Millie the hen

Kay watched her left hand pressing down on fresh parsley leaves as she chopped them for turkey stuffing. Thumb and forefinger pinched together. The yellow handled knife that she had just honed to razor sharpness slid down the nail on her forefinger, bit through the parsley to the cutting board, slid back up just past the pile of compressed parsley, slid down again in a repetitive motion that felt good.

After each chopping motion, her hand moved back a tiny space, and since Kay had begun to let her hands do the thinking, she allowed her memory to scan in the hinterland of her mind. Then she nodded to herself and reflected ‘Yes! That pinched hand position looks like a chicken’s head! The hand moving back, tiny space by tiny space reminded her of the few hens she had fostered for a brief time in Pender Harbour and the story about Millie the Hen and Heidi Dog.

Rousing herself from her reverie, she saw Whistler standing, waiting for something to do. He had placed himself at beck an call in preparation of Thanksgiving dinner and was enjoying the activity of rote tasks that had to be done for tomorrow’s dinner.

“Did I ever tell you about MIllie the Hen?” said Kay.

Whistler doesn’t talk much. He cocked his head to the right and raised his eyebrows waiting for Kay to go on.

“It was up in Pender Harbour. We had twenty four chickens when we arrived, but one by one dogs, cougar and fox were picking them off. We couldn’t get Heidi and Tokey our two Elkhounds to stop killing them just for the fun of it.  Finally, we had three left and I caught them killing a poor chicken.”

‘I had tried every known remedy to stop them from eating the chickens and nothing worked. So I left them this most recently dead chicken to eat – but before I did, I stuffed it with pepper, cayenne, chili powder, mustard – anything that would make it unpalatable.”
“Poor dogs! They ate it and were so sick afterward. They never chased a chicken after that.”

“I don’t know how they knew it was the chicken that had made them ill, but they knew. Cured at last!”

” That left us with two chickens, a red hen whom we called Millie and a mean Leghorn rooster that we had no name for.”

I don’t know how they knew, but now the chickens felt invulnerable. When I gave the dogs a bone, the chickens wanted to inspect it; eat it, even, maybe.”

“Heidi Dog would have the bone between her two front paws. Millie would come up to Heidi, her tiny head, in comparison, right at the jaws of this former chicken killer, and demand to have the bone.”

“Peck. Peck. Millie would tap her beak on the ground. The dog wriggled back a few inches. Millie advanced and equal amount. Peck Peck. She tapped on the ground. And so it progressed, the dog wriggling backwards, the hen mvoing forward, demanding the bone until the dog would back off, leaving the bone for the hen.’ Kay illustrated the movements with her parsley and yellow-handled knife.

“Then the hen made a desultory inspection of the bone and wandered off, no longer interested.”

“The cock became feisty, dangerously so. He understood that the dogs were now afraid of him and he started to attack the dogs with his awesome talons. When I went out the door, I had to have a rake in hand to keep the rooster at bay. He attacked me too.”
“Then a neighbour proposed a trade. A fox had been raiding their hen house. The neighbour was looking for a mean bird to keep the flock in order and to protect it from the fox. So we made a trade, and I got two birds, a young white cock and another hen. The hens ganged up on the poor cock and henpecked him till his head was raw. They wouldn’t let him eat. I had to protect the poor henpecked rooster – he was getting thinner and thinner.”

“Then one day, we found the remains of our three chickens. They were so good at escaping the coop, to their misfortune – a cougar got them. We could see the large cat prints in the mud of the driveway.”
“About a week later, I asked the neighbour how our feisty rooster was doing at his new job. ”
“He made a tasty soup in the stew pot,” he replied. “He was just too mean.”  And that was that.

Whistler chuckled.

“I knew you lived in Pender Harbour, but I was only born the year you went up there. I don’t remember anything about it.”

“It was my hand moving back and my knife moving forward at the same pace that reminded me,” Kay mused. It was curious that a kinetic motion could trigger a memory and a whole reel of film traipsed through one’s mind on replay.

She gathered the minced parsley with her left hand, shovelled the bits and pieces from the board into it and tossed the parsley into the large roasting pan that was filled with dried bread. She crumbled the dried leaves off the Winter Savory and crushed them; and then she chopped fresh sage and added it. Both were from her own garden.  It was going to be a fine dinner, Kay thought, thankful for Whistler’s company and thankful for the bounty in her home.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!


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