This is the third part of my short story, ‘Adopting Love’.
I tried to wipe my eyes without being too obvious. “Lydia. You’ve only gotten prettier since you married Sean.”
She waved a spoon at me. “Been too long, Noah.”
Lydia was the type of woman who made a house into a home. It seemed like God had given her some extra measure of excitement and buoyancy to make life better for a lucky handful of people. Her brown-hair hung down around her ears but was pulled up in the back. She wore a dress that was green, and a large yellow apron. Her face was pretty, but not so gorgeous as beautiful—which seems a cruel thing to think, but I think you would understand that in this case, pretty was almost a more beautiful thing than beautiful because of the ruddiness and health associated with pretty verse beauty associated with frailty.
Moving to the couches, Sean and I conversed while the work in the kitchen continued. We talked a little about his work and some about mine.
The children were at this point in between warm and cold toward me, wondering aimlessly from position to position, helping in the kitchen, watching with careful eyes or studiously ignoring me. I was introduced officially to all of them. Katie, Daniel, Gabe, Nick, Kristy, Monika, Jake, and Josiah. To describe them all here would severely interrupt what flow I’ve created so far, so I’ll probably just tell you a little about them as we move forward.
Soon dinner was ready. Plates were made, heaped with chicken spaghetti, topped with chunks of fresh bread and sided with salad and put on the table, which was a long table, quite long enough for all of us. I was seated at the end across from Sean and Lydia.
The kid with the Minecraft shirt, Daniel, was the unfortunate kid who had to sit by me and for half the meal sat with his back straighter than a gun barrel.
Sean prayed for the blessing and the meal started. Almost all of the children ate in some grotesque manner that was almost appalling but certainly forgivable. The spaghetti was amazing—so was the bread, in fact. It’s been years since I’ve had a homecooked meal like that, and probably will be just as long until I have another one so good.
The conversation we had over the dinner table ping-ponged about for a while between us adults, but little at a time, the children finally seemed to open up enough to contribute. Before my pile of pasta was half eaten, I was full-fledged qualified for any sort of listening business and questions started to come my way. Several of the children were hard to understand, but someone was always willing to relay what had been said to me.
We talked a lot about gardening, which I could relate to, and my job. I was intrigued to find an audience that was more interested in my story about (unsuccessfully) washing mustard out of my suit in the hotel sink than it was about my take on the presidential cabinet.
After the meal, I accepted an offer to take a tour around the house, so we pulled out shoes back on and marched down toward the barn that I had seen earlier. The sun had disappeared behind the trees and, in the wake of its disappearance, the firmament was streaked with coral pink clouds set over the deep blue sky backdrop. Texas sunsets. It’d been too long. I took a deep breath, feeling as if I could smell the sunset.
The children seemed to decide that I would first like to see the barn, so we walked along a well-used path beaten out of the thick St. Augustine grass. The path wound around the side of the house, past a flowerbed of blooming azalea bushes, interspersed with lilies, poking their heads through the foliage of the azaleas. We briefly stopped at an air conditioning unit where I was told that there had once been a water snake that had tried to bite Daniel and the more amusing story about a fried mouse that had shorted the entire unit and broken it.
“Dad had to open the control panel.” Dan told me, his already unnatural grin growing wider. “And then we saw the fried mouse. He was kind of cute, except for his curled hairs, and that he smelled funny and that you could see the bones around his eyes. Nick keeps him in jar under his bed.”
I pretended to be horrified and bellowed, “NICK?” I spun around and found him, and then shook my finger reprovingly. “I have to see your fried mouse.”
We laughed and laughed. I haven’t laughed like that since, well, I don’t know. Too long.
Nick ran to get his fried mouse and we carried on over the yard and the path as they dipped and led to the barn. It was a large metal building with an old car in it (something that Sean hopes to fix up maybe?) and bikes in the horse stalls. The door to each was hand-painted and bore the name of the bike. There was the Red Racer, Buffalo Bill, Horsy, Purple Princess (just think about that for a moment), and several others that weren’t quite so salient. Upon stepping onto the dusty concrete floor littered with white, black, brown, and speckled chicken feathers, my attention was directed upward. Cups of mud, swallow nests, clasp to the rafters. The beautiful birds moved in and out of their nests with ease and didn’t pay us any mind.
At the end of the barn, a large area had been closed in with chicken wire. The chickens still shuffled around inside the boxy enclosure, getting comfortable on the roosting bars—I could tell this from the loud shuffling. I used to have chickens, remember? and this was one of my favorite parts of the day because it was so peaceful and sweet to watch them tuck their beaks in their shoulders and turn in for the night. When we walked up, a chicken poked her head out of the door, saw us, and then quickly waddled out the open cage door. More chickens followed quickly and surrounded us.
There were… ah, what are they called? You know the commercial layers? They’re white and have—leghorns! That’s it. They had some leghorns, some handsome Rode Island reds, a couple beautiful Dominques, and many other breeds less notable—all of them walked about our legs, softly ‘humming’ and peering up at us expectantly.
Monika, who I haven’t yet introduced, (she’s a sweet girl with a huge heart) pulled the lid off a plastic bin and took out several handfuls of chicken scratch. For my uninformed readers, ‘scratch’ is just a collection of seeds, like bird feed, but only for special treats for chickens. I guess they call it scratch because people toss it onto the ground and the chicken scratch to find it, but it’s really not the most creative name. I knelt with some cupped in my hands and opened a brief buffet to the chickens. After a couple seconds, I was shaking the last seeds from between my fingers.
I hope you enjoyed this installment of this short story!