Time: 15 minutes
Prompt: "...by locking her in a chicken coop at night..."
Source: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
The second thing that Abby's keeper intended by putting Abby in with the chickens at night was that Abby should learn to appreciate her situation. Abby's keeper didn't like Abby. Abby's keeper hoped that when Abby was allowed to return to the cot under the stairs in the root cellar, Abby would work hard and not talk and not complain and not ask for more food. That was the second thing. The first thing that Abby's keeper intended by locking her in a chicken coop at night was that Abby should discover why the chickens weren't laying.
It was the weasels. That was why. But Abby's keeper didn't know about the weasels. Neither did Abby, and Abby never found out.
Weasels were more adept at finding chinks in the wooden panels of the chicken coop walls than Abby was at repairing chinks. Also, because neither Abby nor her keeper suspected weasels, small weasel-sized chinks were ignored. Abby's keeper was concerned about foxes. A fox or a dog could not fit through a weasel-sized chink. A fox would eat a chicken. So would a dog. A weasel though—a weasel was different.
A weasel would creep in among the chickens and whistle to them softly and soothe them with its long, warm body. It would lay along side of a fatted hen for an hour or sometimes half of a night. Then, when she was asleep, the weasel, ever so careful, would slip its teeth into her feathered neck and drain away some mouthsful of her blood. Quiet weasel. Smooth weasel. Gentle weasel. There were many weasels.
The hen might wake or might not. She might think it was a bug biting her. If she did wake, she would see the weasel's body nestled up against her own and she would go back to sleep. Giving blood to the weasel made her sleepy. The weasel never took enough blood to kill a hen. Just enough so that the hen was weak and wouldn't lay for several days. When she was healthy enough to lay an egg, the weasel knew that he could drink from her again without hurting her. Sometimes the weasel would also eat the egg.
Abby's keeper didn't know about the weasels or about how sweet the weasels could be to the chickens—how the chickens who did figure out what the weasels were doing didn't mind because laying eggs hurt and a few days off was a nice break and the weasels were warm and soft and gentle. Abby's keeper just knew that the chickens weren't laying. She didn't like that. Also, she didn't like Abby. She knew Abby was smart though, so she wanted Abby to figure out why the chickens weren't laying.
She never did. Abby didn't learn why the chickens weren't laying, because when Abby was there—there in the chicken coop—the weasels didn't come. The chickens started laying again. The weasels went hungry for a while, but weasels can go for a long time without food, so it was alright.
What Abby did learn—what she learned when she was staying with the chickens—she learned how to suck eggs. She had seen her keeper do it many times, but Abby had never tried. Her keeper had never let her have an egg. Abby learned how to make a little hole in one end with a stick and a bigger hole in the other end. And then she would suck the runny yolk and slippery clear part out. When she finished eating—when she wasn't hungry anymore—Abby would crush the shells and mix them in with the wood chips and the chicken manure so that her keeper didn't find out that she was eating the eggs. Because Abby was smart.
The chickens all laid many eggs and Abby only ate some of them. This meant that there were more eggs laid after Abby's keeper started locking Abby in the chicken coop than there were before. Abby's keeper liked that. She didn't like Abby. She moved Abby's cot into the chicken coop and stored empty jars under the stairs in the root cellar. Abby didn't mind. She sucked eggs and she grew strong. Sometimes the chickens missed the weasels, but they liked Abby, so it was alright.
When she was big enough, Abby left the chicken coop and she left her keeper. Abby took the chickens with her when she left. Abby's keeper tried to stop her, but Abby was strong now, as well as smart, so Abby locked her keeper in the chicken coop. And then she left.
Abby's keeper really didn't like Abby. When Abby's keeper got tired of shouting and screaming for help, she cried. Then she fell asleep.
After that, the weasels came back. There were many weasels. Weasels can go a long time without food. Not forever. It had been a long time since they had taken blood from the chickens. They liked the blood from the chickens. What they found when they passed through the weasel-sized chinks between the wooden panels of the chicken coop's walls was not chickens. It was something else. It was asleep. The weasels would have preferred chickens, but they were hungry, so it was alright.
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