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Braking Points

Exploring the Adventure of Aging

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FOWL PLAY

Fowl Play–Chapter Six

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Chapter Six

Near the end of the concert Amy Davidson paused and sat on a stool. Agnes noticed weariness in her face and posture. She realized her first observations of Miss Davidson were incorrect, at least with regard to her age. Perhaps her petite build and the lack of cynicism in her smile had fooled Agnes, but as fatigue set in, the truth surfaced. Amy Davidson was no twenty something ingénue; she was nearer the Tri-Dee’s age, late thirties or early forties. Her music, however, even from a sitting position continued with energy and passion as she chose three familiar hymns of the church to close her performance. As the bow glided across the instrument the majesty of “Immortal, Omnipotent, God Only Wise” filled the room followed by, “Lead on O King Eternal”—Agnes and the Reverend mouthed the words, marching in place to the cadence.

Thelma Louise poked Pauline, who awakened with a start. Flustered, she stood and began singing with gusto. After a few gaggling looks from the crowd, others stood with her, including her table mates. As the winsome violinist moved into the poignant “Fairest Lord Jesus” only those residents confined to wheelchairs remained seated. Murmured “Amen’s” could be heard across the great room with applause in their wake.
Amy Davidson, obviously exhausted, allowed Mavis Purcell to help her into a motorized wheel chair which seemed to appear from nowhere. With no final words, only a weak wave, Amy edged her chair through the door and down the hall. Agnes wondered how she could do that with limited vision, but heard no immediate crash from the hall.

##

Walking the ladies to their apartments helped the Reverend Henry Porter stretch out some of the kinks in his limbs and torso that an evening of sitting produced. At eighty-four years of age Henry Porter did not consider himself old; he rarely thought of his age at all. There certainly had been seasons of aging he remembered; the loss of his beloved Jeannette was the most recent of those seasons of deterioration. Her death after fighting cancer for more than three years threatened him emotionally, physically and spiritually. Just when he thought he’d hit rock bottom, something would happen like when he wrote the last check in their checkbook with both their names engraved and he’d go looking for a shovel to dig a little deeper. During that protracted season, every muscle, every thought and every attempted prayer screamed “old, worn out, useless.” Thankfully, his son Rodney, who only visited twice a year, noticed how rapidly his father had declined since his mother’s death.

The Reverend Henry Porter’s restoration became Rodney’s primary goal during his scheduled visit ten months previous and he managed to involve his two younger sisters who lived in complete denial of their father’s failing health although both were frequent visitors and both lived within five minutes of his house. They maintained their position until Rodney drove his point home. The end result included selling the Reverend’s property and moving him into Heritage Village. Initially, he bucked at the whole plan, but he had adapted well and as of yet they had not ask for his car keys.

He whistled as he walked toward his apartment. The music, especially the hymns, had lifted his spirits. Reaching his door he pulled the apartment key from his pocket. As he stepped forward to open the door, his foot squished on the carpet. Standing upright he tested the carpet area with the toe of his shoe observing not only the squish but an ooze of water each time he pressed his toe from spot to spot. Further inspection revealed a wet spot directly in front of his apartment door nearly as wide as the door. He looked toward the ceiling. Seeing no obvious leak, he shook his head and decided it would be best to wait till morning and have Mr. Wingate take a look at it. With all the wind and rain it could be seeping down the inside of the wall before leaking under the baseboard onto the carpet. With that plan in mind and his concentration diverted he noticed he must have absent mindedly unlocked his door for it stood ajar. Goodness, he thought looking between the key in his hand and the door, I must be having one of those “senior moments” he heard others talking about. The Reverend Henry Porter pocketed the key and pushed open his door. Inside he closed the door behind him and reached to turn on the light.

“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do that, Padre” The source of the request came as a low voice from a shadowy figure near the sliding glass door that led onto a small balcony.

The Reverend Henry Porter gasped audibly and peered at the indistinguishable form not six feet from him. He remembered, though why he did not know, that his mother would have said that he’d just had ‘the fire scared out of him.” His heart throbbed; his breathing rate increased as his depth of breathing decreased, causing him to pant and rendering him voiceless.

“No need to panic, Reverend. I just needed to speak to you for a moment privately. I did borrow a towel from your bathroom. I hope you don’t mind. It seems I got a bit wet.”

“Colonel Wilcox!?” The Reverend squinted into the darkness. Could it be? Why on earth; and how for that matter was the Colonel waiting for him in the dark of HIS apartment. Henry Porter’s vital signs dropped to near normal levels but his annoyance prevented full recovery. The nerve of the man breaking and entering, Henry scoffed to himself.

“I would like to sit down, Colonel, and I am going to need some light to do that.” The Reverend Henry Porter moved toward the wall switch.

“Oh, very well,” the Colonel muttered, “but let me turn on the table lamp over here.”

Light revealed the soaked figure to be a haggard looking Colonel Henderson Wilcox, U.S. Army Retired. He flipped the towel taken from the Reverend Henry Porter’s bathroom onto the couch and dropped onto it, leaned forward placing his elbows on his knees and covering his face with his hands. In spite of the towel, moisture seeped through the towel becoming a rapidly expanding ring on the couch.

The Reverend Henry Porter stood fixed to the spot by the door watching the scene unfurl. He’d never seen the Colonel or even imagined him looking like a dejected puppy. Approaching with some pretext of caution—the man had broken in to his apartment—the Reverend took a seat in his lounge chair and waited. Years of pastoral ministry had taught him not to speak for other people just to end the silence—long suffering was what the King James Version of the Bible called it, which was more appropriate in Henry Porter’s opinion than the newer renderings calling the word patience.

Waiting for another to speak enduing the silence constituted long suffering to Henry Porter, but he’d learned if you really wanted to know what was on someone’s mind you’d better get mighty good at suffering long. He had once sat with one young woman waiting for better than an hour before she could articulate the abusiveness of her husband. Some things people had to chew on before they could speak.

Fortunately, the drenched Colonel did not wait so long to speak. He raised his face from his hands, but his gaze fell somewhere behind the Reverend’s frame. Henry Porter pivoted a degree to follow the Colonel’s eyes. They fell on a contemporary print depicting Jesus grasping a young man in t-shirt and jeans from behind, holding him up. In the young man’s hand is a hammer. Rivets of blood flow on the ground. The title of the print was “Forgiven”. Jeannette had given it to him nearly twelve years before. He loved the painting, because at the time she had given it to him, the message assuaged old guilt like balm for his soul.

Turning back to the Colonel he saw the man watching him now and though the moment faded like the fog of warm breath in the cold—now you see it, now you don’t—understanding passed between the two men. Their eyes met, then the Colonel’s drifted down toward the floor.

“Tell me, Padre, what is the unforgivable sin, according to your God?”

The question was as familiar to The Reverend Henry Porter as the other familiar question, if God is good, if God is all powerful, why do “bad things happen to good people?” The answer, though found in many texts in the Bible, either implied or overt, made sense to believers and little sense if any to unbelievers. He cleared his throat preparing for what appeared to be yet another round of theological debate with the Colonel. Odd, though that the Colonel would seek to initiate such a discussion under the circumstances. Before he could speak, the Colonel went on.

“What if someone had done something so evil, so despicable that he could not forgive himself, but he longed for forgiveness even knowing he didn’t deserve it; what if he knew exposure would ruin him, so he chose to walk away, to live with the guilt rather than do the right thing? Would that be unforgivable?”

The Reverend chided his slowing thought processes; absorbing the Colonel’s words, as well as the whole ambiance of the situation, took longer than when he was younger. The averted eyes, the thinly masked personal revelation, and the delivery of the questions in secrecy, in the middle of the night reminded Henry of Nicodemus and raised as many questions in the Reverend’s mind as the Colonel had asked. He cleared his throat to speak, when the Colonel stood, tossed the towel at Henry and squished toward the door.

“Never mind! I should have known you wouldn’t have any answers! You religious types are all alike, afraid to answer the real questions.” Opening the door, he turned started to say something then grimaced and slammed the door as he departed.

“Good night to you, too, Colonel,” Henry said, before he got up and tried to soak up some of the water on the couch. What a mess! And, how had he gotten into the apartment? I think I will see about having my locks changed.

Finally, the mess at least taken care of in part, Henry pulled back the covers of the bed, slipped off his clothes and lowered himself to his knees. Some prayed he knew lying on their backs in bed, he thought that was fine for them and frankly the good Lord probably thought so, too. Henry, however, had from childhood found the prayer posture best suited to his conversations with the Lord was the bent knee and bowed head. His stiffening knees protested going down and coming up, but still he continued the practice.

He modeled his bedtime prayers around how Jesus taught his disciples to pray, beginning with “Our Father”, but within that structure he brought the concerns of his heart to God. His words lingered on “thy will be done on earth” listing even the Early Birds’ Hatchery to heaven and with the Colonel’s visit still heavy on his mind he hung on to forgiveness and “deliver us from evil” and added a personal prayer for the Colonel’s soul. With a whispered “amen” he pulled himself up and lay back on his pillow, tucking the covers beneath his chin. As “Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod”* splattered him with dream dust, the Reverend Henry Porter set sail in their wooden shoe.

In his last conscious thought of the night he wondered if the Colonel might be exhibiting the early stages of dementia. “I’ll have to watch him closer” Henry murmured just as the night breeze caught the sail sweeping him away on the silver sea. Faintly he heard the plaintive sound of a violin.

[*19th Century Lullaby by Eugene Field]

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Fowl Play–Chapter Five

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Chapter Five

By the time dessert—peach cobbler with a dip of ice cream—was being served to the non-diabetic residents, the brewing storm boiled over. Rain pounded the length of windows in the dining room. The wind driven sheets cut visibility to only a few feet beyond the windows. The lightening and thunder synchronized their dance with the drum roll style thunder metamorphosing into the crescendo of cymbals accompanied by a spectacular light show. Not everyone appreciated God’s wild display, including Ruth who decided she’d be safer in her apartment than sitting in front of 20 feet of glass. She pushed away from the table. As she did, both The Reverend and the Colonel rose. However, it was the Colonel who offered to push her back to her apartment. Ruth gestured for both of them to sit back down and declined the Colonel’s offer.

“I need the exercise. See you all in the morning.” She waved as she wheeled toward the door.

Agnes and Thelma Louise watched her departure wincing as she steered right into an attractive young woman carrying a case of some sort, who was followed by Mavis Purcell. Apparently there was no damage other than the victim of collision had to extract a portion of her skirt from Ruth’s wheelchair. Mercifully, she appeared good humored about the whole thing, though both Thelma Louise and Agnes noticed Mavis’s heightened concern. An exchange of glances told Agnes that Thelma Louise had no more idea who the victim was than she did. Agnes started to ask the two males at the table if they knew who she was when Mavis stepped to the microphone at the front of the room.

“Good Evening,” Mavis began and then repeated as the room continued to buzz with conversation, including Mr. Penchant who leaned toward his wife and without benefit of amplification overrode every existing conversation in the room with, “WHAT DID SHE SAY?” Mrs. Penchant blushed a shade of purple and shushed him with both hands. Light laughter rippled across the area, but a crash of thunder and lightening and the flickering of the lights in the room covered it well, not that Mr. Penchant would have heard it anyway. Mavis smiled at Mr. and Mrs. Penchant and continued.

“As I said, Good Evening,” She leaned a little closer to the microphone trying to improve her volume without adding distortion. “I want to introduce you to someone who has come to be with us just this afternoon.” She pulled the young woman closer to her widening her smile.

Agnes could tell a lot from a smile. Mavis’s smile though genuine showed a little tension at the corners. The pretty young woman with what now Agnes saw was a music case, however, smiled the genuine smile of a guileless child. Agnes turned to her table companions only to find Pauline’s head bobbing on her chest. No wonder she complained of not sleeping at night. Thelma Louise nodded to her, evidently she found the newcomer interesting as well.

The Colonel and the Reverend were still contemplating the storm and paying not a bit of attention to what Mavis was saying. Agnes leaned toward them and hissed under her breath, “Gentlemen, we have a guest.”

Mavis continued the introduction at the front of the room. “Amy will be living here at Heritage Village. She is an accomplished violinist and has a degree in music therapy. She will be working with our rehabilitation staff in the East Wing, but at her suggestion, to take our minds off the storm, she asked if she could entertain in the dining room tonight. Of course, we are delighted.” Agnes watched as Amy opened her violin case and brought the instrument into view. Something about her movements captivated her attention. What was it? Then she knew. Amy had vision problems.

Mavis stood to the side until Amy stood ready to play. Agnes tapped the arms of the two gentlemen. They turned as Mavis announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, please make Amy Davidson welcome.” There was a smattering of applause led by Mavis who slipped away from view. The Reverend turned smiling and joined into the spirit of the lively theme from “Fiddler on the Roof” while the Colonel stopped mid turn, color draining from his face until he was as ashen as a dingy sheet.

“Colonel, are you ok?” Thelma Louise asked.

“Of course,” he muttered, eyeing the patio doors, “It’s just stuffy in here. I think I had better get a little fresh air.”

He rose, excused himself and walked steadfastly away from the entertainment, through the doors and into the storm.

“But it’s raining,” Thelma Louise stammered. Agnes and The Reverend turned to watch him go, shrugged and returned to the delightful young woman who moved from fiddle to violin from show tunes to classical to bluegrass with the ease of one born to play.

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Fowl Play–Chapter Four

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Fowl Play
Chapter Four

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.

Fowl Play–Chapter Three

Chicken Coop
Chicken Coop
Fowl Play
Chapter Three

The Colonel navigated the corridors, cursing under his breath. Surely, his eyes had been mistaken. A dull ache in his legs urged him to slow down, but he kept moving. He had to get a better view, but it was imperative that he do so without drawing attention to himself. Rounding a corner he drew back against the wall. Not ten feet away, Mavis Purcell stood talking to the man he’d seen through the window. The man was turned so that his face revealed only the shape of his forehead, his jaw line, his right ear and a mane of silver white hair.

The Colonel retreated around the corner, clutching at his chest, trying to take measured breaths to avoid hyperventilating. His eyes had not deceived him. It was him, but what was he doing here? Had he come to settle the old score? Word had it that Emily had died, but what of the girl? The Colonel knew he had to find out without raising any unneeded questions
.
Regaining his breath and with it some of his external composure, the Colonel headed for his apartment to think the matter through.
##
“Thank you, so much, Ms. Purcell. I know my daughter is not your typical resident, but my health is not what it once was, so I need to assure her care remains as close to home as possible.” Wyatt Davidson swallowed hard. “My wife before her death was terribly concerned that Amy would be mistreated if cared for by anyone other than family. But there is simply not any family to take her in and I am, even with help, no longer able to keep up with her and provide for her needs.”

“Mr. Davidson, we are happy to have Amy join us and we will do everything we can to meet your requests. I think you will be happy. Now why don’t we go see how she is settling into her apartment?” Mavis smiled and gestured down a hall.

The apartment Mavis had chosen for Amy Davidson adjoined the live-in staff’s apartments on the first floor. Most of the employees lived off campus, but Helen Marcum, the Director of Nursing and Taylor Wingate, the Head of Maintenance and his wife, Lucille resided at Heritage Village.

The Wingate’s reached retirement with little means and no real property. What they had to offer and what Heritage Village needed matched. They brought a surplus of useful skills, a strong work ethic and a willingness to work for a small salary and a place to live. Taylor took care of mechanical problems, most plumbing, and dealt with Otto—a task Mavis found frustrating. Lucille helped in the kitchen and laundry as the need arose which it did quite frequently and never complained about any job she was asked to do, no matter how menial. Mavis praised the day they’d come to her office with their proposal.

Helen Marcum was a horse of a different color. Long before Mavis took the administrator position, Helen’s reign had been established. Following a military career that included a MASH unit in Vietnam, Helen struggled for a year or so as a civilian nurse in a local hospital, where she managed to make enemies without respect to person. By the time someone had the guts to fire her practically everyone, administrators, doctors, other nurses, housekeepers, the volunteers and not a small group of patients or families of patients had reported her for something insubordinate, rude or abusive, depending on the perspective of the offended party.

Righteously indignant at being fired by a peep squeak mealy mouthed pencil pusher, she raised a ruckus that finally gave her a voice in the Press where she bad-mouthed the slovenly way the hospital functioned, implying multiple infractions that endangered patients and staff alike. Before she got to the point of putting names to her now public allegations, the hospital’s CEO and their legal counsel met with Helen and bought her silence. Part of the offer that brought her tirade to an end was her position at Heritage Village, the apartment she lived in and a hunk of money, the amount of which remained secret.

Mavis worked with Helen when she could, around her when she couldn’t, and in spite of her when all else failed. The Residents with Pets project was one of those “in spite of her” actions. At the Board Meeting Helen lambasted the idea of pets on the premises, let alone with residents caring for them. Mavis figured when Helen caught sight of the chicken coop she’d come flying into her office breathing fire.

In Helen’s case, Mavis acknowledged her primary function would always be damage control. A day didn’t pass without one of the nurses or nurse assistants sobbing through another Helen infraction. When Mavis first took the position, the chairman of the board had taken her aside and told her that no matter what Helen stayed. A protest had risen in her throat then, but his final words to her were, “Just deal with her, but don’t fire her.” For five years Mavis had done just that; she figured even with the age difference Helen would probably outlast her.

Escorting Mr. Davidson quickly past Helen’s apartment, she knocked on Amy’s door. The door opened and Wyatt Davidson swept his petite daughter into his arms. Mavis stepped back a bit until the father/daughter embrace ended, then stepped forward and clasp the hand Amy extended.

“Hello, Amy, it is Mavis Purcell with your Dad.”

Wyatt Davidson bent and kissed his daughter on the cheek. Mavis noted the genuine affection between father and daughter.

“Oh, yes, how are you Ms. Purcell? Won’t you come in? I believe there is a chair. . .” Amy took a few steps before grasping the back of the chair, “right here.”

##

While Mavis sat with Amy and Wyatt Davidson in Amy’s new living quarters, the Early Birds were busy looking over the information Agnes had printed about raising chickens. They had spread the papers out on their dining table once lunch had been cleared. Pauline had stayed a few minutes but after conceding that she wasn’t going to get three more for bridge moved to another area in the multi-purpose room.
From their position at the table they could watch Frank as he began working on the dimensions of the structure.

The Early Birds had given careful consideration to the location of the small coop. It had to be far enough from the living quarters to avoid interference by the Department of Public Health. Heritage Village rested at the edge of town and the campus covered several acres, but they needed it physically close enough that each of them could tend to the flock. So it had to be accessible as well, for Ruth in her wheelchair and Agnes with her walker and Thelma Louise with her leaden feet. The Reverend Henry Porter had no difficulty, but neither did he want to care for the chickens alone.

Otto had suggested the location they now observed beyond the buildings in an area near the small lake that sported a family of Mallards and a small flock of Canadian Geese. A concreted pad with a small shelter for residents who enjoyed being outdoors when weather permitted sat above the spot where Frank worked, but trees and bushes along the lake’s walking path shielded the hen house from the view of walkers.

“The brooder should be here tomorrow. Otto said we could set it up in the furnace room, but I think I am going to check with Mr. Wingate before we put it there.”

“Why?” The Reverend asked.

Agnes peaked over her glasses with a look that declared ‘you know why’ to which The Reverend sighed and nodded. Otto, kind as he was, tended not to process in a logical pattern at all times. The story was told that in a previous position as a night janitor in an office building he’d almost run out of one liquid cleaner, so he had poured the remainder into another cleaner bottle and mixed the two. The security guard had come on him passed out in a hallway filled with noxious fumes. The guard immediately called the security desk prior to passing out himself.

The fire department arrived with paramedics in gas masks, who pulled Otto and the guard to safety, but both survived but stayed in the hospital a few days. It took 72 hours before the building was declared safe for the occupants. Some folks theorized that the gas had wiped out Otto’s reasoning capacity but others contended that anyone who mixed ammonia and bleach had only a limited number of functioning brain cells in the first place.

Agnes refused to go that far, because as a young bride she’d done the same thing with a less disastrous, public outcome, although her nasal passages and sense of taste suffered for weeks after the incident. Still, apparently Otto’s accident had depleted his reservoir of common sense leaving him with an abundance of good humor and a desire to help anyone who asked. The Early Birds and others understood his limitations, appreciating his eagerness to assist. Mr. Wingate watched out for the interests of Otto, the residents and the facility; he saw to it that Otto stayed busy at things within his abilities. Mr. Wingate’s kindness matched Otto’s and the latter would have walked through fire for the former.

Frank, the builder of the coop, younger brother to Otto, though somewhat simple, too, did odd carpenter jobs at Heritage Village and in town as well. He was steady and reliable. He took pride in how he did a job, but either the school system had failed him or his capacity for certain tasks were limited by his own cognitive abilities. When Agnes handed him the first plans for the structure, he’d turned them over and over in his hands as if he was trying to make sense of them and clearing his throat with every turn of the paper.

“Something wrong?” Agnes had asked after several minutes.

“Got any with pictures?” Frank asked still rotating the instructions.

“Pictures? Well sure, I’ll get you some with pictures.” She yanked the papers from his hands before he had a chance to rotate them one more time. “Pictures are better, anyway.” She’d get him pictures if she had to draw them herself, which she did.

“Thanks, Ms. Agnes, I read pictures a whole lot better than words.”

Watching Frank work on the coop lifted the spirits of all four of the Early Birds. Before they dispersed to get ready for dinner and Wheel of Fortune, he had the flooring finished. By tomorrow or at least Friday, they’d be full-fledged chicken farmers, barring any glitches.

Fowl Play–Chapter 2

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Fowl Play
Chapter Two

The four would-be chicken farmers known as the Early Birds arrived at the large communal dining area in plenty of time for lunch, before their two other table companions arrived and before all the Jell-O salad had been set at each plate. They usually got there before their places had been set, but with the visit in Mavis’s office and the detour to Agnes’s apartment they turned up a trifle later than usual.

Agnes stopped by her apartment on the way, urging the others to go on down, while she gathered up some of the information she’d printed from the web sites she had found. The others elected to wait so they could all go down together.

Agnes smiled graciously, but wished they’d go on like she’d suggested. She wanted a moment or two alone, because sure as shooting Mavis Purcell would be relating the Early Birds’ request to her daughters and she’d rather face the triplets with the news than do damage control after Mavis unloaded on them. She hoped to call one of her daughters before that happened.

The Tri-Dees, a name their Dad had given them, were Agnes’s only children. Amazingly enough, the Tri-Dees were born, when such things would be allowed, on three different days. Donna the oldest was born at 11:54 PM on March 11th, Deborah at 12:06 AM on March 12th and Diana, the baby, at 12:01 AM on March 13th. Donna and Deborah were identical twins while the youngest Diana was their fraternal twin. Agnes remained convinced that the Tri-Dees had collaborated in utero, deciding that each needed her own coming out party. Agnes’s doctor declared her brave and heroic when Diana finally emerged. Worn out and determined never to get pregnant again described her better.

The Tri-Dees remained close as adults, tricky business given their decidedly different personalities. Agnes endured the results of many a Tri-Dee’s tidal wave by trying to stay on higher ground. They had gone to three different universities—on scholarships, thankfully—but even then they continued to talk on the phone nightly until Howard put his foot down. Without even checking with each other, wanting to make their decisions solo, they all pledged Tri-Delta Sorority. What else? Agnes thought when they told their Dad and her

Their first husbands were all named David. Donna and Diana were still married to their David’s. Deborah, divorced again after three failed marriages, only the first one to a David, had a big yellow Tabby named Daffodil. As long as Howard had been alive, they’d been manageable, but they were increasingly less so since their Dad’s death fourteen months earlier. Agnes’s broken hip six weeks previous escalated their inborn tendencies to manage their mother.

Agnes put all thoughts of calling the Tri-Dees out of her mind as she scurried to pick up the papers next to her computer, a Christmas gift from her family. Out of the corner of her eye she kept an eye on her three friends as they made themselves at home. Ruth rolled her wheelchair to the refrigerator, opened the door and took inventory. No doubt she’d bring that up at lunch. Thelma Louise wandered around the room sticking her finger in Agnes’s potted plants.
“This one needs water.” Thelma Louise exclaimed, holding up her finger as evidence and turning to shuffle to the tiny kitchenette.

“Thelma Louise, it’s artificial.” Agnes said.

“Well, no matter what it is, it’s as dry as a bone.”

“Thelma Louise!” Agnes started to tell her not to water the artificial Fica tree no matter how dry it was, when she noticed the Reverend Henry Porter sorting through her mail on kitchenette bar. Oh My! Agnes grabbed all the remaining papers, chicken literature and whatever else was in the stack, dumped the lot in the basket on the front of her walker.

“I’ve got them!” she proclaimed, “Let’s go to lunch.”

Agnes headed for the door. Ruth reluctantly closed the refrigerator and Thelma Louise forgot why she was headed for the kitchen and fell in line. The Reverend Henry Porter snapped to attention, holding the door open for each of the ladies to pass, asking before he closed the door, “Do you have your key, Agnes?”

Agnes chortled, pulling a Lanier from the front of her dress and waving her key at him over her shoulder.

“I’m a latch key grandma.”

The threesome to her rear, grunted, but the grunt was good natured.

##

The tables in the dining room each sat six people. The Early Birds’ table was rounded out by Mrs. Pauline Pettigrew and Colonel Henderson Wilcox.

The Colonel arrived punctually, not a minute early or late. His habit of precise arrival and his pride in doing so irked most people. His compulsive habits could be downright irritating, the Early Birds agreed. Years of military training left their mark, they supposed, but with the Colonel—his preferred moniker—the mark was etched in the granite calcifications of his brain.

Ruth and Thelma Louise thought order, rank, chain of command as well as a plethora of war stories rounded out the Colonel’s tightly wrapped personality while Agnes thought they squared him up. Agnes found him rigid, opinionated and downright boring at times. She didn’t share those observations with the others or anyone for that matter. To do so might change the seating arrangements and that just wouldn’t do.

Their table in the dining room was the only one that sported two gentlemen. The ladies all widows were pleased with that arrangement so as long as they had male dinner companions, even one who was as predictable and dull as white bread, they weren’t about to complain.

So handling an occasional story about the Colonel’s frost bite that almost cost him two toes in Korea could be endured even though the tale was not only boring, but also a bit graphic for meal time conversation. And thank the Lord there were times when the Reverend Henry Porter and Colonel Henderson Wilcox engaged in a spirited discussion about the condition of the world and God’s action or lack of it in the affairs of human beings.

Agnes loved listening to a lively debate, having lived more than fifty years with Howard and forty-four with the Tri-Dees. Conversational rumbles raised the roof frequently or at least stirred the waters in the Webster home. So when things got really dull at the table, she’d throw out some crumbs and watch the two old dogs fight over them.

Ruth tolerated the discussions and Thelma Louise despised them, sometimes pulling her hearing aids from her ears and slamming them on the table. She’d stopped doing that after her hearing aids had been cleared from the table with the dishes the week previous. They’d been located seconds and inches before they entered the automated dishwasher. Now when the conversation grew heated she opted to turn them off.

Pauline Pettigrew entered the dining room at the stroke of the hour which would have made her as punctual as the Colonel if she hadn’t stopped to chat with this one and that at other tables. Ever the socialite, she breezed through the room, stopping at every table along the way to speak to someone. Pauline’s late husband Walter had a short career in politics serving in the State House of Representatives and a longer more successful reign as an attorney specializing in wrongful injury cases. Her fellow dinner partners agreed the woman could certainly work a room and was the only one at their table who knew and could remember the names of all the people she’d met in her lifetime as well as a few she hadn’t met but was inclined to believe she had.

Pauline had the all the residents beat in the name and information department. Name dropping was one of her specialties. However, for a woman who could remember names so well she couldn’t remember cards worth a darn. She was without a doubt the poorest bridge player any of them had ever encountered and yet she always wanted to play. Today, she managed to take her seat at five past the hour, apologizing for being tardy as always.

Her table companions smiled graciously as Pauline assumed her position, nodded to the Reverend Henry Porter, folded her hands and bowed her head. The Queen had docked and was holding court. The Reverend cleared his throat and said, “Shall we pray?”

The Colonel muttered under his breath, “If we must.” Agnes noted, however, that he too bowed his head while the blessing was asked. The Reverend Henry Porter had learned to keep his prayers short in the presence of the Colonel or endure the latter’s audible throat clearing when he decided the prayer had run past the acceptable time limit. The blessing concluded with a proper “amen” and everyone, but Pauline, settled down to the matter of eating. The menus didn’t vary much, but something from every food group was represented if cherry Jell-O counted as a fruit and though every dish was only mildly seasoned nothing was inedible.

Pauline chatted along as if she had the ears of her companions which most of the time she did not. In fact, she preferred to talk without interruption and had been observed carrying on a dialogue with herself at times. The Early Birds were eating heartedly, when The Reverend noticed the Colonel had not touched his plate. He set staring straight ahead, a puzzled look on his face. The Reverend, noting the Colonel’s perplexity, turned in his chair to follow the Colonel’s eyes and spotted Otto and his brother Frank unloading the supplies for the chicken coop.

Beyond the building project, The Reverend noticed Mavis Purcell talking to a stately slightly familiar looking gentleman. When he looked back to speak to the Colonel, The Reverend saw he’d turned ashen and struggled to rise from his chair. Ruth was speaking to him.

“Colonel, are you feeling ill?”

“Just a touch of dizziness,” he muttered pushing his untouched plate away from him and using both hands palms down to rise, “If you’ll excuse me, Ladies, Padre, I think I’ll head on back to my apartment.”

“Well, well,” Pauline, whose monologue had been temporarily interrupted, observed, “It isn’t like the Colonel to leave a full plate.”
There was agreement to that fact around the table before Pauline returned to her rattling and the other ladies to eating. The Reverend turned once more to look out the window. Otto had left Frank who was arranging the chicken coop materials. Mavis and the gentleman had disappeared.

Fowl Play–Chapter One

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Fowl Play
Part One: Life Expectancy
Chapter One

A chicken is designed to live thirty years. Most chickens do not live that long because they succumb to a multitude of stresses, disease, and predation. But with a little common sense care and good nutrition, your birds can live a long, happy life. Poultryone.com

“Chickens!?” Mavis Purcell lifted one eyebrow and narrowed her eyes. She crossed her arms beneath her ample bosom rocked back in her chair so that she was gazing slightly upward at the foursome standing across the desk from her.

“Chickens.” The Reverend Henry Porter affirmed as the three who flanked him nodded in agreement.

Mavis tried to choose her words carefully since she had had run ins with this band of marauders on previous occasions. She glanced from one to the next before speaking, keeping her voice level and non-committal.

“You do understand the idea of this experiment is to choose a pet, like a gold fish, or parakeet or a dog, why even a cat, but chickens? Where on earth or let’s get more specific, where in this facility could you keep chickens? A chicken is not a pet and—”

Thelma Louise standing to the left and back of the Reverend Henry Porter was waving both hands and bouncing in place. Mavis smiled, but a smirk threatened to surface. Thelma Louise looked like an octogenarian cheerleader with her plump white curls, her crisp white blouse and navy blue pleated skirt that hung longer in the front than the back. Everything about Thelma Louise bounced.

“AND, Oh for heaven’s sake, what is it, Thelma Louise”? An edge crept into her voice, just a hint of stridence that Mavis struggled to control as she waited for Thelma Louise’s response.

“I had a pet chicken when I was a little girl. Daddy bought her for me at Easter. I called her Sadie. She was soft and yellow”

“And, exactly where did you keep Sadie?” Mavis asked.

“In a box, in the kitchen, near Mama’s stove.”

“And when she got bigger, did she stay in the kitchen?” Mavis cocked her head to one side, her smile gone and her tone bordering on sarcastic. This would be a tale to share with Earl over supper at the Cracker Barrel, should she ever get an evening free for such luxuries. Graduating with honors from the University of Kentucky with a degree in hospital administration failed to prepare her for the nuances of her position at Heritage Village. Chickens! What next?

Thelma Louise furrowed her brow; the bouncing stopped. Mavis watched as a large tear—made even larger due to the magnification of Thelma Louise’s coke bottom lenses—formed in Thelma Louise’s eyes. Her lowered lip trembled, but with an exaggerated intake of air, Thelma Louise found her voice.

“Sadie lived her whole life in the kitchen. I would take her out of her box to play and well, Daddy accidentally stepped on her, left her flat as a pancake.”
“How long did Sadie last?” Mavis inquired, struggling mightily not to laugh.

“Two days.” Thelma Louise admitted, then with renewed purpose and strength of voice asserted, “But the point is Sadie was a chicken and my pet.”

The Reverend Henry Porter put his arm around Thelma Louise’s shoulder patting her arm. His facial expression as he looked at Mavis stopped bordered on the kinder side of reproach. Removing his arm from Thelma Louise’s shoulder and glancing sideways at Agnes and Ruth, he eased forward, leaned over Mavis’s desk and leveled his eyes with hers.

“You said we, the residents, could choose a pet. We, Ruth, Agnes, Thelma Louise, and myself, want a rooster and three hens. We’ll build a little chicken coop. Agnes downloaded the plans from the internet. They eat bugs, you know. They lay eggs for up to 18 years. Why! They’ll likely out live all of us.” The Reverend Henry Porter’s voice crested. Mavis could tell he was getting into full preaching momentum.
Mavis unclasped her arms and rising from her chair pressed her hands flat on her desk leaning forward till her face was inches from the Reverend Henry Porter’s. Their eyes locked, then with a sigh, she smiled and stood back.

“You say they lay eggs for 18 years? Just how long do they live after that?”

“The good Lord designed them for up to 30 years with good food, low stress and protection from predators.” He added weight to the word “predators” narrowing his gaze. Mavis propped her right elbow on her left hand and tapped her teeth with her forefinger. The Reverend with his three accomplices flanking, waited for her decision.

Mavis had spent weeks researching the “Residents with Pets” project; research that included visits to two sister facilities. The in-state establishment’s program was only six months old but the out-of-state program had recently celebrated their residents and pets program’s fourth anniversary. From all Mavis could gather both programs were successful with the residents, the staff and even the administration. Just like the journal articles inferred elderly people stayed healthier, mentally and physically if they had animal companions.

The plan Mavis presented to the Board of Directors took days to prepare, because she knew it would be a hard sell. If she hadn’t presented a detailed workable plan, the pilot project would have died at that meeting. Even with all the preparations, the Board was divided. Some of the Board of Directors stood with her. An equal number strongly opposed the concept. Two of the undecided voted for it so it had passed by a narrow margin, with Mr. Frank Askew, Mr. Milk-Toast himself, declining to vote.

Even so, Chickens had never entered her mind. The policy and procedure did not specify which pets and the exclusions prohibited reptiles and wild animals, but there was no mention of chickens. Mavis cringed realizing suddenly that not only were chickens not excluded, neither was any barnyard beast. The way this day was going the Colonel would be lumbering in her office next demanding a horse. She sighed; the bottom line decided. The guidelines did not exclude chickens.

But, Thirty years! Who would think birds could live that long. The Reverend hit the nail when he said the birds would likely outlive their owners. Then what? They’d be too tough to fry or roast. With her luck, they’d leave them to her in their wills. Exhaling audibly, she bit her bottom lip then spoke.
“Okay, we’ll give it a try, but you have to have the coop built first and it has to look decent and be far away enough so that the odor doesn’t offend.”

The Reverend and his little flock smiled in unison and Thelma Louise commenced what might have been a dance step if she could have lifted her feet. As it was, she resembled one of those bobbing hula dolls. The Reverend reached across the desk grasping Mavis’s hand in his and shaking it like she’d just come forward to be baptized.

“Thank you, Thank you, Sister Mavis. We’ve cleared it with Otto. He’s picking up supplies right now and his brother’s going to build it. Agnes ordered the brooder—”

“Whoa! Hold up! What if I had said no? And a….what brooder? Where will that go?”

Ruth spoke for the first time. “We knew you wouldn’t say no. We’d already prayed those little chicks here.”

Agnes supplied the next answer, “The brooder will go into the boiler room. The chicks will be about three days old when we get them. The hatchery will have already vaccinated them for Marek’s disease. They will be in the brooder for a couple of weeks.”

In spite of herself, Mavis laughed. “Ok, chickens it is. Now you four had better get on down to lunch, before Miss Margaret comes searching for you.”

The four exited with The Reverend Henry Porter holding the door. Agnes with her walker, Ruth in her wheelchair, Thelma Louise shuffling, and the Reverend Henry Porter strutting, the foursome departed in single file. At the door, the Reverend Henry Porter turned and said,

“One more thing.”

“Yes.” Suspicion laced the word like arsenic in a drink.

“We have a name for our business, “The Early Birds Hatchery.” He saluted, pulling the door closed behind him.

“What!? Business!?!” Mavis sputtered then plopped into her chair. The office emptied and the door closed, Mavis closed her eyes and took slow even breaths. The old rooster and his hens had worn her out and it wasn’t even 11 AM.

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