Home to Roost
Four minutes before the alarm, and Trina was already awake, eyes open. Even in the dim light of pre-dawn she could trace the intricate lines of the cracked plaster on the ceiling. Some mornings, the lines coalesced into starbursts; other days, they reminded her of a detailed pirate’s map, the marked footsteps meandering here and there.
She threw back the covers and remembered—as she had every morning for the last three months. Any pirate treasure would stay buried for now. Amber, the 9-year-old lump in the bed, face buried in her pillow, was the daily reminder that the contours of her world had changed.
Pulling on leggings and an old T-shirt, Trina tiptoed out of the bedroom, down the stairs and out into the steamy July morning. Her niece could stay asleep. Trina hadn’t wanted to be a parent or a fill-in parent, but late on a chilly spring afternoon, sun glare masked the tractor trailer on the bend and her sister, Leigh, pulled out from a side road when she should have waited. For the first month afterward, Amber spoke gibberish, panicking Trina and puzzling the school counselor. And just as suddenly, the girl slipped back into normal speech, announcing at dinner one night, “Can we raise chickens?”
What could Trina say but yes? She knew Leigh would have expected no less of her.
So Trina was now also a farmer of sorts, with five hens in her rural back yard. She opened the coop door and emptied pellets into the feeder. Clucking softly, the Rhode Island reds clustered around her, already pecking at the food. Hallie, Hannah, Harriet, Hazel and Heidi—Amber had named the chicks the day they’d brought them home.
“How can I tell them apart?” Trina had protested.
“You will,” Amber said. “When they grow up.” She had chewed on a strand of hair, pondering. “I think.”
And so they had a pact, she and Amber. Trina would feed and water the flock and tend to the coop, and her niece would check for eggs, waiting for the first one to be laid.
There was no rooster—maybe later, they agreed.
After the round of pellets, Trina emptied and refilled the coop’s water receptacle. She checked that the mesh over the outdoor pen was secure, protection against the neighborhood red tail hawk.
“Any eggs yet?” Amber called from the back porch steps. She was still in her pajamas.
Trina shrugged. “I didn’t check.”
“I’ll do it,” her niece said, sprinting barefoot until she stood next to Trina. “Maybe today’s the day.” She was grinning with excitement.
Amber disappeared into the coop’s interior and was gone several long minutes. When she finally re-emerged, Trina was startled to see her eyes brimming with tears.
“What is it?” Trina said.
Amber held up both hands to her, palms out. There was not one egg, but two.
“At last!” Trina smiled in relief. Who needed buried treasure? “They are the first of many, I’ll bet.”
Amber, still somber, said softly, “The hens wanted to send a message from Mommy and Daddy, so they made two first eggs instead of just one.”
Trina gently hugged her niece. “I miss them, too.”
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