Call to me, and I will answer you,
and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.
I stared hard at those words framed in the veterinarian’s office. Try as I could, there was no comfort to be drawn from them. I didn’t want to pray. I knew what was going to happen. No amount of last minute pleading was going to change a thing. Not a thing.
Rewind two hours. I was in the kitchen making tomorrow’s lunch and listening to my daughter sing in the shower. The sun was just barely hanging over the trees, within minutes it would be getting dark. I peeked out the window to see if the chickens had gone inside for the night. I caught the tail end of a fluffy black behind disappearing into the coop. I put the peanut butter back into the fridge and grabbed my coat.
As I walked out to the coop, my brain was already an hour ahead of me reviewing everything that still needed to get done – homework, dinner, multiplication facts, a call to a friend to schedule a lunch date. I closed the door to the pen and went to count the chickens as I always do before shutting the door for the night. And there she was, resting underneath the roost.
Chickens are creatures of habit. They lay an egg at practically the same time every day and head back to the coop at the same time every night where they take their rightful place on the roost before the sun goes down. They most certainly do not change that pattern unless there is something very, very wrong.
I leaned toward the roost and attempted to coax Reba out. She wouldn’t budge. I sighed and crawled under the roost among the mess to get a hold of her and help her out. Within a split second, fear replaced my annoyance. Laying next to Reba was her egg. And portions of herself that should have been inside her had been laid as well. As a cruel sort of punishment, she had survived, and was hunkering down to hide herself. I felt a lump form in my throat as I fought back the urge scream. I needed to get Reba to the house, but I couldn’t get her there on my own.
As I ran back to the house, the howl I’d been holding back escaped, and I could barely see the ditches in the ground through my tears. An urgent call to Cory confirmed what I already knew, he was still at work. The distance would make it an hour before he could be there to help. A second call to Anne, the one I can always count on to know what to do, also placed her at an hour away. I reluctantly looked up the stairs to where I knew Lexie had just finished her shower. It would have to be done. There was no one else. She would have to help me save our pet.
Together we carefully carried Reba back to the house and placed her in the mud room. The sun had set and Reba’s biological clock was telling her it was time to sleep – her one gift of mercy. Lexie stood in the mud room with Reba, gently stroking her back and singing to her, while I frantically searched the internet for something, anything, just one bit of information that could give us hope. I came up empty-handed every time.
An hour passed and Cory arrived home. A vet in our area agreed to see her. We wrapped Reba in a cozy blanket given to us many Christmas’ ago and carried her out to the truck. The route we drove to the vet is one I take regularly, but nothing about the roads seemed familiar that night. They were too dark, and too cold – no longer the peaceful country roads they are in the daytime. When we arrived, they were ready for us. We were ushered past two dogs that looked more like sheep than canines and placed into our room. Through tears that had not once stopped in over two hours, I filled out paperwork – papers that could never tell anyone who Reba was.
I didn’t get to tell them about her curiosity – how she’d stand on the stairs at the back door and peer in at us, often hitting her beak on the glass when she forgot the door was there. They didn’t know that she was our first chicken to lay an egg, or that she preferred to lay her eggs backwards, facing the wall instead of the open coop. No one at the vet’s office has ever heard how comforting Reba’s noises are, or how politely chatty she is when you speak to her. She was the peacemaker in our coop’s pecking order. She was the Bonnie of chickens. Only my family and closest friends will understand that reference, but it is the highest of compliments.
After the paperwork was all filled out, we sat and waited for an uncomfortably long time, Reba swaddled and resting in Cory’s arms. I was struck by the irony that the only other time I’ve ever lost a pet, Cory was the one holding her then, too. With nothing else to do, I stared at the verse on the wall until I began to hate it. The doctor came in, told us what we already knew, and we said our goodbyes. And then we waited, again, until they returned with our sweet girl inside her cardboard coffin.
The ride home felt empty. The air in the truck smelled different, thicker, and I wanted desperately to open the windows despite the chilly night. It was dark when we got home, but Reba deserved a proper burial, and so she got one, right underneath the windmill we put up next to the coop this past summer.
The others know something is wrong. They don’t trust me. And when they go to bed at night, Truvy sleeps alone. Reba was the only one that would put up with her prickly personality. Order will eventually be restored in the coop, but there will always be someone missing. I don’t know if chickens can feel the loss of a friend the way humans and other animals can, but when I go out to the coop every night and count one, two, three, four, five, and not six, I do.
Reba (March 7, 2011 – November 15, 2012)