Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.
-William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (via litquotes.com)
Have sympathy for me, reader, when I explain that I have had a trying couple of days, with occurrences both happy and hurtful. It all began with another visit to Mr. Bailey. Mr. Bailey has been feeling a bit tired of late, so I traversed his property alone.
I sniffed and listened and let my ears swivel back and forth to hear what was on the wind and in the air. I paid a call on the chickens in their pen; they are the charges of Woman’s father. The strange fowl were outside in the freezing air despite the inviting option of their warm indoor roost. I watched them curiously and as I stood by them, I realized they were in the midst of a raucous debate.
“I am not afraid, even if you are, sister! I shall cluck right in his face! See how he likes it!” clucked a red hen.
“You will not show your beak to him. You are all bluster and bravado now, but come nightfall, you’ll have your head under your wing,” taunted the black and white lady.
“I will not! Coyotes can’t scare me. They won’t intimidate me!”
“Nor me!” clucked the third bird, scratching in the dirt of the pen. “I will not back down, nor should either of you! You will bring disgrace to the name of chicken. We are a proud and noble race, and are known in the animal kingdom for our fearlessness. I will peck you in the eye before I let you bring shame on us in our very pen!”
“Threats, is it, sister?” the striped chicken asked. “I’m not afraid of the coyotes either, rest easy on that account. I merely point out that there is a difference between words and deeds. When the coyote male comes this evening, let us tell him that we will not do anything for him–we will not tell on Edgar. Edgar has been good to us–has brought us greens to eat and has brought us news of the world. We are no cowards and turnfeathers to betray his trust.”
“Agreed. Yes!” shouted the first red hen.
“Agreed!” shouted the second red hen.
I was stunned! The chickens were speaking of my brother! The coyotes were trying to find out information about him? They must be the enemies he spoke of. I was desperate to learn more.
“You’ve seen Edgar?” I asked them. “Tell me–when did you see him?”
The chickens turned their hard black eyes on me.
“We’ve never heard of any Edgar. If we had, we wouldn’t tell you. We don’t know you,” said the first red hen.
“He does look quite like Edgar,” said the striped hen.
“Be quiet!” said the second red hen.
“We have nothing to say,” said the first hen. “Cluck, cluck.”
“Cluck, cluck, cluck,” repeated the other two hens.
“You don’t understand,” I told them. “I’m his brother. I want to help him. Please.”
“Cluck, cluck, cluck,” said the hens, and began to scratch and peck at the dirt. I knew I would get no more from them.
When I went back inside, I found Mr. Bailey. We huddled together in a secret corner of the room, and I told him what I had heard the chickens say. He listened thoughtfully.
“Edgar must have been here,” I told him. “He has enemies, and the chickens have been his friends.”
Bailey consoled me and advised that I pay a visit to his friend, Maggie. He did not feel up to playing, but assured me that a good run was just what I needed to clear my head. I heeded Bailey’s counsel and went to see Maggie. She and I had met before, but had not seen one another in several months. Within a few seconds, it was as if no time had passed. I watched her shining ebony locks bounced as she spun and leaped and I listened to the entrancing sound of her strong bark. We ran and ran on the cold, hard ground.
I felt much better, my head clearer after all the exercise. When we slowed down for a moment to sniff one another and catch our breath, Maggie whispered something to me.
“Your brother says hello,” she said.
“Edgar?” I asked eagerly.
“Yes, of course! He is…an old friend of mine. He asked me to tell you not to worry, that he’s all right, and that he’ll come see you again when he can.”
“Thank you, Maggie. Does he come here often? Do you know where he is now?”
Maggie shook her head. “You must not ask these questions,” she said. “He did not tell me where he was going. He did give me one last message for you. The cat who lives in your building–she may be a spy.”
I looked at her, stunned. We played for a little while longer and then parted sweetly, with the promise of another meeting between us. On the way back to Mr. Bailey’s, I pondered what she had told me. The cat.
There is indeed a cat who lives in my building. She has a habit of wandering the hallways when her people let her out, and she likes to sit outside my door on our welcome mat. I can smell her there. She taunts me. When first I moved in, she drove me to distraction–I barked and barked. Nowadays, I do not care much whether she sits there or not. The moment I exit the apartment, she flees. I had not worried about her overmuch. Yet–she was, was she not, in a perfect position to listen to my conversations…to watch my movements and to see who came and who went. She sometimes hisses at me through the door, so I did doubt her friendliness. Now, I doubt her still further.
It must have been the adrenaline of playing with Maggie coupled with the excitement of finding out more about my brother, Edgar, and his mystery. I did not realize until later that I had broken a nail on the hard ground. It must have been in a moment when I pivoted on the hard ground to run after Maggie. Man and Woman have been trying to keep me quiet and have cleaned the nail and have been watching over me. I love their attention yet part of me wishes for privacy to muse on these newest pieces of the puzzle. The nail doesn’t trouble me much, except that I have a strong urge to lick it, which Woman and Man are trying to quench. I had to wear a mitten as sock when leaving Mr. Bailey’s to protect the foot. I was a bit ruffled at the indignity of this, but bore it as best I could. Mr. Bailey looked obligingly in the other direction as I exited. The nail will grow longer again, and my brother will visit, and I will learn more about this strange mystery. For now, I dream of a dog with dark curls and long legs…