Strutting in the alleyway behind our house this morning, a lone auburn chicken bobs her head, pacing in front of the eight-foot fence meant to keep her safely inside.
“Hey, a neighbor’s chicken got out,” I call to my husband. “I’m going to walk around the block to let them know.” We live in a municipality which allows the tending of small, hen-only laying flocks.
On my way around the block, I notice the chicken has moved closer to the north end of the alley and toward a busier street. Two people, a man and woman, are preparing to paint a house at the alley’s edge.
“Could you watch the auburn chicken there, so it doesn’t get into the road? I’m going to tell her people she is out.”
A 40-ish woman, with half brown and half Katy-Perry, blue hair answers, “Yeah, I’ll watch her.”
“What the f*#%, I don’t have time to watch no chicken. I’m being paid to paint,” the man spits.
Running around the block, I make my way through a shorter, jury-rigged gate to the front door of the house with the chickens. Rapping loudly on the front door’s wooden frame, I hear a woman’s voice respond to a raucously barking dog, who is only answering my knocking with a very deep voice.
“Shut the f*&% up!” the woman’s voice shouts at the barking dog and, then, she groans, “Oh, my, God,”–in a long, drawn out way. (It is Saturday morning at about 9:15 AM. And, I might add that we are sometimes an adjectivally challenged neighborhood.)
I knock again on the door frame, and this time I holler loudly, “One of your chickens is out. I came to let you know.”
Some more words are hurled at the dog. I repeat my refrain more loudly, “One of your chickens is out. I came to let you know.”
Then, finally, a tiny slip of a woman who is pregnant appears at the door. Standing in front of me, combing through her blonde mane with one hand, she yawns and rubs sleep from her eyes with her free hand.
Third refrain, less loudly: “One of your chickens is out. I came to let you know.” To this I add a one-line verse, “I don’t know how to catch them.”
“Okay, well, I have a mess of kids sleeping,” comes her reply.
“If I can catch the chicken, do you want me to put it back in the yard?” I ask.
Yawning again, she reconsiders, “Yeah, I’ll come out. They usually just squat when you approach them.”
Rounding the block again, the woman with the Katy-Perry inspired hair reports, “I have been clucking to her. She has been responding to me. See? She is foraging now in that unmowed area over there.” The, turning to the male painter, she asks in a hopeful voice, “Hey, Rick, you were raised on a farm. Can you help us catch a chicken?”
“I already told you. F*&# no! I ain’t spendin’ no time on a f*%$in’ chicken. I’m here to paint. This is an eight-hundred-dollar job!”
“Help me walk her back down the alley,” I request. “The woman I met is tiny, and she is pregnant. We’ll see if we can get the chicken back over the fence for her.”
Cluck. Stroll. Slowly. Tongue clicks. Cluck. Walk. Stroll. Cluck.
Then, the tiny chicken-owner comes out of a hidden, back gate from within the eight-foot high fence. Walking briskly up to the chicken, whose wings flutter and then fold, the tiny woman swoops down to scoop the bird up, carrying the chicken through the back gate. The painter with blue hair returns to her duties.
“Can you help me?” the tiny woman turns to ask me, poking her head back out the tall hidden gate. “The door has to be lifted up to close.”
Stepping through the tall gate, the yard is thick with unmowed grass. ‘Auburn’ the chicken has at least six other could-be-twin sisters moving around the yard, clucking and scratching.
“My husband hasn’t mowed in awhile,” the woman explains. She hands me a stick to help lift the gate over the tall grass and onto a cement block buried beneath the gate’s resting point.
“Maybe the stick won’t do it. It is too thick. Do you have something else?” I request. Even I am having difficulty as the gate is very heavy. As she walks to fetch a gravel shovel, I manage to lift the gate into place.
We walk together across the long yard, so she can let me out the front gate. Turning to her, I introduce myself, “My name is Julian, by the way. I live immediately behind you.”
“I’m Angel. Nice to meet you.” With that, the front gate closes behind me, and I start the walk home.