This draft of a chapter comes a little later than the last one which I shared. Tension builds as The Bottle Cap Lady begins to take a greater part in the story.
“Yeah, I see you got them Freak Show Chickens!” yelled The Bottle Cap Lady from the street. “And you ain’t nothing but a Freak Show Old Man!”
She had been walking back and forth, up and down our little block, from her house on the corner to the dead end turnaround.
Like most days when she did this, she was wearing her waitress apron. It had a lace-trimmed pocket for her order pad and matched her lace-trimmed waitress hat. The hat was her favorite part of her uniform, and she wore it like a diamond-trimmed tiara.
Pearl loved The Bottle Cap Lady’s hat.
It might have looked like she had gotten her old job back, but she still had on her house dress underneath. She missed being a waitress. When she wore her apron and hat, she felt as if she was somebody. The Chicken Place has been a landmark restaurant in our neighborhood for many years. It still has a big statue of a white chicken on the roof which has withstood many hurricanes and nor’easters.
Some days, The Bottle Cap Lady would just keep walking back and forth on our street as if she was looking for something or someone. Occasionally she would step into someone’s yard and look behind their trees or in their shrubbery. It was as if she was playing “Hide And Seek” and looking for someone but never found them.
“What are you doing with them chickens? Teaching them tricks for the circus? You and your Freak Show Chickens! Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”
“They’re all white like little clowns. Give them some red noses to go with them silly hats and you’re in business. The Freak Show Chicken business!”
“Don’t pay any attention to her,” I said, adjusting my newspaper so The Bottle Cap Lady couldn’t see I was talking. “Just stay calm and quiet. She doesn’t know what she is saying.”
Pearl was particularly troubled. She was the only one who had ever worn a silly hat, and that had been the night of Pearl’s Comedy Coop. Now because of it, she felt she had put the whole flock in danger. She wanted to get out and run away from me, from the other chickens, and even away from Blanche.
“Look at that little one running and hopping around like she don’t got any good sense in her head, her Freak Show Chicken head!”
Pearl could feel the pecks again even though she and Blanche were separated from the others and Blanche had become too weak to peck her.
Peck. “Be.” Peck. “A.” Peck. “Normal.” Peck. “Chicken.”
Pearl heard and felt every bit of it all over again. Only this time instead of the others asking her, she asked herself. “Why can’t I just be a normal chicken?”
Pearl’s face looked troubled. She wanted to run away from herself too, but that is never possible.
“Pearl, there is nothing wrong with you being yourself, even if that means you are different. You are not a Freak Show Chicken, and you never will be.
“I love you, Pearl. We are going to have more shows and more hats and more anything else you want. Just don’t be afraid to be yourself.
“She is as wrong as wrong can be about you.”
Blanche nodded in silent agreement.
By then, The Bottle Cap Lady had move further down the street to another house.
“Why didn’t you go and peck her on the head and tell her to stop?” asked Pearl.
“People don’t do things the way chickens do them.”
“You could have at least told her to stop.”
“But she did stop, didn’t she?”
“Yes, but you didn’t say anything to her.”
“I didn’t have to. Her own conscience told her to stop. A conscience is a powerful thing. It’s when a person doesn’t have a conscience that you have to watch out.”
This big word was new to Blanche and Pearl, just like The Bottle Cap Lady’s behavior was new to them.
They wanted to believe me, especially Pearl. It was easy to believe me when I was right there with them, but they would still be cautious while I was away from home. That was probably a good thing.
When I got home from work the next day, there were a few pieces of corn left scattered around in the old run area. They were white shoepeg kernels, a kind I only rarely give my chickens.
“The Bottle Cap Lady was here again,” is all Pearl would say.
Gracie and the others said the same, but told me more. She only went to the smaller coop beside the driveway. She never went to the large one in the backyard where the others were. She was either too afraid to go any further into our backyard or was only interested in Blanche and Pearl. They looked like the big chicken on top of The Chicken Place.
These visits happened more than once over that season. Sometimes she just stood, leaning over to look more deeply into the wooded brambles, and you would not even know she was there. Other times she was mean and difficult to ignore. After each of those mean times, she would leave Blanche and Pearl a treat the next day.
I was unsure if she had been giving them corn because she felt sorry for her behavior or if she was trying to gain their confidence to take them away. So I asked Pearl to tell me more about what The Bottle Cap Lady did when she came into our yard.
“She is always very quiet when she visits us, and then she gives us something to eat. She goes away with her head down.”
Pearl took a few steps like The Bottle Cap Lady would take to show me how she moved. Then she paused and looked around nervously.
“There was one time that she said something to me.”
“What was it?”
Pearl tried to stand the way The Bottle Cap Lady stood. With a raspy old hen voice she carefully repeated the words exactly as she had heard them.
“Someone as pretty as you should never have to look at someone as ugly as me.”
Then she made a sound someone holding back tears might make.
“What do those words mean?” she asked. “What does that sound mean?”
“I think they mean she is sorry and she can’t help herself.”
Pearl thought all these things over very carefully.
One of the worst and scariest times for us was when The Bottle Cap Lady stood at the edge of our driveway and started yelling more loudly than ever before.
“I’m going to come and get that big fat lazy chicken you got there and take her in to The Chicken Place. They’re going to look at her and give me my job back as a reward. There has never been a bigger chicken and I bet there has never been a juicier chicken either.”
She laughed a deep throaty laugh, “Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah!”
Then she did a little dance in a circle, flapping her arms like they were chicken wings.
“Why don’t you just be a normal old man with normal old smelly chickens?” she called out one last time. Then she tossed her empty beer bottle into my yard and staggered home.
“Blanche isn’t lazy. She is just not feeling well,” said Pearl. “Why can’t she see that?”
Then after a long pause, she added, “And why don’t you just be a normal old man?”
“That’s a fair question, Pearl,” I said. “Because a normal old man would call the police and have her arrested. And that’s not what I want. More importantly, that’s not what she needs.”
“What does she need?” asked Pearl.
“A miracle. Just a simple everyday miracle.”
Pearl had not yet imagined she would be the one to play a part in giving The Bottle Cap Lady that simple everyday miracle.
But she would.
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