AND THEN THERE WAS ONE. One chicken, that is.
She struts and scratches and pecks and preens herself in the dustbowl back garden. She looks lonely, rattling around in her mansion of a chicken-coop-built-for-three; the last, lonely survivor of three spinster sisters.
The family’s ‘creaking gate’, my mother would have called her: the ancient who outlives the rest only to descend into an old age of lonely pointlessness and, at the end, a cold, grey burial with no one to mourn, no one who knew her nor anyone who would remember. Every family has one, mum used to say.
They were sisters, albeit foster-siblings, brought together after being bought together from the woman who runs the village shop and keeps a few White Sussex to scratch a living and provide food, one way or the other.
“ White Sussex? Good layers but also good for the pot should they not do their duty, if you know what I mean,“ cackled our friendly shopkeeper, tapping knowingly at the side of her nose.
But did the Sword of Damocles dangle dangerously over their heads à la Chicken Run? Hardly. We were too soft to tiptoe anywhere closer to capital punishment than to mutter and moan and give them hard stares when they failed to produce to order.
And they were wise to our wussy ways. They became our friends. Oh sure, I know now where we went wrong. “Don’t name them,” we were cautioned by Those Who Knew. “You will find it too hard to give them the chop when the time comes,” we were warned.
Give them the chop? We were never going to do that! What did those savages take us for? We enjoyed the company, found it restful. When we dug in the garden they would peck at the freshly turned earth, greedily snaffling the worms our spades brought to the surface. Wherever we walked they followed, like children. We became emotionally attached.
And they did produce eggs: three a day at peak production, settling after a year or two at an average two a day and only dropping to one or none on the coldest of winter days.
And, no, we didn’t name them. Not individually, anyway. To us they were the Beverley Sisters (and you have to be about 40 years old to remember Teddie, Joy and Babs, above) because, as the original Beverleys’ song went, they were “such devoted sisters”.
Those were the good times; today, alas, mere memories. The first of our feathered friends went to Hen Heaven after looking decidedly dusty for a few days.
“I just picked her up to check her out, put her down on the ground and she keeled over,” sniffed my equally mortified wife. “Clearest case of a heart attack ever, I should think,” added the housewife pathologist-cum-undertaker after laying the late layer to rest under a rose bush.
This left us with a dilemma: although her two siblings carried on the egg production business as usual we could hardly call them the Beverley Sisters now the act had been so irrevocably broken up. So, given my wife’s love for tennis, a new team was born: the Williams Sisters.
Sadly, their doubles partnership lasted only a period of days before either Venus or Serena (we’re still not sure which) served up a shock for our hen-sitting neighbour who found her lying stiff and cold in the clubhouse one morning. She was swiftly dispatched to occupy the ground under a second rose bush.
So now, as our backyard rapidly turns into a Garden of Rest, there is but one remaining to carry on womanfully producing a daily egg, possibly suspecting that we have ‘done for’ her sisters as a punishment for poor performance on the production line.
Which leaves us with a depressingly familiar problem: what to call a surviving Beverley who became a Williams and is now a sad solo act? In my opinion, only one name will do. . .
The Lone Free Ranger!