The Early Birds had not been the only residents to catch sight of Frank’s building project. Shortly, after he arrived at the job site the next morning, folks started gathering to watch, at first only two or three, but gradually a regular crowd surrounded the spot. The audience wouldn’t have bothered Frank as long as they kept quiet, but they didn’t. It started with questions—“what you building, Frank?”—followed by some squabbling among the assembled about the pluses and minuses of location, the proper size, the potential stink, and whether chickens could be counted as pets.
The rumbling annoyed Frank, made him edgy; he preferred to work in peace and quiet, but when they started shouting advice, telling him how to do what he knew how to do, Frank gathered his tools. He trudged up the incline to the shelter and sat at the picnic table. Even though it was barely 9 am, he took out his lunch and started to eat. He taken two bites when he saw the Reverend Henry Porter, followed by Thelma Louise Sanderson and Ruth Elliott, headed through the still bickering crowd, aiming straight for him. Let them come. Let them chew him out. By golly, a man couldn’t work with folks interfering.
Calling in sick and actually staying in bed did not assure the rest Dr. Bumpus had ordered was a “shoo in”. Buried under her down comforter Deborah Fitzgerald felt the thud of Daffodil’s paws planting themselves in the middle of her chest before the determined unsympathetic cat poked her head to within inches of Deborah’s nose to yowl. Daffy’s yowl signified her disgust at not having been fed and was punctuated by the ringing of the phone.
Deborah struggled to rid herself of the huffy and hefty feline—Daffy’s girth did not support her assertion that starvation was setting in ever but certainly not in the next few minutes. Tangled in bedding and cat, woozy with fever, Deborah decided to let the machine get the call, but before her “Hello, I am not here, leave a message” clicked on, that phone ceased and her cell phone started playing “Jingle Bells”. Time to change that ring, Deborah thought. She had intended to change it in January, but well now was April. Managing to get one arm and one leg free, she reached into her purse and extracted her cell phone.
Flipping it open she croaked, “Hello.” Daffodil leapt from the bed giving Deborah a snotty over the shoulder look that said “Follow me, or else!” Deborah pulled her other foot loose and set out behind the feline princess, cell phone pressed to her ear.
“Deb, Donna. Mom and three of her friends are getting chickens as pets!”
“That’s nice.” Deborah mumbled leaning against the wall to maintain her balance and ward off dizziness.
“Nice!? Did you hear what I said? You sound funny. Are you sick?”
“Yes, I have the flu. Don’t you have even one smidgen of that identical twin telepathy I’m always hearing about?”
Deborah slid down the wall in her kitchen to sit on the floor after pouring cat food into Daffy’s bowl. Pressing the phone even closer to her ear she tried to concentrate on what Donna had said. She was rattling something about chickens, pets, and their mother. The tumble of words collided in her brain.
“Did you say Mom is getting a chicken?”
“Chickens! Do you remember that family and residents meeting where Mavis explained the advantages of pet ownership for senior citizens. You heard the spiel, improves mental and physical health, blah, blah, blah.”
“I remember, but I thought she was talking about dogs, cats, fish, and well you know, ordinary pets.” Daffodil having licked the bowl clean climbed into Deborah’s lap, allowing Deborah to pet her for a moment or two before slapping her hand, hissing and strutting off. Deb shook the injured hand thinking the next time she took Daffy to the vet it would be to get her de-clawed.
“We all assumed “ordinary’ pets and that’s what the other fifteen residents who are participating are getting, but not our mother and her friends. They’re getting chickens or rather, three chickens and a rooster.”
My fever must be rising, Deborah thought. For a moment she pictured her Mom sitting in her apartment at Heritage Village with a chicken on both arms of the chair, one in her lap and a rooster standing on her head, crowing. In spite of herself she laughed but her sore throat acted like a silencer on a machine gun rendering her laughter to bursts of rapid firing air puffs.
“Where will they keep them?” She managed a breathy rasp.
“Mavis said they are having a chicken coop built on the property. You sound awful. Are you sure it’s the flu?”
“Yes,” Deb managed slouching even lower to the floor, then shuddering as a chill ravaged her body.
“I’ll bring some fluids when I go get Danny from baseball practice and come by. We’ve got to get you well by tomorrow night because all three of us need to be at the meeting when the residents get their pets. Mavis has a program planned. Maybe we can nip this project before it becomes disastrous. See you later.”
Donna hung up. Deborah stared at the silent phone with the fishes swimming across the screen, before depositing in her flatware drawer after she pulled up off the floor. “Don’t come.” She murmured to dead air as she navigated back to the bed and slunk under the comforter.
“Don’t bring liquids.” Deb dropped into an uneasy sleep.
She was running down a highway chased by a herd of cats all looking strangely like Daffodil until chickens started falling from the sky like bombs. Les Nesman from the old WKRP in Cincinnati TV sit com stood off to the side of the road, yelling, “Chickens can’t fly. This is awful! Oh, MY!” She kept running then felt a plop on her head jarring her feverish body awake. Daffodil had curled up in her hair and commenced kneading Deborah’s scalp, but at least she hadn’t been hit by a falling chicken.
By the time dinner was being served at Heritage Village that evening Frank had completed the basic structure of the coop and had the fence posts set for the chicken yard. Otto and Mr. Wingate had inspected the building and offered to help stretch the wire for the fence the next day, provided the rain held off. With a paint job and a few finishing touches the aesthetics would be as acceptable as the functionality.
Unfortunately, the brewing storm in the southwest seemed determined to thwart those plans. The dining room occupants, including the six at the Early Birds’ table, watched the darkening sky boil and threaten to spill over. Lightening bounced between the clouds while the low rumbling thunder grew louder. Ruth shivered with every thunder clap, setting off a chain reaction around the table. The Reverend Henry Porter patted her hand to calm her, before bowing his head and returning thanks.
The southwestern skies were not the only place storms brewed that night. Donna and Diana both descended on their ailing triplet armed with orange juice and chicken soup (Donna’s idea), a concoction of health store healing herbs (Diana’s idea) and three over the counter flu remedies that all promised immediate results. Deborah dove deeper under the comforter at the sight of them croaking, “go home, leave me alone,” which muffled by her lack of voice and the comforter sounded like muted groaning to her sisters’ ears.
With the determination of terriers routing out a varmint, the pair dug their sister from her hole and pushed, dragged and carried her to her couch in the living room, where they force fed her a variety of the concoctions they’d brought with them. Deborah lacking the strength to fight back submitted. To her amazement and chagrin, she did feel minutely better. She chose not to mention this to her siblings. Being the middle child made her wary of giving up any ground.
Donna, always the spokesman, shared the information she had received from Mavis Purcell. Their mother and three of her cronies had requested chickens as pets, three hens and a rooster—the pets not the cronies, Donna explained, acknowledging that the description fit both groups. They had ordered the birds which were set to arrive tomorrow with the fifteen other pets for residents plus they’d pooled their money for construction of a chicken pen, which according to Mavis was well underway.
“So, what do you think we should do?” Diana asked, “Evidently, they have permission.”
“Oh, please, Diana, can’t you see what Mother is doing?” Donna wailed.
“Sounds to me like she’s planning to raise chickens” Deborah interjected before a coughing fit took over.
“Yeah” Diana agreed, “It’s just a hobby. Wasn’t that part of the “Residents with Pets” project’s focus, something to care for so they’d be busier and happier? Wasn’t that why we agreed to help out if we were needed? So Mom would be happier.”
If Donna intended to mask her look of disbelief and disgust as she looked between Deb and Diana, she failed miserably. Hypocrisy had never been her strong suit, which both blessed and cursed her depending on the situation.
“Oops, we’re in trouble, Diana; better run for the hills,” Deborah’s stab at comedy fell flat as another spell of coughing racked her chest. She faded with every episode and knew she’d better agree to something if getting back to bed were to happen.
Reluctantly, almost without breath she asked, “What do you think is going on, Donna?”
“It is obviously a ploy to manipulate us. Maybe, she’s lonely. Maybe she’s becoming senile. Whatever it is, we need to find out and get this chicken raising business out of her mind. I was hoping all of us could attend the little program with the pets,” Donna shuddered before continuing, “including the chickens. And see if we could figure out why Mother is acting out.”
“If I don’t get some rest, that doesn’t have a chance of happening.”
At that a flurry of activity began that got Deborah back to bed and Donna and Diana on the way home to their respective David’s and children. Thirty minutes later Deborah scrunched into a fetal ball under her comforter with Daffodil curled on her feet and dropped into thankfully a dreamless sleep.