Passing through the summer kitchen, I saw a bowl covered with a red and white gingham tea towel on the wood stove. I peeked inside and was rewarded with the fresh aroma of newly baked tea biscuits. Mother made the best and fluffiest tea biscuits of anyone. I spread fresh butter I had helped churn the day before, over the top, sides and bottom and devoured it. It was so delicious, I had another and then one more. Feeling quite satisfied, I wandered outside looking for my sister.
A metallic clanging was coming from the windmill in the middle of the yard. A man stood silhouetted up on the top rung. I couldn’t make out which one of my brothers it must be. The sun was shining through the blades, making the top of the windmill look like a black sun. How strange I thought, on such a perfect day, I better be careful now. Oh, silly me, I’m becoming as superstitious as my mother.
“Is that you Jim, John?” There was no response, just more loud banging. I walked over and looked up at the windmill. “Hello? “ I yelled, “What are you doin’ up there?”
“Ah, fixin’ the blades”, John answered as he hammered some more.
“Aren’t you afraid way up there?”
“Fear’s all in your mind Maggie. You need to look fear right in the face”. He grinned as he looked down on me. ”I thought you’d be with Mother and Nettie in the barn. What’s taken you so long?”
“Oh, nothin’ “, I said guiltily, flicking crumbs off the front of my dress.“Wait, I forgot somethin’ ”, I said suddenly and ran back to the house. I grabbed my precious curry comb off the wood stove and dashed outside again. I had recently bought the comb with money I’d earned from picking potatoes on Uncle George’s farm. I was going to try it out brushing my favourite horse, Bert. He was a bay with a white star on his forehead and white socks. He had the sweetest face. Father had bought him and Frank as a team, though I didn’t care for Frank as he liked to bite.
Halfway across the yard to the barn, I heard John shout, “Look out for Old Red, Maggie!”
I froze. Panic gripped my insides. Oh no, not that rooster again. I remembered the bruises from Old Red last week. Why had I taken so long? I should have crossed the yard with Mother and Nettie earlier.
“Help, John!” I shrieked.
“Just give him a good swift kick and you’ll be fine. Show him you’re boss”, he called down.
Oh dear, I’m on my own I realized. Fight or flight. Ah, what a chicken I am. I hiked up my dress and ran with long purposeful strides towards the safe dark opening of the barn. As I flew through the doorway, I collided with Mother and the milk pail. The rooster strutted off, as we stood there drenched.
“What on earth?” Mother cried.
“I’m sorry”, I gasped, out of breath,“it was that. . . a. . . rooster, Old Red. He was after me again”.
Mother shook her head and gathered me against her damp flowered bosom.
Later that evening, as I sat on the floor with Nettie, playing with cut-out paper dolls we made from the old Eaton’s catalogue, I heard my parents softly talking.
“That old rooster is scaring her to death”, Mother said quietly.
“He’s just doing his job, so he is”, Dad replied.
“He’s a big bully. He’s not even nice to the hens you know. He drew blood the other day.”
“Chickens are not a democratic bunch you know. The peckin’ order rules their lives. It can get violent”.
“I preferred the black rooster we had before this crazy red one”.
“The black rooster’s time was up. His term was over. It was time for a new rooster to rule the chicken coop, just like it’ll be time for a new prime minister soon. Mackenzie King, he won’t be prime minister for long now. He’ll be gone one of these days”.
“Well, that rooster is more trouble than he’s worth, though it might have cooled him off a bit today, with John dunking him head first in the water trough”, Mother chuckled.
The next day Mother asked me go to my sister’s farm to give her a hand, since I was the youngest. Mary was going to have a baby soon and needed some help weeding her vegetable patch. I led my horse out of the barn and lined him up against the old steam engine. I climbed up and jumped onto Bert’s bare back. We made good time down the long laneway and out onto the road heading towards Mary’s. Then, for no good reason, Bert backed down into the ditch and that was it.
“Oh, not again Bert!” I cried in exasperation. I tried in vain to budge him, but he knew he was the boss. I got off finally and we walked side by side the rest of the way to Mary’s farm.
Around suppertime, Mary and her husband came back home with me. Mother had been cooking and baking all day long as there was ten of us for dinner. Our table was laden with fresh food from our garden: peas, carrots, fresh lettuce, potatoes and fruit pies for dessert. In the centre of the table was a roasted chicken.
My eldest brother Jim, winked at me kindly, “Maggie, you don’t have to worry about that old rooster any more”. I looked blankly at him and then at all the smiling faces around the table. The pots were passed around and Mother put a piece of chicken with crispy golden skin on my plate, just as I liked it.
I stared at it and said nothing for what seemed like ages. My face burned hot, and I thought I probably looked as red as Old Red’ s comb use to be. “I’m not so hungry“, I said finally.
I don’t know why, but it gave me no pleasure to see that rooster on the table. I couldn’t take a bite. I felt confused, afraid, angry, ashamed. My fork trembled.
“It’s not so easy bein’ the top rooster in the peckin’ order”, said dad staring into space. Dad was partly right about that I thought as I stared at what remained of Old Red. I remembered Old Red’s pointy beak and sharp talons. Well, it wasn’t easy being at the bottom of the pecking order either I knew. Though I was the youngest, I was ready to start climbing up the ladder. I raised my eyes and sat up taller.
“Well, the rooster may crow, but the hen lays the eggs“, Mother said, sticking her chin out. “We have enough chickens and relative peace right now. Why don’t we let one of the hens rule the roost for a change”.
And with that everyone began to eat.
by Melissa L. Staples