Charles grinned as he strode out of his laboratory. “Esther, I’ve done it again,” he said.
Esther looked up from her book. “Another new invention, Charles?” she asked. “What does this one do?”
“This one is the best one yet. The world will never be the same,” Charles said. “Follow me as I reveal the answer to one of life’s greatest mysteries.”
Esther followed Charles out to the yard. It was evening and the hens had already gone to their coop to roost. Charles opened the door with a flourish. The hens scolded him sleepily.
Charles pulled something out of his pocket. It looked like a flat microphone, or maybe a metal lollipop. He held it in front of his mouth. “Ok, ladies, I have a question,” he said.
The hens perked up and looked at him. It was disconcerting to see their silent unwavering attention. Charles smiled. “What is the most common flavor to you? What does everything taste like?”
He held out the microphone. Flappy, the most bossy of the chickens, leaned forward. “Corn. Everything tastes like corn,” she said.
Esther looked at Charles. “That’s amazing. A chicken translator. Ask it why it crossed the road.”
Charles frowned. “It’s a universal translator, and our chickens have never even seen the road. Why would I ask them that?”
Esther laughed. “It’s a classic question. Just ask.”
“Fine.” Charles held up the translator. “Why did you cross the road?”
He held out the translator and Flappy leaned forward again. “What’s a road?” she asked.
“Never mind,” Charles said. He looked at Esther. “See?”
Esther sighed. “How disappointing. I was sure they’d say to get to the other side. So, why were you asking about flavors?”
“I’m trying to discover the foundational taste. Everyone says everything tastes like chicken, but now we know that to chickens everything tastes like corn. What’s the next step?” Charles turned and strode away. Esther hurried to catch up.
Charles hurried to the kitchen and began opening and closing cupboards. “What are you looking for?” Esther asked.
“Where do you keep the corn?” he asked.
“In the freezer,” Esther said.
Charles rummaged through the freezer and found a plastic bag filled with corn. “Aha!” he said. He held up his translator.
“They can’t talk to you,” Esther said.
“Why not?” Charles asked.
“They’re dead,” Esther said.
Charles dropped the bag of corn. He backed up looking horrified. “Do you mean to tell me that you’ve been feeding me dead things all this time?” he asked.
“You don’t really want to eat things that are still alive do you?” Esther asked.
“Good point,” Charles said. “You have the soul of a philosopher, Esther.” He picked up the corn, gave it a pat, and returned it to the freezer. “So, where will I find living corn?”
“In a garden or field, I imagine,” she said.
“Esther, we’re going on a drive,” Charles said.
They drove around and finally found a field of corn just outside city limits. It was nearly dark out. Esther sighed and followed Charles to the field. “Charles, the corn will still be quite small,” she said. “Even if corn can talk, which I doubt, this corn may be too young.”
“Nonsense,” Charles said. “Help me look for an intelligent looking ear of corn.”
Esther pointed to a small ear nearby. “This one looks good,” she said.
Charles rushed over and held up the translator. “What is the most common flavor to you? What does everything taste like?” he asked.
After a moment, a small high-pitched voice replied, “What does taste mean?”
Charles smiled and put the translator back in his pocket. “There you have it, Esther. Corn is the foundational taste. I’d always wondered.” He started walking to the car. “I wonder what I should invent next.”