Today was Mardy’s last day. Yesterday she was showing unhealthy signs that today precipitated a one-way trip to the V. E. T.
Although still compos mentis and looking at me in the quizzical way hens do when they’re weighing up whether to peck you or not, I still had to lift her into the cardboard box and deliver her to her fate. She had been smote by something – only an autopsy would tell (and that wasn’t going to happen) and was unable to eat or drink or stand. Last night her sisters nestled close to her on the hen house floor to keep her warm, clucking and cooing gently as night fell. By sunrise I was fully expecting to be disposing of her feathery figure. I was surprised then, to see her still breathing this morning, but all was not well.
Hens are interesting creatures, as Sam Hunt’s poem Hennosaurus explores – indeed they would eat your remains if they had the chance, (!) but they also know a good thing when they see it and very much like you alive and well to feed and fuss them. And oh – so nosey! Interest is immediately elevated should I start digging in the garden, and even a quick visit to the washing line to hang out some sheets brings them rushing toward me all wings and curiosity. Especially since The Spider Incident. Initially I thought that despite being exceptionally intelligent creatures they still hadn’t worked out that pegs are inedible. But it isn’t that – their memories are astonishing. Let me explain. Back in the summer I was hanging out some washing and let out a rather pathetic squeal when I picked up a peg and a spider crawled out from inside it. Being very Little Miss Muffat I dropped said peg instantly (it was a big spider, ok?!) and Mardy rushed forth. With her amazing eyesight she saw the spider and snaffled it up. So I think that’s why they get all excited when they see the washing basket – they remember the food that pegs can unexpectedly deliver. All of the hens that are currently trashing our garden without a horticultural care in the world are rescue hens, courtesy of The British Hen Welfare Trust. It was one of these rescue hens that inspired my story Betty Hen, which is included in my collection of short stories and inspired the picture on the cover.
I’m sure Mardy won’t mind if she ends up as a character in one of my stories – and although a right mardy madam from the word go – hence her name – she went quietly and peacefully. A poem for the lovely sparky Mardy:
Goodbye Mardy hen
Thank you for your eggs
I never realised
That spiders live in pegs
(I didn’t say it was going to be good)