Home is Where the Hen Is
How a chicken named Squeakers stole dinners — and then our hearts
By Cassie Bustamante
Tap, tap, tap!
The sound of someone rapping on our storm door echoed through our modest Cape Cod. I got up to answer, but no one was there.
“Must be the wind,” I thought. After all, our cozy home sat atop an endlessly gusty hill.
I turned back to my steaming mug of coffee.
Tap, tap, tap!
Nope, not the wind. Too rhythmic and persistent. Someone — or something — was definitely there. Alone in the house, I felt a slight chill run up my back. I peered through the front door’s glass panes. Once again, no one. Nothing. But when the tap, tap, tap rattled a third time, I took a deep breath, swallowed and opened our door. On the other side of the glass storm door, just a step down, was Squeakers. She peered up at me with an expression that said, “Finally! Do you know how cold it is out here?!”
Squeakers was not, as you might have guessed, a beloved family pet or some neighbor’s wayward child. She was a hen — a Rhode Island Red — and I wasn’t about to invite her in for a late morning cuddle by the fire. There was a perfectly good coop awaiting her outside. I should know: my husband and I constructed it. And while its roof may have been lopsided, it had thick, sturdy walls and a cobalt blue door accented by a wreath. Honestly, it was adorable. And it seemed to be good enough for the five other ladies.
But Squeakers was different.
On warm nights, when we sat on our wraparound porch for family meals, Squeakers would appear. Thinking she was one of us, the hen would hop up onto someone’s shoulder or plop onto the middle of our table to examine the spread. When she begged like a dog — sometimes worse — we’d place her, clucking and clueless, back on the floor with a firm, “No.” But that hardly discouraged her. On pesto chicken nights, we used to threaten her. “Jump up on this table one more time, Squeakers, and we’ll marinate you next!”
After supper, we’d toss her the scraps, which only encouraged future begging – I know. But we never fed her meat of her own kind. We aren’t monsters! You should have seen that bird gobble down vegetables and rice.
When we first brought our brood home, friends who were veteran chicken keepers warned us: Don’t treat them like pets.
While I tried to listen, bucolic fantasies whirled through my head. They would frolic through sun-drenched fields with me. Surely they would follow me everywhere — and joyfully. Think Anne of Green Gables meets Snow White.
But, as anyone who has raised chickens knows, their lives are often cut short and it’s best not to get attached. The circle of life and all that jazz. As new owners, we went through several hens, many lost to hawks and stealthy raccoons. Squeakers outlived them all.
One day, however, she disappeared. Poof. When she didn’t return after a couple of days, we figured she’d made it to the great hen house in the sky. The one with the pearly door and perfectly symmetrical roof.
Several weeks later, we were out on the porch when a flash of red caught my eye in the woods beyond our yard.
“Is that? Could it be? Squeakers?”
My husband and I exchanged befuddled glances.
Squeakers emerged from the grass and bounded onto the porch. She looked at us as if nothing had happened. As if to say, Hey guys, what’s for supper? OH
Cassie Bustamante is O.Henry’s digital content creator. For some reason, she no longer eats chicken.