Leo had never been able to beat that chicken at tic-tac-toe. But every Friday after work he would stop by the Chinese arcade and try. It was an actual live chicken behind a piece of glass. There was a panel that the chicken could peck at, to make it’s selection of either an X or O, which displayed on a lit up grid. Leo, of course, would make his selections from outside the piece glass as the game progressed. If he won, his prize was a bag of fortune cookies. Seemed an easy thing, beating a chicken at a simple child’s game. But the chicken always won. Though Leo had a feeling that his luck was going to change.
It wasn’t about the bag of fortune cookies, not any more. It was the principle. That damn chicken had done more harm to Leo’s fragile self-esteem in the last six months than all the failed relationships of his entire life combined. Gluttons for punishment always fine the perfect set-up, and this chicken was Leo’s. But he was sure, tonight would be different.
Leo dropped the quarters in the coin box and the chicken went first. House rules, the chicken always got to go first. The chicken pecked an O in the center square. Leo punched in an X above it. The chicken pecked out another O to the left of the first and Leo paused to study the board. That’s when he first saw her reflection shining on the glass.
She wasn’t a traditional beauty by any measure, but there was something… an exquisite authenticity. It sparkled with it’s own form of loveliness that trapped Leo. He forgot about the chicken and studied her shimmering mirror image. His suddenly shallow breath and pounding heart announced to his brain that he was smitten. He knew that he could be with the woman standing behind him. And somehow he knew that she could be with him. Her reflection was that clear. For the first time in memory a ray of hope found its way inside the burlap sack of loneliness that he had been carrying around, like a bundle of last weeks potatoes.
Just as he was about to turn around and say something, her reflected face changed. What was a simple countenance of curiosity suddenly became one of disgust, turning into extreme compassion. He could see that she only had eyes for the suffering of the chicken, forced to live in a glass box and play tic-tac-toe with assholes all day. In that instant he understood that all was lost. He watched as her reflection vanished. And although he knew it was a mistake, he turned towards the door, watching her wondrous backside exit the premises. It really might have been.
Leo’s heart wasn’t in the game anymore. But he kept playing out of habit. He picked, the chicken pecked, and when the game was through, Leo, for the first time, had won. But it didn’t matter. For months he had been trying to beat that chicken, but tonight it didn’t matter at all. A surly young clerk at the arcade gave him his prize, the bag of fortune cookies. Then Leo left.
Leo opened the bag of fortune cookies and picked one at random. He read the fortune as he munched the stale treat. “You will die alone and poorly dressed,” it read.
“Goddamn chicken,” Leo said to himself.