Authors: Judy Cox
Daniel found his voice. “Sorry, Mr. Grafalo,” he said. “We'll come right over and get them.”
“You'd better,” growled Mr. Grafalo. “Before they ruin my flowers!”
Daniel put Jasper back into his tank. Then he and his sisters followed Mr. Grafalo into his yard next door. The sky was cloudy. It had stopped pouring, but rain fell in a gentle mist. Primrose, Violet, Twinkie, and T-Rex strutted among the dripping flower bushes. They clucked softly and scratched for bugs in the mud. Peepers stood guard under a tall rosebush. Daniel looked around for Poison, but he didn't see the big cat.
Where was Mrs. Grafalo? Come to think of it, Daniel hadn't seen her in a while. Maybe she was on a trip.
“Get them out of here. They're tearing up my begonias!” snapped Mr. Grafalo.
“Don't worry,” said Daniel. “We'll get them. They come when I call.” He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Here, chick, chick!”
The chickens ignored him.
“I'll get Twinkie,” said Emmy. Daniel tried to stop her, but she dashed into the soggy flower bed, stomping on several plants.
“Watch where you step!” yelled Mr. Grafalo.
Kelsey and Emmy chased the chickens through the flowers. They tried to be careful, but Emmy crushed the zinnias. Kelsey mashed the begonias.
Daniel stood on the wet lawn. He called and called. Peepers cocked an eye at him, but edged away as he came closer. Daniel tiptoed closer. Peepers tiptoed away. At last Daniel was within reach.
He dived. And fell face-first in the mud.
Peepers slid out of his hands. She fluttered into the rose beds, cackling with glee.
“My prize roses!” shouted Mr. Grafalo. His face was beet red.
Finally Daniel and his sisters managed to herd the chickens to the fence. Maybe the chickens were tired. Maybe they decided the game was over. They stood as still as statues and let the kids scoop them up.
“Dratted chickens!” complained Mr. Grafalo.
“Chickens are good for gardens,” Daniel said, panting. He tucked Peepers under his arm. His glasses had fogged up from the rain. But he couldn't hold Peepers and dry them, too. “My dad says chickens eat bugs. And their manure is good fertilizer. Maybe you should get some, too.”
Mr. Grafalo folded his arms and glared. “Chickens are noisy and smelly. They attract rodents. They spread disease. They lower the property values. They're a public nuisance and shouldn't be allowed in the city!”
Daniel just couldn't keep quiet any longer. “They aren't a nuisance! Besides, keeping backyard chickens is legal!”
,” said Mr. Grafalo. “I'm on the city council. The council passed it five to one, but I voted against it! Chickens are allowed.” He paused and glared at Peepers. “But not roosters.”
Daniel sighed with relief. “Well, that's okay, then,” he said. “Because we only have hens.”
“Are you sure about that?” asked Mr. Grafalo, watching them leave with narrowed eyes. He looked just like his cat, Poison, when he glared. “Because if I hear one single crow, I'll call the police so fast it'll knock your socks off.”
“Don't worry,” muttered Daniel as they left. “You won't.”
The kids carried the chickens home. Daniel's wet shoes made squelching sounds on the sidewalk.
“Mr. Gruffalo, the buffalo,” said Emmy when they were back in their own yard.
“Shhh!” said Daniel, trying not to laugh.
Dad came home as they put the birds back into their box. Daniel told him all about the great chicken escape. Dad scratched his head. He shoved his glasses up on his nose. He looked worried.
“First thing tomorrow, we'll build a chicken coop. With a chicken run,” said Dad.
“Chicken coop?” asked Emmy.
“Henhouse,” said Kelsey.
“Hen Hotel,” said Daniel. He gently set Peepers in the box. “Nice.”
On Saturday the weather cleared up. Daniel and Tyler helped Dad build the chicken coop. They used wire fencing and recycled lumber from the salvage yard. Although the hens were still too young to lay eggs, the coop had nesting boxes all ready. A ramp from the chicken run led up to the coop.
The hens seemed to like their new home. Every day, Daniel scooped a handful of oyster shell into a bucket. He knew the hens needed it to help them digest their food. He added a handful of chicken pellets. He tossed in a handful of grain and leftover table scraps. He poured it into the food tray. “Here, chick! Chick, chick, chick!” he called. The hens came running.
On Sunday morning a week later, the family
gathered around the table for breakfast. Dad always made buttermilk pancakes on Sunday. The smell of cooking pancakes filled the house.
Suddenly the phone rang. Mom answered. She talked for a while, and then hung up. “That was Miss Clay,” she said. She looked sad. “She wanted us to know that Mrs. Grafalo fell down the stairs last week. She broke her hip. Mr. Grafalo took her to Willowdale Care Center.”
“Isn't that a place for old people?” asked Kelsey.
Dad smiled. “Well, Mrs. Grafalo isn't young.”
“It must have been hard for Mrs. G. to leave her home,” said Mom.
“I'll bet Mr. Grafalo is sad and worried,” said Dad.
“And lonesome,” added Mom. “Moving a loved one into a nursing home isn't an easy decision.” She reached out and took Dad's hand, and he smiled.
“Let's go visit,” he said. “We can take her some of our fresh strawberries.”
After they ate, did the dishes, and fed the animals, everyone piled into the car. Kelsey brought some oatmeal raisin cookies she'd made with Dad's help. Emmy picked a bouquet of white daisies from the wildflower patch. Even Tyler brought his baseball card collection to show Mrs. Grafalo.
“Wait a minute,” said Daniel. “I know what will really cheer her up.”
He opened the chicken run. The hens scratched for bugs. Daniel scooped up Peepers. He tucked her under his arm.
“Daniel!” said Mom. “You can't take a chicken to a nursing home!”
“Why not?” said Dad. “People take dogs. Therapy dogs. It's good for the patients. Why not a therapy chicken?”
Mom made a face, but she let Daniel bring Peepers.
Mrs. Grafalo sat in a wheelchair in the big room at Willowdale Care Center. She looked thinner than Daniel remembered. Soft music played. The room smelled like boiled cabbage and cleaning stuff. Mrs. G.'s face lit up when she saw them.
Mrs. G. liked the strawberries. “So ripe!” she said. She ate one of Kelsey's cookies. “Delicious!” She sniffed Emmy's slightly wilted bouquet. “I miss my garden.” She admired Tyler's baseball cards.
But the hit of the day was Peepers. Daniel put her in Mrs. G's lap. She nestled right down.
she clucked softly. All the residents came over to see her.
When their visit was over, Ms. Benton, the director, walked the Millers to the door. “Thank you for
bringing Peepers,” she said. “Our residents love animals. Many of them grew up on farms. We built this place in the country so they can have a vegetable garden and bird feeders.” She pointed to the yard. A miniature barn sat empty. “Someday we hope to have animals. A pet goat or maybe a lamb.” Ms. Benton waved good-bye as they climbed into the car. “Please come again!” she called. “And bring Peepers!”
The next Friday was the last day of school. Daniel said good-bye to Mrs. Lopez. “Have a great summer with your chickens!” she said. She gave him his report card and a hug.
Daniel grinned. “I will! I will!”
Daniel's backpack bounced on his back as he raced home from the bus stop. He paused at the Grafalos' house. He missed Mrs. G.
Dot and Dash raced up the sidewalk looking for trouble. Their leashes dragged behind them as usual. Miss Clay was in hot pursuit. “Come back, boys!” she yelled, waving her arms. The poodles didn't even look back.
That afternoon Kelsey and Daniel sat in the tree house, making plans. Emmy was too young to climb up to the tree house. She sprawled on the grass
underneath. Every now and then she flung a twig up. But she was too little to hit anything.
They watched the hens. With Mom's permission, Daniel left the gate open so the chickens could forage in the yard.
“Keep an eye on them,” said Mom. “Don't let them get into Mr. Grafalo's garden again.”
Now they lay on their stomachs in the tree house. Looking over the edge, they watched the flock below.
“Summer vacation. Boy oh boy,” said Kelsey dreamily. “I'm going to teach Primrose to do tricks. We could have a traveling circus. A chicken circus.”
“I'm going to start an egg business,” said Daniel. He sucked on a piece of sweet grass. “Let's see. We have five hens, and if each hen lays one egg a dayÂ .Â .Â .Â seven days in a weekÂ .Â .Â .Â one egg per chickenÂ .Â .Â .” He wrote on his palm with a twig. “That's thirty-five eggs a week! I'll be rich!”
“I'm going to fix up my old red wagon and give Twinkie and T-Rex rides,” said Emmy.
“Hey,” said Kelsey. “Maybe we can teach the chickens to pull it. Maybe we could build a pond! And a diving board! We can teach them to do a high dive. People would pay lots of money to see that, I'll bet. And we could start a chicken club.”
“We could join 4-H and enter the chickens in the county fair. I'll bet they'd win lots of blue ribbons. There can't be any prettier chickens than ours.” Daniel gazed at the flock proudly.
Primrose strutted through the backyard. Her white topknot quivered with every step. She stopped to scratch the dirt, kicking her foot out behind her. With a pleased cluck, she hunted for slugs.
Violet, the big gray hen, spotted a grasshopper. She cocked her head. First she peered with one eye, then with the other. The grasshopper hopped. Violet squawked. Daniel chuckled.
Twinkie and T-Rex stood at the water dish. Twinkie dipped her beak into the water. She put her head back to let it trickle down her throat. Then T-Rex dipped her beak. Up and down they went, like the old-fashioned drinking-bird toy Mrs. Grafalo kept on her windowsill.
Daniel thought Peepers was the prettiest. Even though she was the smallest chicken, her red comb was the biggest. Her long, curly tail feathers shone.
As Daniel admired her, Peepers flew up to the roof of the chicken coop. She perched. She flapped her wings. She stretched her neck.
“What's she doing?” asked Emmy, sitting up.
“She's trying to crow!” said Kelsey, laughing. “Look, Daniel. She thinks she's a rooster.”
But Daniel stared at his pet. A horrible fear formed in his mind. His heart dived into his shoes. He slapped his forehead. “How could I have been so stupid?” he said. “How could I have been so blind?” He turned to Kelsey. “Some vet I'll make. I can't even tell a rooster from a hen!”
Kelsey looked blank. “What do you mean?”