Garfield stares down at me from the balcony, his meow abrasive and cutting. He can’t relax, he says. Have I lost my mind? Do I not see that there is a chicken in the living room?
“I see it,” I say, and gesture toward the cat carrier on the coffee table in the window containing the new Ameraucana hen a neighbor’s dog delivered squawking and flapping to her backyard two days ago. “I smell it, too.”
The neighbor, a young mother who came from maybe a mile away, had been checking with any neighbor she could find. She was wracked with guilt that her dog had gotten out and snatched someone’s chicken. “It’s not ours,” I told her, but I offered to take it off her hands just so she could get back home to her kids. It looked spry enough, and it clucked and chortled charmingly, despite a nasty wound.
The cat doesn’t blink. His eyes are wide and accusing. His objection is absolute. He’s stunned that the Bearded One is going along with this outrage (frankly, so am I). He sends a message to my brain — It’s a chicken, for God’s sake, get some perspective here, Woman.
“Don’t use that tone with me,” I say to the cat.
Our nurse daughter smiles from where she sits in my rocker. She’s been sleeping all day after her night shift and has just gotten up for dinner. I show her the hen’s wound, which the Bearded One and I cleaned thoroughly with hydrogen peroxide and then coated with Neosporin. She says, “Look at the proportion of exposed flesh. That has got to be a terminal chicken wound.”
“I’m a death-with-dignity person ,” I argue to the nurse and the cat. “You know that. I’d be the first person to pull the plug. She just doesn’t seem like she’s dying. Listen to her.” We listen to her brrrk brrrk brrrk from the cat carrier. I wonder, though, what kind of a lonely life I have saved this chicken for, separated from her own kind. Other chickens target any obvious wounds unmercifully. She’d have to be part of a whole separate flock to really have much chance.
“Do you think I’m drawing out the inevitable here?”
“I don’t know,” says the nurse.
“It’s been two days,” I say. “If there’s no real progress in the morning, I’ll get the ax.”
The nurse nods, and Garfield gives me the stink eye.
In the morning, the dog-bite gash in the hen’s left thigh, which fortunately is well-hidden by her wing, is covered by a solid membrane, a kind of scab but very thin. She has no tail feathers left at all. She is standing and clucking softly. This is clear progress.
We name her Sweet Tart because the word “Tart” is written on the cardboard box she came in, and we move her out to the hoop house, but I know she can’t stay there forever. She’ll scratch up the plants. Somehow we must acclimate the other chickens to her. As a single new bird, that can be rough.
Then on Monday, Sweet Tart’s second day in the hoop house, the Bearded One and I are filling potholes on the road when a neighbor stops and offers us a chicken. Just like that. “We’re down to one,” she says, blaming coyotes for stealing an Ameraucana three weeks ago. “And now Maybelline is alone.”
“You’re missing an Ameraucana?” I ask, dazzled. Could it be Sweet Tart?
I tell the story, we trek back to the house, but no, Sweet Tart is not hers.
The Bearded One and I take Maybelline, though, and Maybelline accepts Sweet Tart with a single peck to her head. The balance is struck, and all the humans cheer. They’re a flock. Two will be a lot easier to introduce to the original flock, plus Maybelline is huge. Not even Leah will mess with her.
Garfield sits in a sunray on the deck and stares hard. He still hasn’t quite forgiven me.
“Do you think we’re in for an early spring?” our neighbor asks as she’s leaving. It’s cold but the sun is out.
“Well, it sure is pretty today,” I say, and we both are smiling wide. “There’s a chance.”
“I think so, too,” the neighbor says, rubbing her arms with the chill. “I can feel it in my bones.”