I hear her.
On the porch. She’s opened the canister with the cat food. There’s the crunch of the scoop. Yes, and the sound of falling kibble. And there they go, those damn cats. Leaping through the hole made in the window screen, then dropping onto the floor with a velvet PLOP PLOP.
And then I hear her voice. Her high, sweet voice cooing at them.
She’s up. I can ready myself.
The sky behind the little house is orange and pink. There’s a breeze and it feels good on my skin. I do love mornings.
The peace is broken by a terrible commotion. It’s Sonny. He’s heard her, too. Although not until the door closed with a slam behind her as she went back into the house. He’s not very attentive, that one. He’s slow and loud. Who put him in charge? I think to myself.
I’m waiting now for another glimpse of her. It’s like waiting for a jack-in-the-box to spring. Except I never know where she’ll pop out. Over there by the porch? Around the corner where the big tree stands?
It’s titillating. And maddening. Because sometimes she doesn’t pop out at all.
I’ll wait and wait, sometimes through thirst, but mostly through cravings for the treats she brings. Something rich and filling and flavorful. So when she doesn’t pop out – when I hear the crackling and popping of gravel under the tires of her car instead – I want to join Sonny and raise some hell out of frustration.
But today is a good day. Today she pops out. My body is electric with excitement. I pace and chatter with the others. Busily arranging ourselves to receive her at the door. Straightening up and pushing and shoving for a good position in the group. It’s important to be close. It’s important to look her in the eye. It’s important to stay out of her way, yes…but it’s more important to be close. It’s an art, this greeting. And there are so many of us vying for her attention that it’s stressful.
Each of us wants a chance. A chance at feeling that feeling you get when you’re fed. The feeling of satisfaction and contentment. The feeling of being loved and protected. It’s a joyful feeling.
I can see in the distance that she’s carrying something in her hands. I can hardly control myself. The others see it too. Suddenly we are all frantic with anticipation. It’s strangely upsetting, because I know these are sinful feelings of greed bordering on desperation. “Surely there’ll be enough for all of us. Surely she loves us all the same.”
But I know she doesn’t.
I know that as kind as she is, and as hard as she tries to give us all what we need, I can tell by the look in her eyes that I am special.
When she sees me in the crowd, her eyes soften and she says my name.
“Grace.” she sighs.
The name itself proves I’m special. She gave that name to me. She said it was because of my slender, willowy build and my pale softness.
She’s here now. She’s in. It’s as though she never left and she’ll never leave again. Our time together is the best time of the day. The time in between is eternal. But this time she’ll stay. I just know it.
We have gifts for her. We leave them here or there and we keep them warm for her as best we can. It’s an honor to have that job. It requires patience and dedication. But the reward is that special moment when she’s particularly pleased with all of us. She’ll stroke us and tell us “Thank you!” in that high, sweet voice. Sometimes we’ll hide one or two as a surprise. She seems to enjoy that so we’ll manage it every week or so.
Now it’s my turn. The crouch. The warm hands reaching out low and slow. The invitation.
I take a step to this side, then that. I show her my colors and I stretch my long body for her. She laughs and reaches further and I melt into her hands.
She holds me close. She rocks me and walks. I’m weightless and warm. Safe from the ground and from the others.
And for that one moment, I’m not just any chicken.
I am special.