When I went outside yesterday morning, they were all dead, except for one. She was alone on the deck, walking in small circles, soundless.
I had seen it from the bathroom window: feathers spread so densely over the lawn that, at first glance, I thought it had snowed. I ran down the stairs and out through the laundry room, the screen door slamming loudly against the quiet of the morning. There were two bodies lying blankly in the grass, still with such an absolute lifelessness, their strange scaled legs stiff and nearly comical.
I lifted the bodies by their feet and into a paper bag and hid them behind the wall of azaleas, to return to bury them later, after we had a chance to tell the children. I worried they would notice the feathers, but they ate breakfast quickly and went to school without concern for our lost creatures.
It was entirely my fault. I had become so accustomed to their being alright. The parts and pieces of their day so reliable and expected. The constant meandering and pillaging of our yard. Their clucks and calls, their quick squats and dust baths. The funny way we would come home from school to find them traveling in a line toward a neighbor’s house or gathered at our front door, waiting, as if they wished to come in for a visit. It was Potter-esque in its wonderful silliness. And of course their purposeful walk back to the coop, each and every day at sundown.
I had not seen it coming.
And so whatever it was that came, found the doors to the coop wide open, their plump slumbering bodies defenseless. It pulled them down and broke their necks, buried two of them- one in our yard and one in a yard three doors and one street over, and left another two limp and dead on the ground. Only one was completely gone. Either eaten or taken back to some underground den. And then the lone survivor, who now paces the coop in silent bewilderment.
This was our Friday. Thursday was quite different. The children had come inside screaming with excitement that evening: “Come look!! Come look!!” they shouted for me. “There are a hundred eggs!”.
I followed them to the side of the house where they pulled back the long flat leaves of the iron plants to reveal the most perfect pile of white and speckled brown eggs. There were exactly twenty-four of them, and not a single crack or blemish on them. Such a joy it was to discover them, to marvel at how long they had been sneaking off to add to this shaded covey. We were giddy with pleasure as we placed them gingerly into the egg basket, counting and giggling, the hens wandering through and around us.
You might think that, over time, eggs lose their preciousness, and perhaps they do, but having only been receiving them for three months, we still collect them as if they are gifts, and thus couldn’t stand to waste a single one. So we boiled them all and figured we would find out one by one if any of them were good to eat.
Having these events happen, one right after the other, has given me great pause. It seems it shouldn't be possible to go to bed so delighted and then wake to such devastation.
We buried the chickens this morning inside a circle of pink camellias. Four graves, each about two feet deep. We stood around the unsettled earth and said a few words. We thanked them for their eggs, the pleasure of their company, and surely mentioned the circle of life. It goes without saying that you do not mourn poultry the way you would other pets. While shaken by the brutality of the incident, we are able to get on with our day, and go about looking for a few mature pullets to rebuild our brood.
But I do find myself a little lost in the fact of my irresponsibility with their lives. How the simple act of shutting and locking the doors to the coop would certainly have prevented this from happening. And while the chickens and the coop and the predator and the feathers and our makeshift Saturday service are at the front of my mind, at the back are brooding memories of other things I have lost along the way, other times I forgot to lock up. My relationships, my desires, love and life, so vulnerable to oversight.
It is unnervingly easy to forget to take care of things. And if and when I am tending to one, I’m losing ground with the other. Two steps forward, one step back in all directions and the best I can do is set reminders on my phone and try and remember to keep it charged.
I must remember to tell my husband that I love him. I must remember that this time with my children will not last forever, that I need to look up, that I need to listen. I must remember to spend time with my friends and family. I must remember how much I like to write things down, and to do that more occasionally. I must remember to forgive, to be honest and to be kind.
I must remember that the hours of the day are gifts, a precious collection of eggs hidden behind the long flat leaves of an iron plant, and I should rather spend my time taking care of things than burying them.
Rest in Peace Flowerbud, Precious, Charlotte, Tiger and our dear Crooked Neck.