A day after Claire arrived, the rain had dried and the hydrangeas were purple and blue. Butterflies flitted in the lantana bushes, and yet Dorothy was discontent for a reason she could not name although actually this was self-deception on her part because she could have named it easily enough, and its name would have been Claire, but what kind of grandmother would resent her own grandchild even though she squawked in horror when presented with a bowl of fresh strawberries, “They’re not good to eat!” the obvious rejoinder being that of course they were good to eat, that slugs don’t get that fat without nourishment, but Claire had no sense of humor, and Dorothy could see that. Claire was spending June with Dorothy while her mother “worked a few things out.” Drooping and moping by the big front windows, or wilting on the porch swing like melting taffy, Claire complained about everything: there was no internet, there was no cell phone, Dorothy didn’t have cable, there was nothing in town, nothing to do.
First thing next morning as a special treat, Dorothy woke her granddaughter up to gather eggs, but Claire was no better a match for this than she had been for the strawberries. Getting out of bed, too sleepy even to be resentful, cocking her yawning head and stretching her arms in a crooked Y, she asked, “What are we going?” Holding the wicker egg basket, Dorothy led her sleepy granddaughter down the stone path to the coop. “It’s almost daybreak,” Dorothy whispered,” and soon you hear the mockingbirds start up.” Just then Claire shrieked. Kicking a bare foot in empty air and hopping on the other, Claire’s silhouette bobbed in the darkness. “Look! Ugh, look! I just stepped in chicken crap!” Maybe this expedition would not be quite the bonding experience she had hoped, Dorothy worried. Now, though, they were committed, and Dorothy wiped Claire’s heel clean with the hem of her nightgown, leaving a brown smear of poo on the floral cotton print. Opening the pop door posed another setback. “Put your hand in there, honey,” Dorothy said. “Quiet, don’t wake them.” Reaching into the nesting box, although the sky was blueing in the east, Claire’s hand sank into such darkness, it was like watching her draw on a long black glove.
“Shit!” Claire exclaimed, jerking her hand back as if it had caught fire, “there’s something alive in there!”
“That’s just the hens,” Dorothy said, reminding herself to be patient.
“Ugh, oh, ugh,” Claire cried, “I put my fingers on it.”
Velma, inside the box, made a chickeny burble, and Claire shrieked again in terror.
“Why can’t you,” Dorothy said, growing angry now for true, “why can’t you try out this one little thing, one little thing new, this one time?” Xerxes, the rooster, roused from sleep, opened one amber eye at them, saw it was too early for crowing and closed it again. “You get – never mind that now, just leave the egg basket alone, you just get on up to the house, and you can just go back to being bored and complaining all day and I’ll won’t do a thing to stop you.” Zinnias on either side of the stone path seemed to part for Dorothy as she stormed back to the house, like the Red Sea making way for Moses.