The Cat, The Chicken, The Mouse, and The Fox - A barbecue horror story.
By F.A. Hyatt
There are benefits to Exo-urban living. For one, you get a little more latitude in what you can do with your property. In my case, a fenced free-range-chicken pen. With freedom comes responsibility though, in this case the responsibility was to find out what was going on with my chickens. A raucous squawking sent me barreling into the back yard. Had the cat climbed into the pen? Shin-zu was well fed, and too old to be over impressed with the birds, so that wasn't likely.
The start of summer is my favorite time of year. It heralded the first barbecue of the season, which vies with Christmas as far as I am concerned. Fate, however, had other plans for this day of days.
I made the gauntlet of my yard just in time to see a thin brown form whisk away into the scrub, towing a mass of feathers. A quick count of the captive poultry left me disheartened and angry. The fox had made off with my Alpha Cock, a Rhode Island wonder, ruler of its small domain. The bird was also my only good breeder.
This activity had also mildly attracted the interest of my wife, who entered the yard at a more sedate pace.
“We still planning on having a barbecue this weekend?”
It took a few seconds for me to switch gears. I pointed inarticulately toward the chicken pen and gargled, “my rooster!”
Clara gazed uncenteredly in the direction of the pen. “Your rooster what?”
“It escaped? That's what the noise was about?”
Defeat settled in. Clara was not going to get excited over my loss. We share many things, but concern over livestock was not one of them. A stray cat, (how we acquired Shin-Zu) or an abandoned Starling, that was different. My chickens, or pet spider, were somehow not part of the clique.
“A fox grabbed it. I'll have to check the fence, and get another cock.”
“Oh, that's too bad. Do you think the cat will be safe in the yard?”
I let out a breath, and composed myself. “Yeah, she should be okay. Foxes aren't given to eating cats.”
“Alex, the barbecue?”
“Why not? I'll clean the grill after I check the fencing.”
A hole had been scratched under the fence at the back, big enough for the fox to get in and out of. The dirt pack there was pretty hard. I hadn't thought it necessary before, but evidently some kind of masonry barrier would have to be set down around the cage perimeter. Pulling some rock together, and a little wire repair occupied me for some considerable time, but eventually I retreated to the house, and called the poultry farm I deal with, to arrange for a replacement cock. That done, I made it back into the yard intent on setting up the grill. Clara followed me, toting a bundle of cleaning supplies, and a bag for the ashes. It was clear I wasn't going to get off with a quick scrape-down this time.
Opening the grill top revealed another surprise.
“Oh, isn't that cute! Look Alex, a baby mouse!”
It lay there, half curled up like a tawny fuzzed toe. Some field mouse had nested here and abandoned this present, for some reason. I braced for the inevitable.
“Don't touch anything!”, Clara breathed. “I'll go get a shoebox!”
It didn't look to be in very good shape. Certainly it wasn't, unfortunately, trying to escape my wife's attentions. Clara returned with her new mouse house, and carefully transferred the rodent out of the grill.
“I wonder if we shouldn't leave the grill alone. The mother might return.”
Thinking fast, a flame grill-free summer looming before me, I replied, “Not likely. Mice litter. There's only one here, so it was probably abandoned, when it couldn't scramble out with is mates. It's probably sick, Clara, I don't think you should bother with it.”
This was the way wrong approach.
“I'll have to take it to the Vet and see. Be a dear, and finish the grill while I take it to the clinic.”
This would absent my wife for a couple hours, likely. Alone, I decided the quiet might re-attract my chicken predator back, or some of his friends, so I retrieved my shotgun and a couple salt loads and began cleaning out the grill where I could keep one eye on the pen. I let old Shin-Zu out and went at the grill with a vigor born of irritation.
The 13 year old cat had been off her feed for weeks now, and just sort of propped herself down near me, mildly interested in the jerky movements of the scraper and ash shovel as I removed the last seasons dross.
Squawking rose up from the pen, so I squinted along the rear fence line. Looked like movement in the shrubbery. I grabbed the shotgun, reared up and fired off a shot of salt. I figured the noise would scare off my problem for a while, until I could fix the fence up.
The old double barrel went off with a satisfying wham. Suddenly remembering Shin-Zu, I looked down expecting to see the cat bolting half-way across the yard for the nearest tree. Instead, it lay stiffly to my left, all four feet straight in the air. Then it fell sideways and didn't move at all. Cripes, I thought, not now. I knelt down, and inspected her. The cat was dead as a door nail.
When Clara returned, there was a major pandemonium ending in another useless trip to the vet confirming that the cat was beyond all but divine resurrection, due to a heart attack. Altogether, about thirty-eight dollars in vet bills, about my average summer charcoal budget. The new cock would cost another twenty-five, and of course, we would immediately start window shopping pet stores for a new cat...Call it my steak budget for summer grilling. I had just enough time left to finish cleaning the grill, which it turned out, had a large hole burnt through the bottom, once the fire-pan had been taken out. No grill.
We dug a shallow grave for the cat, and everything considered, it was now too late to cook any kind of decent dinner, let alone barbecue anything, even if I still had a grill. The mouse had stopped moving, despite the eyedropper loads of antibiotics and vitamins the Vet had proscribed. I took charge of it, and with solemn ceremony, fed it to my pet spider, the only living thing in the household to have come out ahead today.