, which is weird right? I don’t really eat much meat at all anymore. And yet, in my fiction I seem to be obsessed with characters eating exotic flesh. It’s all a metaphor for the brutality of existing, I think, how life is often simultaneously vile and delicious. As far as I know, ostriches are not any more difficult to raise than llamas or teenaged daughters.
PR: Does the idea of having a teen’s home life disrupted by the family business strike a familiar note with you? Or were you working from a point of pure invention?
AT: My parents had their own drapery workroom and installation business growing up, and talked shop incessantly. Swags and jabots, tie-backs, top and bottom rod pockets, vertical blinds, decorator rods—an entire litany of industry-specific jargon back and forth over dinner. I have no experience with farming or ostrich rearing but I know tons about having parents with their own obsessions.
PR: Is there a future for the narrator and Veggie Carl past the end of the story? Maybe?
AT: I always thought of Veggie Carl as a villainous sort but each time I read this story he seems sweeter and more befuddled than ever. The truth is, he’s not smart enough to be evil and certainly not smart enough for Marion to actually fall in love with him.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”?
AT: Yearning.
PR: What are you working on now?
AT: I’m working on a novel about a mother and daughter on a Kenyan safari in the early 1990’s. It’s a tale of adventure, lust, and family secrets with heartbreakingly gorgeous animals galore, plenty of whisky and, of course, the eating of exotic meats.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
AT: Lorrie Moore once advised me in a workshop not to save anything for another story, throw it all in, use it all up, go for broke. I’d been saving casual driving for another thing about rivalrous brothers. But as I was writing this story the casual driving and its conflicting image of vulnerability and independence fit Marion’s moment perfectly. I went for broke, and here we are.