|Three chapters from
by Katha Sheehan
Visit The Chicken
in Key West
for a copy of
this original, inventful
& insightful novel by the
founder of The Chicken Store,
Now Mattie was a
glossy little pullet, light brown,
black trim, with a rosy breast and a ring of black flames around her
Red derived great
satisfaction from watching her in
motion, although he couldn’t say why. Maybe it was because she
Clan. Maybe it was the way the sun illuminated her feathers,
bringing up an amazing purple
sheen where at first it looked plain black. Maybe it was
the way she swung her full little body, and confidently crossed her
shapely little green legs in front of her as she walked. Or it
comfort of the sounds she made when she was happy? Her bravery
she stood up to a snake, and forced it to back off?
puzzling. He found himself now
following her around as she scratched and fed, positioning himself so
he could glance down at her frequently. He was especially drawn
to look at that spot below the back of her neck, between the shoulders,
where the feathers kind of jiggled as she nosed into her food.
When she expressed delight
over a tasty morsel, he looked at that spot and felt his hackles
It was a savory feeling.
more actively sought out tasty morsels for her,
to hear her make that sound. One day he found the most beautiful
palmetto bug any chicken could hope to eat. He dropped it before
triumphantly. She made
that sound -- a sound which stuck in her throat, almost a choking
sound, as if she were overcome with excitement.
felt his body go warm with pride. He
craned his head to see The Spot between her wings. It was
quivering as she worked the bug, slamming it on the ground
repeatedly. Red’s hackles rose, and his
claw reached for The
Mattie’s wings popped out sideways in submission
when she felt the weight of his foot. Red grabbed the feathers on
the top of her
head with his beak, and now he was riding her and she was bracing for
him. He folded himself over her then, pouring his soul into her,
and she fully accepted him. In this moment of mutual surrender he
his wings to their fullest and drew them forward, over his face and
hers, as if to shield their rapture from prying eyes.
over in a spasm of joy. He stepped off,
dazed, panting. He wasn’t sure what had happened, but he felt it
was good. It felt
like something he was born to do.
got up and shook. She stuck a toenail
in her ear and gave the ear canal a good scratching. She seemed
“Wow, now I’m REALLY hungry,” she said.
new activity, love-making, remained for Red a
thing of undiminished charm. They were now doing it several times
day. Then Mattie told Red she urgently needed a nesting-place.
threw himself into the Quest For Nest. He
began scouting along walls and under bougainvillaea, in abandoned
washrooms and among the snake-plants. Whenever he found something
that looked like a good
prospect, he called Mattie and she eagerly joined him. Together
they explored the possibilities of each location.
would crouch down in the dirt and begin work on
a nesting-bowl. He scraped the dirt out from under him as he
turned around in a circle, all the while clucking to Mattie and telling
her how happy they could be with their eggs in this lovely bower.
She, meanwhile, would
scamper all about and check every aspect of the location. Then
she would reject it. They did this little song-and-dance
Art by Antonio
was being difficult. “This place is too
humid. Too near the street-- stray dogs. Too low, might
flood. Too close to the
snake’s burrow. Bad lighting. No air circulation. Smells
funny. Too far from water supply. No emergency exit.
Just doesn’t FEEL right.”
Red’s enthusiasm remained undiminished.
He was disappointed when she rejected another perfectly good apartment,
but hope sprang eternal when he found a new spot to offer her.
Anyway, he had nothing better
to do. The bugs were running and life was good.
Mattie’s first labor. She didn’t know
what was happening at first. She stopped in her tracks, panting,
with her wings
out. She had a wild look in her eye. Then she dove under
Red’s breast, as
if seeking shelter. He looked down lovingly at The Spot, but
something told him this was not the time for love-play.
soon came out of her panic and they grazed
together for a while, but then she got that wild look again and took
off. Red could hear small noises under the bougainvillaea.
half-heartedly in the
dust. She would let him know what she needed him to do next,
right? This was taking forever!
squawk from the bushes, followed by
cautionary cackling. Red ran to see. She was semi-crouched
over a pink, humid egg, which
she delicately rolled beneath
her breast with her beak while she cackled
her warning. Red took up the call and together they celebrated
few minutes she said, “That’s enough.”
Red crowed the “all clear,” and
the two walked away from The Egg. It would not be
there when she returned the
next day-- the snake got it.
laid one every other day. Sometimes they
just rolled out of her when she was not expecting it, but more often
she would try to go back to the place where she had laid last.
Sometimes she could not
where that was. Red
daily tried to help her find the right spot.
she found one which suited her: under
a coontie (arrowroot) plant in the sideyard, near a dripping air
conditioner. “Here I
will lay my eggs from now on,” Mattie said, and she did.
lived an idyllic existence of pleasant duties
and routine joys. Mattie shared her mother’s love of The Egg but
unlike Ella, was not obsessed with it. From time to time Red and
Mattie viewed together their stash of pinkish opaline treasures.
It gave them feelings
that the best was yet to come, but it also gave them anxiety, to have
such precious objects so exposed, so vulnerable to evil.
to fight a snake off, once. The yellow
corn snake came slithering down a tree, headed for the nest.
Mattie saw it and
alerted Red. He attacked it, beak, wing and claw, as if it were a
rival. The coward turned tail and fled into a crevice.
day, another egg. A couple more eggs,
and Mattie would be ready to set. Then the unthinkable occurred.
Sheehan, captain of the
Key West Rooster Rescue Team and
founder of The Chicken
Store in Key West, Florida, has appeared in the New York Times, London's Sunday
Telegraph, and on major national TV news and entertainment
channels, together with
her gypsy chickens.
of an Island Rooster is
by Antonio, a Mallory
who was born in Cuba. He has lived
painted in Key West
since 1980. His work is in private
collections around the world.
top of page