Had it been a normal day, like any other? The mf thinks so, is not sure. No days are normal nowadays. Still, everything’s molecules had once again assembled as they typically do. The squirrel twitching. The sparrow flitting. The Jane magnolia tree next door, lifting tulip-shaped pink-purple blossoms towards the haze-softened sun.
Time to feed the chickens! Sure. There is no chore the mf fulfills more readily. With the still perfectly useful glass carafe from a broken coffeemaker, he scoops their under-the-pillow smelling pellets from the big green bag, almost a cornucopia. When that bag does run out, the mf has two more just like it, but it doesn’t seem like it will ever run out, especially when it gets close to the bottom. Close to the bottom is the big green bag’s comfort zone. Almost empty, it keeps giving and giving.
The mf tromps towards the chicken coop on straw, not as golden as it used to be, now a slightly sickly greenish from absorbing whatever leakage is causing the southeast corner of the garden to be damp.
Yes, it’s true, the mf lost his footing last week, tripped over an irrigation valve, semi-detaching it from the main line, causing gush. But the corner had been damp before the mf stumbled. It was one of his projects to figure out why and fix it. But for now the straw was doing a good job of absorbing the excess moisture, although the dryness cost the straw its golden hue.
Through the not-yet-perfect doorway to the outer coop tromps the mf. By not-yet-perfect, I mean, what the fuck. The doorway is testimony to the mf not always being in his right mind when he does stuff. Why is chicken wire hanging vertically in strips, like a carwash designed to scratch the hood and roof. What is this tangle of black plastic mesh actually accomplishing. It certainly doesn’t keep the chickens from plumply galavanting amongst the oats just beyond the so-called confines of the outer coop.
Which is fine, for now. The green and slender oats are there for the chickens to enjoy. Some of the oats are budding and soon won’t it be a sight to see the hens pecking their beloved oat flakes straight from the source. Oh, it will be as if the mf could position himself under a spigot of wheat beer.
After partaking of the oats, Plucky, Clucky, Lucky and Kentucky generally bypass the lettuce and kale in order to scarf dogfood, or else to lounge in the dirt bath they’ve made for themselves under the finger lime. Chickens scrunched down in dry dirt, indenting the soil with their bellies, pecking and rustling as need be: that is the picture of animal satisfaction.
Also, there is such much lettuce and kale flourishing in the backyard now that not even four peckish chickens can put much of a dent in their leafiness. The mf feels quite fine about his new status as a person who can grow an abundance of leafy greens, so fine indeed that he doesn’t dwell on the corollary.
The corollary is, if the chickens can get out, who can get in.
Lucky, fourth out of four in the pecking order, is experiencing a difficult molt. This is the Lucky way: last in everything. Perhaps more cautious, for the positive spin. Whereas the other hens had molted discretely, Lucky is a mess. Bald here, patchy there, skeletal all over. A skeletal looking chicken is a vulnerable sight to see. To make sure she wasn’t dying, the mf peered closely at her feather follicles and indeed saw brown filaments forming, tightly packed, like toothbrush bristles. Whew.
So Lucky is okay. The mf carries relief about this with him like his wallet. Still, on this morning, the inner coop is more feather-strewn than usual. “Are you okay?” he inquires of Lucky, who does seem to have a splotch of blood on her head. It looks oily. It is disconcerting, but not spurting. Blood got on her, but does not appear to be coming from her.
The mf follows a trail of black feathers to the way back of the coop, to the compost heap, which is where he sees Clucky, the prettiest hen; Clucky of the golden feather necklace; Clucky the most chill bird, who would always hang back with Lucky to make sure she was okay.
Clucky was a beautiful, good-hearted bird but now she is dead and I will spare you the description. A varmint got to her.
The mf cries like he is barking. Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark, bark. That’s what the mf sounds like. A sobbing barker.
His wife hears, comes out of the house, what’s wrong.
“I can’t get to you,” she says.
“Clucky,” says the mf.
“I can’t get to you,” she says again.
He zips up the sobbing, tromps out of the coop.
They hug. It’s consoling. The warmth, the pressing together. He either remembers not to press too hard on her second-vaccinated arm, or she absorbs the pain.
The mf staggers off to get shoes so he can bury Clucky. The shoelessness is something his wife has to discuss with him when he returns. The shoelessness in the chicken coop, the not-of-sound-mind design of the outer coop: these are among the topics she touches upon, regretfully, and with respect for his fresh grief.
The mf agrees. There is no defense.
And so he digs a deep hole for Clucky, then digs it deeper, then digs it deeper still. The hole is near the dirt bath. He puts fresh oats and also nasturtiums in it. He puts Clucky’s body in it. Her chicken feet look enormous. He fills in the dirt, sprinkles oatmeal on her grave. He spreads another layer of mesh over the inner coop. There was a gap. That’s probably where the hawk got in. He knew about this gap, tried to cover it, obviously did not.
Changes. Changes will have to be made. The discovery of Clucky’s body has attached itself to one of the mf’s bad habits like a molecule. He is done, he tells his wife. He feels done. We shall see. Meanwhile, he takes a shower to wash off his various stinks. From the shower window he sees the first apple blossom of spring, a bee dancing in the pink and white and seemingly jubilant flower. Nature’s resilience is annoying and inappropriate at a time like this, but tell that to the bee. Tell it to the flower.