There, in the yard, was one hen on top of another. Poor baffled Ostrich was underneath. In the wash of high hanging sunlight—the exploding sudden goldenness that told me spring was near—Henny Penny was pulling her feathers out. "No!" I bellowed. Tossing down my purse, a violin, a folder full of music and a hoodie belonging to my son, I rushed into the fowl yard and extracted Ostrich from the fray. Where before there had been a blackened lump, a purplish cast, now there was the addition of missing feathers and fresh scabs from the assault. My mother, ever at my aid, picked up Henny Penny, gently admonishing her while she looked with deep and skeptical attention at the people in her yard.
"I've got it," I told my mother, with the abrupt voice of sadness sticking in my throat. "You can go ahead and take Mikalh and go."
I took the hen from my mother and carted her off to the isolation of her former yard, where the little house she'd lived in with her water and food containers still remained. I set her down. As I filled her water and food, she looked at me as if to ask why I had removed her from her flock. Chirruping long and disturbed chicken noises, she paced about the area. I refused to really look at her. I made sure she had food and water, bedding and safety, and I left to go back and make sure Ostrich was OK.
Treating Ostrich's wound with saline and Neosporin, I wondered if she was damaged beyond repair. Birds are delicate. Ostrich, although bloodied, was thrilled beyond belief that her tormentor had been carted from the premises and dug happy holes in the earth of her chicken run where she cleaned herself in dirt. Her two gentle friends did not pick at her. All day I watched them through the window, every few minutes, terrified of the chicken instinct to go after anything that bleeds. No one hurt her. She chased insects in the dirt. Henny Penny, in her separate yard, paced like a panther, calling out loneliness I could not answer, in the universal language common to all things that have a heart.
It was 6 PM before I realized I'd left my purse and the violin outside and never picked them up. So troubled by cruelty and tragedy I'd been, I'd left them in the yard.
A week ago, the news reported some teenagers in our town doing something horrible and cruel, bullying another child—another child with autism. A video of what they'd done had been posted on Facebook. The local news added hyperbole to tragedy, telling us, "The video shows just how far teenagers are willing to push the limits," while my own teenager watched in horror.
It haunted me for several days, both the outrageous act and the commentary on adolescence that surrounded it. So much noise. Noise and anger. Comments calling for children to be locked up and hopes that they'd be raped in jail. So much anger. So much screaming and chattering and commenting and generalizing and carrying on.
So much that you'd almost forget that someone's child had been penned under another, still with fear as his feathers were pulled out, his flesh sundered, his soul bruised raw. So much noise you'd almost forget the howling universal cry of loneliness uttered by some children who society didn't know how to look after until they did real damage to someone else. Maybe more than one someone else, before they were caught. In this small town, we saw these kids grow up and no one knew what to do about them. Now they will be half-grown villains, when before they were only children without love.
This horrible transformation seems to me one of the most tragic, and perhaps personal, things of all.
My little red hen paces her yard, calling out. I have no words to explain to her why she has to be alone. "It's your own fault," I tell her. She looks at me and looks at the other chickens, and she starts her keen again.
I leave her there and go back to the three sweet hens, where I sit on a chair by Ostrich and watch her pecking, breathing in her happiness and freedom from tyranny, as I sit kissed by the spring-struck air.