Jul 2007

Augusta and the Hen


A lot had been going on in Mareno while I was off discovering what lay beyond its borders.

Our next door neighbor Augusta had suspected for weeks that one of her hens was betraying her. The two plumb red hens that scratch possessively in her back yard perhaps were getting just a little cocky? I often watch them out my back window pecking rhythmically at the grass and find it relaxing…sort of like watching waves at the ocean. Augusta talks to them everyday and they produce eggs, like clockwork, leaving them right where they are supposed to. They have a good working relationship.

Recently however she had been finding some of the eggs broken and partially eaten. She explained to Anna Maria, “You know, when a hen tastes an egg, it is all over. They cannot stop eating them. It is like crack.”

Well, she did not really say the last part, but Augusta, our own 80 year old detective, began lying in wait, out of sight behind the corner of the house trying to discover the junkie. The chickens, being chickens, did not grasp the idea that they were under surveillance and finally the culprit slipped up. She laid an egg and then merrily, and with no guile whatsoever, ate it.

This so enraged Augusta that she acted with a passion beyond her years and normal physical limitations.

“I gathered a strength that I did not know I had and caught the hen, then tied it up and killed it with a knife.”

Luciano told me this story later and spared me the apparently gruesome details of the actual execution. Life in the country can be grim, even if your owner is 80 years old and tends to chat with you in the evenings. Augusta then plucked the hen, cleaned it and, deeming it too tough for dinner, threw it in her freezer to age for a few weeks before the hen will end up in a stew pot.

The other hen was so traumatized, having watched the violent death of her sister, that she began laying eggs in odd places around the yard. Augusta had to search for the eggs while the surviving hen glared at her from across the yard. “Its ok,” Augusta cooed to the hen, who kept her distance. Life almost returned to normal as Augusta talked to the hen about the weather, events of the day, the latest news. The hen continued her silent protest laying eggs in odd corners of the hen house, next to the fence, and amid the rocks in the corner of the yard.

One night Augusta brought the hen a slice of pizza and laid it in the dirt before the sulking bird who eyed it nervously, turning her head jerkily from one side to the other, trying to wrap her chicken brain around the peace offering on the ground. Augusta said good night and retreated to her house.

The next afternoon Anna Maria gave me a full report.

“They have made peace. The hen is laying her eggs in the right place and Augusta does not need to go looking for them.”

“Is she going to get another hen?”

“And upset this balance? I don’t think so. This hen will stay alone until it goes too.”

“Maybe a dog?”

“Serena, a dog, may be good company, but it does not lay eggs."