At the urging of my increasingly eco-minded wife, we’d recently added the title of “suburban homesteaders” to our already diverse list of self-identifying labels that were slowly rendering each of us unrelatable and unfriendable to the rest of humanity. At this point, other than a meager handful of previously cemented relationships, cats are our best candidates for any semblance of deep and lasting emotional bonds. Unfortunately, we’ve already maxed-out our municipality’s permitted quota of three house cats, and as such, our prospects for additional love are low.
Following the premature demise of two of our three chickens, we’d recently added two new pullets to the flock. Like most good decisions, it was made in haste and grief, and while intended to be in the best interest of our lone hen, she was adamant that she’d rather live alone than accept any newcomers. Emotionally distressed and morally confused, we soon found ourselves looking onward as the young birds were physically assaulted by the well-endowed beak of their new master.
Chickens have enviable circadian rhythms, and as such will sleep when the sun goes down and awaken at the mere hint of light. Additionally, our formerly lone hen had caught wind of the social progress of the transgender community, and to show her support, had decided to play the role of rooster each morning and proudly notify neighbors that the day had begun. Attempts at reasoning with her that local bylaws forbid roosters fell on deaf ears, as she merely tilted her head and gazed through us, whilst perching atop expensive patio furniture and defecating. Luckily for her, she was now our only source of eggs, and as such, we compromised; if we opened the coop at sunrise, she would refrain from her morning proclamations.
It was a harsh reality possessing sleep schedules which were out of sync with the chickens; as former night owls, we were virgins to waking at dawn. To say the least, aspiring to be ethical poultry keepers in addition to courteous neighbors was proving to be difficult.
In due time, my wife and I decided to take turns waking early to release our chicken overlords from their coop, before the opportunity presented itself for any fatal peckings to occur. Preventing genocide was the least we could do, but the lack of sleep was reminiscent of the foggy three-months after our son was first born, in which every nook and cranny beckoned to be napped in. Needless to say, the lack of sleep was taking a toll on both of us. In addition to becoming zombie-like, parenthood also renders privacy rarer than an egg with two yolks, so when my wife and son departed for a weekend to visit her parents’, I welcomed the rare reprieve. This, however, also meant that I was the sole sleep-deprived suburban farmer on duty.
On that first morning of my beloved weekend of solitude, I groggily stumbled out into the backyard five minutes prior to sunrise in order to tend to the chickens. The cool summer air did little to startle me into a more wakened state. I could hear birds chirping and the soft thud of mulberries falling onto our compost bin from a neighbor’s tree over the fence. It was the only tree on that side of the yard, and, with its luscious crimson berries, was beautiful this time of year.
I stepped off of our brick patio, nearly trouncing a disturbingly large centipede, and meandered over to the coop where I was met with coos from impatient hens eager to begin their important daily tasks of free-ranging, eating bugs, and shitting all over our once pristine yard. The minutes I spent drowsily performing the required morning maintenance were executed in a minimally-conscious haze.
After dumping wood shavings and chicken feces into the compost bin, I headed back inside to sleep some more. In my typical obsessive manner, upon re-entry, I peered out the window leading to the backyard to ensure that I had in fact opened the coop and that the last few drowsy minutes had indeed been reality, rather than an elaborately concocted subconscious reverie. I then drew my attention to the backdoor to lessen my anticipated future anxiety that I might have left it ajar.
Satisfied with the fact that I was indeed awake, the chickens were safe, and the house was secure, I walked the length of the living room, used the last of my remaining strength to ascend the stairs, and collapsed onto the bed in our pleasingly dark chamber. My heavy head hit the soft pillow and I instinctively rolled onto my side to face where my wife would have typically slept. Soon, my eyelids lowered under the weight of years of exhaustion.
Eventually, I awoke in a natural manner reminiscent of times pre-responsibility. Feeling refreshed; my earlier sunrise chores a dreamy blur; I proceeded to the bathroom where I saw that the clock on the wall read 9:30 a.m. After relieving myself, I looked in the mirror and ran my long fingers through what was left of my hair. What was once thick and full of life was now thinning and limp. The rest of my body received the limp memo and was also beginning to make up for the loss of thickness above. I walked downstairs to the kitchen, poured milk and cereal into a bowl, and turned on the news. Neither the relentless march of time, nor all the sensationalized doom in the world could take away the contentment that I felt inside. I happily looked forward to consuming my first meal in peace and quiet in a very long time.
Before I had the chance to savor a bite of chocolate milk and crunchy granola, I became acutely aware of a presence behind me. I turned to look, thinking that a cat had taken-up residence on top of the couch by my head. My eyes were met with nothing. I turned back to the television. My gaze drifted to the side of the TV where a window led to the backyard. Our dictatorial hen was perched on the window box and was staring in at me, her fiery red eyes moving forward and then eerily to the side. The presence behind me amplified as I became acutely aware that a small and unwelcome visitor was housed behind my right ear. Fearing a hundred creepy crawly limbs attached to a plump torso ready to violate my ear canal, my hand quickly shot up in self-defense. I felt something peculiar and unexpected. In the fraction of a second before I was able to gather any information as to what it was, my mind was filled with a terror of the most neurotic sort. Somewhere deep within the recesses of my brain, neural networks were quite adamant that tissue was somehow painlessly leaking from an as-yet undiscovered orifice behind my ear. Initial inspections of the foreign material did little to assuage the neurotic fears, for it was gelatinous and red.
I tossed the substance, with full cereal bowl in tow, onto the coffee table in front of me, while simultaneously box-jumping onto the couch like a coked-up Captain Crunch trying CrossFit for the first time. A rush of discomfort flooded my aforementioned limp core, as I perched frozen and profoundly confused. My heavy breathing muffled the weather report in the background. In due time, my tense muscles gradually melted back down into the weathered couch. I cautiously checked behind my ear and found no evidence of any additional assailants. Then, I gazed fearfully towards the red blob that lay on the coffee table before me. I took my spoon from its nearby landing place and poked the mysterious clump of matter. When I was satisfied that it was inanimate, I reached with a stiff pincer grasp and brought the item slowly up to my face. As I identified the unwelcomed guest as a mulberry, I heard the sudden flap of wings as our eldest chicken dramatically descended to the ground outside.
I cursed the magician living next door for teaching her such trivialities and wished she could have at least spared a quarter.
About Scott G. Harvey
SCOTT G. HARVEY teaches psychology at SUNY Buffalo State and resides in the Niagara Region of Ontario with an ever-changing mixture of humans, cats, dogs, and chickens. His novella Savagely Noble will be released on October 6th in print and digital formats.