Friends of GRIT,
I’m an English teacher, and NPR (National Public Radio) recently held its annual “3-Minute Story” contest, and I had in mind an idea for a story based on an experience I shared with my mother-in-law a few months back… having a hen put to sleep. I wrote the dark little story about death and choices and family togetherness and prepared to submit it when I noticed the theme was supposed to be about an American president, living or dead. “Hmm,” I thought. “Is there a way to work that in to my chicken story?” Yes, in fact. My mother-in-law, Kathryn, suggested that the hen be described as a rooster, and that the rooster might be named Abraham Lincoln, and I took it from there. With just a few changes, I sent the story on. I haven’t heard from NPR. However, I know that the deeply sympathetic, intelligent, insightful, and sensitive hen-loving crowd at GRIT will appreciate my story, so here it is.
Depth of Field
Mrs. G and her daughter-in-law entered the veterinarian’s office somberly, the younger Mrs. G carrying a rooster swaddled in a white towel. The startled looks of other customers shifted to amusement and finally to curiosity. The Mrs. Gs were not in the mood for entertaining this curiosity, and when asked directly about their patient, the daughter-in-law answered simply that the rooster, known as President Lincoln because he was so tall and godlike, was “very sick with a disorder that did not allow him to eat normally.” She could not bring herself to say that he was, apparently, blind. She had ascertained that much from observing the rooster’s odd wandering and pecking about for food with little success while his companion hens and another rooster feasted on not only normal feed but delicacies such as cantaloupe and tomatoes. After speaking with Dr. Beverly, (the vet), the elder Mrs. G recalled a fight between the two roosters a week or so ago. That was probably the cause, explained Dr. Beverly; roosters will sometimes peck at the eyes of a foe in a barnyard civil war, resulting in blindness. Ever against cooking up one of her own chickens, Mama G asked if there might be another alternative. She was advised that the rooster might be separated from the other chickens, kept in a more confined space with readily available food; a lonely life, yes, but one likely to keep him from starving. The only other choice would be to euthanize him.
The Mrs. Gs headed home with their cock-of-the-run, drew him into a segregated area with a high fence and plenty of food, and in just a few weeks’ time, he had regained his full masculine figure and began to crow as he had before his wounding.
Then came a cloudy April evening when, with the two women rocking on the porch and all the chickens clucking and crowing in the happiness of a normal country day, and the rooster strutting around his enclosure and growing fat… something flew out of the darkening sky like a small monsoon, like an illusion, like cruel opportunity, and came down upon the rooster’s back in the blink of an eye. The hawk tore back the way it had come, claws held fast to President Lincoln, up and up, out of sight, delivering its cry of victory before the astonished kinfolk offstage had the chance to look for grace.
One of my favorite writers, David Sedaris, was once asked if his stories were true. He replied, cleverly, that they were “mostly true.” I’ll only go so far as “partly true.” If you want to know the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I’ll tell you in my next post, where you will find many happy hens and the ghost of dear ole’ Abe around the feeder.
One of our golden hens, we call her Goldie.