“Hi honey!” my wife cheered on the phone. “Remember last month when I said I wanted chickens?”
My brain’s spam filter probably flagged it as irrelevant. This conversation was headed that way.
“Well,” Allie continued happily. “I got them today! Five!”
“I thought you were vegetarian.”
“I bought five little chicks — each one is a different species! They’re so cute!”
I smiled to myself. I wasn’t in trouble for forgetting something important, and from her tone I had a good chance of parlaying her enthusiasm into sex tonight. If it just took a pet bird, I’d buy her an emu and have an epic weekend.
“And,” Allie continued, “they’re supposed to be great with children.”
“These chickens are going to babysit our daughters?”
Allie laughed again, and not in an insane way.
“These species are social,” Allie explained.
“They’re on Facebook?”
“No! They like to be held and don’t peck.”
“What lunatic would want to hold a chicken?”
Allie stopped laughing. Her long silence didn’t bode well for tonight’s plans.
“Marshall, we discussed this. I liked holding chickens as a child. My parents had them. Remember?”
Allie’s parents had raised chickens. Allie became a vegetarian at age eleven when she witnessed her folks slaughtering the ones who no longer produced eggs. Her guts-covered dad asked at the time: where exactly did you think chicken sandwiches came from? He told me once he thought his daughter carrying around chickens was a perverse form of playing with her food.
“Yeah, Allie, I remember … What about our puppy? She’s half lab and half poodle. Those are both hunting dogs. And she chases birds in the backyard all day.”
“I blocked off a corner of the yard with a three-foot-high fence. That will keep the puppy out.”
“Aren’t there birds of prey outside, like hawks or owls?”
“I’ll build a coop this weekend,” Allie said. “In the meantime, the chicks can sleep inside.”
“Inside our house?”
“It’s the only safe place.”
“Except it has a dog who is bred to kill birds.”
“We’ll put the chicks in the garage.”
“Don’t they shit all over the place? If the puppy isn’t housebroken by now, I’m pretty sure birds are a lost cause.”
“I’ll put the chicks in the dog crate.”
“Where we normally put the dog at night … to keep her from shitting all over the house.”
“Marshall, it’s only until the weekend. Why do you have to be so negative?”
“Because I take a very dim view of shit in our house. I can’t be alone on this. Name anybody we know who has a big turd in their kitchen and is okay with that.”
In one aggravated sound, Allie expressed you’re right, I’m pissed, I’m still doing what I want, and sex is off tonight’s menu. I should have settled with shit in the house.
“Sounds like you’ve thought everything out,” I said.
“Thank you for your confidence,” Allie replied, in a very unthankful tone. “We’ll talk tonight.”
Twenty minutes later she called in tears.
“I … I’m so sorry … It’s … oh, Marshall!”
“Just take a few breaths and slow down,” I said. “Is anybody hurt?”
“HURT? SHE’S DEAD!”
“Who?” I gasped.
“The brahma is dead! And it’s all my fault!”
“You killed the Hindu god of creation?”
Allie wailed. I wanted to add that Shiva and Vishnu would be pretty upset, but the husband survival part of my brain kicked in. I remained silent.
“The … the dog … she … got one … the chicks … the brahma … killed her … saw it … too late.…”
You brought flightless birds home to a dog who really wants to kill birds, and the dog killed one, and now you’re surprised, I thought. I phrased it differently.
“Oh Allie, I’m so sorry! That’s terrible! What can I do to help?”
My poor wife wailed for a full minute, so I texted my client about our lunch meeting:
Sorry Robert, I need to cancel today. Unexpected and violent death in the family. My wife was there, saw it all, and is very shook up. I need to run home to comfort her, and probably do some serious cleaning. Are you free tomorrow?
“How about this?” I suggested to my wife. “I come home now and I build a chicken coop.”
“But you have to work,” Allie sniffed. “You can’t.”
“I can and I will. I’m driving back now; I should be there in an hour.”
First I stopped by a drive-thru and ordered chicken nuggets.
I walked inside to find Allie and two grim-faced daughters.
“You missed the funerals, Dad,” my seven-year-old Ricki said. “Both of them.”
“Did another bird die?”
“No …” Allie sobbed. “Just the brahma.”
“We buried her in the backyard,” Ricki said softly.
“I said a prayer!” my five-year-old Josie announced. “I told God to be nice to this bird because she had a very sad life. She just hatched and got to our house and then the dog ripped her apart.”
My wife cried louder.
“That sounds very thoughtful, Josie. So … why were there two funerals?”
“After the first funeral,” Ricki explained, “the dog dug her up and brought the body in the house.”
“Oh … I guess the puppy thought she was bringing you a gift.”
“No, she wanted to play keep-away. We chased her around the house for a long time.”
“There was chicken blood everywhere!” Josie added. “And little feathers! I saved a few. I’ll show them at school. Nobody’s going to believe this.”
“Then we buried the brahma a lot deeper,” Allie whispered. “And locked the dog in the bedroom.”
“I’m sorry, honey.” I hugged my red-eyed wife. “Let me change into some jeans and boots, and then I’ll go to the hardware store to get some chicken coop supplies. Okay?”
I walked into the bedroom and was greeted by a yapping puppy. And the smell of dog shit. Which I had just stepped in. I changed my clothes and hurried back downstairs.
Allie looked at me with teary eyes.
“Marshall … I was supposed to care for that little girl. And I didn’t … And now she’s gone.…”
I think she meant the dead chicken, but I didn’t ask. I also didn’t bring up the fresh dog poop smear in our bedroom. I suspected this was Listening Time.
“She died after just a few hours in my care … and she was supposed to live for eight or ten years.…”
Eight to ten years? I pictured my future teenage daughters holding these same damn chickens. Maybe they’d even take one to the prom. Or maybe I’d let the puppy go for round two.
“I … I just can’t do this,” Allie sobbed. “I can’t feel this way again.…”
“Are you saying you want to return the survivors?” I asked hopefully. “Can we get a refund?”
Allie looked at me icily. I totally forgot it was Listening Time.
“Or,” I pivoted, “I could run out now and build you the Fort Knox of chicken coops. Something that a convict with power tools couldn’t escape from.”
Allie nodded and held my hand.
“I’ll run to Home Depot and be back in an hour. Can you watch the girls?”
“Daddy,” Ricki said sadly. “The dog grabbed the chick and started shaking really hard back and forth — ”
“I know. You’re making Mom cry.”
“ — and the bird’s head bent sideways — ”
“That’s enough, dear.”
“ — and almost all the little feathers flew off — ”
“Ricki, stop talking!”
Allie sobbed with her head in her hands.
“There was blood,” Josie added. “A lot of blood.”
“Okay,” I announced. “I’m taking the crime scene investigators with me. I’ll be back in an hour.”
A few minutes later we stood in Home Depot. I am not building- or wood-inclined. My tool inventory totals a hammer, two screwdrivers, and some dusty hand-me-downs I can’t identify.
“Daddy, why are you playing with your phone?” Ricki asked.
“I’m reading about how to build a chicken coop.”
“Isn’t it four boards and some wire and a roof?”
“Yes,” my five-year-old added. “I’ve seen one before. It’s easy.”
“So why are you looking at your phone, Dad?”
I put my phone away and checked to make sure no adults overheard this dad-shaming. A clerk smirked. An hour later I loaded the lumber, the wire, and my girls into the minivan.
“This should be easy,” I said to myself.
“Dad,” Ricki laughed. “I told you: it’s just some boards and a wire and a roof.”
“And a door,” my five-year-old added.
Twenty minutes after that, I loaded more lumber, some hinges, and my girls into the minivan. On my way out, the smirking clerk wished me good luck. I don’t think he meant it.
I finished building the 5-x-10 foot coop around 11 p.m. It has redwood 4x4s, so it won’t rot and can withstand a Category 4 hurricane. Thick prison-grade wire mesh covers the walls, ceiling and floor. Dogs, raccoons, foxes, mountain lions and axe murderers can’t slash or tunnel into it. I made it high enough for me to stand in, so the birds wouldn’t feel cooped in their coop. I don’t want depressed birds. I even topped it off with a shingled roof, to keep those birds dry and shaded. Or really just to keep my wife sane and happy.
“It’s wonderful,” Allie said the next morning. “Thank you.”
“Except for the FBI weapons locker in San Francisco, and maybe Google’s secret human cloning lab, this is the most secure facility in the entire Bay Area.”
“I know. Now those little chicks can live long lives in a safe place.”
The chickens moved into their new palace, my house was again poop-free (mostly), and my wife and children cheered up. We even took turns holding chickens. My wife and girls loved this activity; it only made me hungry. This bliss lasted two weeks. Then Josie left the coop door open and the dog got another one.
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