Cheechee was brooding again. Dappled sunlight rippled on her brown feathers as she huddled quietly in a corner of the henhouse shadowed by a bamboo tree. The other hens clucked noisily, in constant aimless motion, pecking busily at the sawdust-strewn floor and at each other…but Cheechee was still.
The wind rattled the bamboo fronds restlessly, wending its way through the chicken coop. Anna sighed, pushing back a few tendrils of hair brushing her face, as the morning breeze brought to her the smells of poultry manure she had grown long accustomed to. Faintly, footsteps approached; Anna paid them no notice, guessing the shuffling half-run belonged to her younger brother. She peered closer at Cheechee as the hen cocked her head to the side and stared back, unblinking. Her unwavering gaze seemed accusing.
Anna sighed again, remembering when the hen had been a fresh rambunctious baby chick. Cheechee had immediately stood apart from the batch of day-old chicks from which she had come. When the perforated box was opened, the sunlight had spurred the chick into clambering over the other quivering chicks. The tiny pink feet had captured Anna’s eyes and heart, and she had expressed a desire to own that particular chick. Having made such a promise earlier, her mother had acceded, picking the delicate creature up gently and laying it in Anna’s cupped palm. Immediately stilled, the little chick had chirped meekly, a soft, fuzzy ball of butter-warm yellow, heart trip-hammering in the girl’s warm palm as her mother gently daubed a corner of one wing blue, so Anna could identify her. Cheerfully christened Cheechee, the little chick had made her owner proud. Playful and energetic, she had provided hours of delight for the little girl, who spent most of her free time staring into the nursery. The chick’s feathers grew full and rich, becoming a lustrous shade of brown, much to Anna’s delight.
Over time, only Cheechee and about twelve other chickens remained for home use, the rest having been sold off; and then the ever-inquisitive Anna noticed a change in the brightly emblazoned names on the feed bags, and so stumbled onto her first real emotional upheaval. Layers mash, her mother had explained patiently, to help the brood hens start to lay eggs. Also, drugs in their water, so the eggs would be sizeable. Anna’s parents were a very enlightened couple and her mother had taken pains to school all her daughters in the basic ideas and processes of sexual relations and childbirth. As a result, the bright eight year old had no problem grasping the unusual nature of this drug-induced, solo reproductive venture. It left her dismayed.
Anna began to regard the brood hens, her beloved Cheechee especially, closely and with pity. Her bright and over-active imagination daubed these creatures heartbroken, love-denied and forced to reproduce without benefit of little babelings to cluck over. Overly dramatic maybe, but the young girl was known for her mental flights of fancy.
Over time, Cheechee had grown morose, prone to long bouts of stillness and responding less to Anna’s comic attempts to imitate chicken noises. This was final proof to the stricken girl. Cheechee’s heart was broken!
Now, as the smells of breakfast wafted to her on the breeze, she watched her hen brood. And breed. Anna knew the hen was laying or about to lay an egg; the low clucking of a hen mid-egg-laying had achieved a mournful and distinctive quality to Anna’s emotionally bruised ears.
Vaguely, she heard her younger brother urging her to come in for breakfast. Recognizing the smell of fried eggs that clung to him like a fragrant guilty miasma, she waved him away, indicating she would follow shortly. As he turned and shuffle-ran away, enthusiastic in his blesssed innocence about matters concerning eggs and how they came to be, Anna pressed her face closer against the chicken wire. Her forehead prickled, and she knew she would have a cross-hatch pattern there when she eventually leaned back, but for now, she relished the faint discomfort.
Cheechee brooded on. Her muffled clucks sounded like hollow choking sobs. Anna decided she wasn’t hungry afterall.