That lady ate your mother.
I closed my eyes.
Missus Jenkins has no tact.
I made the mistake of telling her about the last day me and Babs saw Momma. Which honestly, I try not to think about. It still hurts remembering that itchy-nosed lady and all her questions about gluten and additives.
“You don’t give them hormones, do you?”
She coughed in her elbow.
When the farmer said no, she reached down and grabbed Momma.
Just like that.
Why? Was she fat?
Me and Babs looked at each other.
Forcing Momma’s soft, warm, feathery body on our memory was more than we wanted to think about.
Let’s talk about something else, suggested Babs, who always says the right thing.
So they did.
They discussed yesterday’s maggots on last week’s banana peels and the overweight chihuahua next door.
–until it was time for sleep.
But I couldn’t sleep.
Not with Momma all warm on my mind.
Don’t be sad, Babs whispered, feeling me always.
We moved to a feed store after they took Momma.
And it was awful.
There’s no easy transition from domestic freedom to cages and fluorescent lights.
Rabbits, kittens, pigs, turtles, parakeets, ferrets, chickens, mice . . .
The place was brimming with orphans, crying for love and sunshine.
Me and Babs spent weeks in that cage, tripling in size while animals came and went.
Our insides were prime for laying, increasing our chances for adoption. So every day was roulette.
I remember feeling really low that morning — resigning myself to a crock pot when I saw him by the soy-free layer food. Discussing eggs with Jennifer. Light bouncing off his head and paint all over his jeans.
Feed Store Man led them over and Jennifer stuck her pale face right up to the grate.
Don’t look at her! I warned, scooting to the back of the dirty cage we shared with an aging rooster and bossy Araucana whose name escapes me now. Momma was long gone but I remember what she said.
Never make eye contact with a human unless you wanna be picked for something.
But Babs had a bright red comb, and everyone knows red catches human eyeballs the fastest.
“That one looks good,” Jennifer said, pointing to my sister.
Oh please God, no.
The man opened the latch, reached in and grabbed Babs who burst into flappy squawks. Really she was screaming my name.
He handed her to Jennifer.
The door slammed and I rushed to the front.
Please don’t take my sister, I pleaded with my eyeballs, sticking my beak through the grate.
Babs looked at me, her pumpkin eyes woeful.
I sank to the floor.
Then Jennifer paused.
“Let’s get two,” she said, suddenly.
I stood back up.
Curcurcurcur, I managed, wishing my comb was bigger. Brighter.
Christopher peered inside.
So I locked eyes with him.
I had to stand sideways to do it but I locked eyes with him hard, sending all my feelings.
Please pick me.
I puffed out my wings a little bit.
My tiny heart pounded.
“And that one.”
Feed Store Man opened the latch and grabbed the Araucana, who — of course — would give them pretty blue eggs instead of brown.
I knew it.
Humans and their ridiculous emphasis on color.
I sank back down again.
“Not that one. The other one.”
He pointed to me.
I tried to stand up.
your top half
And maybe you might fall over?
Feed store Man scooped me up and handed me to Christopher.
Babs was so relieved she pooped right there, a creamy white dollop landing beside Jennifer’s unpainted toe.
And then what happened? Jenkins asked.
Then we came here, I said. And scoot over. We have this whole roost and poor Wanda’s squished against the wall.
I wonder what we taste like, Jenkins said, scooting over.
G’night, Jenkins. I closed my eyes, snuggling into my sister. G’night, Wanda, I added. But she was already asleep.
That night I dreamt we were babies again.
Colored like buttered popcorn.
Scrambling over wood chips seeing who could cheep the loudest.
With Momma, watching from the corner.
I miss you, Momma.