The Chicken Coop History

Prompt: Border

Hen

Sophie’s mother was the one who called Andrew. He was at his grandfather Bernard’s house, helping him put in a new screen door at the back. Bernard’s place was closer to Sophie’s house than Andrew’s, and the bus ride only took fifteen minutes. Andrew fidgeted and looked out the window, wondering if it would rain.

She was sitting at an old picnic table in the back yard, near the chicken coop. The chickens were fussing and scrubbing around in the dirt and yellow grass, possibly sensing a storm ahead. Andrew brought out a worn leather jacket that her mother had handed him. The heavy, grey clouds cast the day in deep shadow, and a chill wind was gusting. He approached Sophie and put the jacket around her shoulders. He felt her shiver.

Sophie was watching the chickens. “They were free range at first,” Sophie said to him as he sat beside her. “They roamed all over the yard, because that’s the way my grandparents raised chickens in the old country, on the farm.” Her mother found it unsanitary, and there were complaints from the neighbours, and from the Chevron station that it bordered, so Sophie’s father and grandfather built a wire enclosure.

The enclosure wasn’t really sufficient to contain them, as it turned out, since Sophie was such a devoted chicken caretaker (it was her daily chore to feed them and sometimes to collect eggs), and spent so much time with them, that a couple of the chickens would flutter out of the coop and follow her to the house. She had to take them back again and again. And chickens were disappearing.

“They said it was foxes, or coyotes, or something,” Sophie said. “But I think I finally clued in to what the source for grandma’s braised chicken stew was.” Andrew listened.

She went on a hunger strike, which everyone seemed to laugh at, but she was a stubborn child, and her grandmother eventually took her side. She said they didn’t need the chicken meat, there was lots of chicken at the Safeway, it was good chicken. But there was nothing like fresh eggs, so Sophie’s chickens got a reprieve.

They put a wire “roof” over the chicken yard, to prevent the chickens following Sophie, and protect them from alleged foxes and coyotes. The whole thing looked ticky-tack, Andrew thought, with different gauges of wire fencing used, sometimes held together with twist ties, and an unpainted, two story coop that leaned sharply to the south. But Sophie gazed on it with great fondness, as if it was a glimmering fish pond surrounded by flowers and waterfalls, instead of a rather chaotic, dusty compound that smelled strongly of barnyard.

“That one there,” said Sophie, pointing to one white chicken who looked exactly like the others, “That one is called Creamy. Not the greatest name, right? My grandma named her, when I begged. She had never named an animal before. She had no idea, and her English was never any good anyway.”

She leaned into Andrew’s shoulder. She became silent, and Andrew put his arm around her. He didn’t look at her face, because he was afraid it would make him cry. He didn’t want to cry just now.

“I’m sorry about your grandmother,” he said. He felt Sophie nod her head, still silent, and he started to cry anyway.

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Survivor

Prompt: Layers

chocolate-cake

Sophie and her family lived on an odd-shaped property behind the Chevron station, two buses away from Andrew’s house but less than a kilometre from Bernard’s grandfather. The plot was long and narrow, ending in a V at the gas station, with the house very close to the road at the other end. It was a vintage, wooden, two storey farm-style house, painted grey.

The inside smelled a bit of cabbage, Andrew thought, and he didn’t like it much. It was decorated mostly with old stuff, like you would find at a junk shop. It was clean though, he supposed. Sophie’s mother and grandmother were always cleaning or cooking. Her father worked two jobs, one at the railyard and three evenings a week as a bingo-caller. Yes, Sophie assured him, they actually did pay for that.

They had chickens in the back yard. Andrew didn’t know anyone else who raised chickens in the city. There was a very tidy coop housing about two dozen birds, and they had most of the garden to roam about in. A wire fence protected the neighbours, including the Chevron station, from wandering chickens.

Sophie collected eggs each morning before school, and had to continue the ritual even during the summer holidays, which she hated. Andrew was sympathetic. When he had no school the next day, he liked to sleep until one or two in the afternoon, when his mother, who swore she would let him sleep his life away if he wanted, relented and nagged him out of bed.

Sophie’s grandmother had a tenuous grasp of English, and Andrew only understood her by the grandness of her gestures. Get out of here and into the kitchen, waving her hands, when she’d cut two slabs of chocolate cake for him and Sophie. Nodding and petting Sophie when they sat at the dining room table doing homework or researching something on their laptops.

“Grandma thinks I’m smart,” Sophie said. “She wants me to be a doctor or president of something.”

“You would make a fierce president of something,” Andrew said. “Is your grandfather, um…”

“He’s dead,” Sophie said. “He was a holocaust survivor. He had a tattoo.”

“A holocaust survivor, huh,” said Andrew.

“He was just a boy when the camp was liberated,” Sophie said.

“Was he, like…”

“Jewish?”

“No, um, tortured and all that?”

“He didn’t talk about it much,” Sophie said. “I remember he had a temper sometimes, mostly if I didn’t eat all my dinner, or threw scraps away down the sink. He would go nuts. Mom says because they starved at the camp. She told me to do what he said, to save everything, to put leftovers in containers, whatever calmed him. I could toss them later.”

“Wow,” said Andrew.

“I was afraid of him for a lot of years, until my mother explained things,” said Sophie. “Can you finish that cake, or should I take it away?”

“What do you think?” Andrew said. He picked up his fork. The chocolate cake was bitter, but he ate it, every crumb.