Not My Day

Ever locked yourself in a chicken coop?

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY TIM FOLEY

I pulled into the driveway after work and got out of the car. It had rained again, the sixth day straight here in eastern North Carolina, and the humidity enveloped me like a sweaty blanket during a hot flash. I could wait until morning to pull the weeds that were growing into green monsters, but there were garden vegetables that should be picked now. I awkwardly dug my key out of my purse and let myself into the house.

Oso was at the door as always, wagging his whole body, panting and smiling. He began running out onto the porch and then back in again. “Come out with me! Come out with me!” said his frantic loops. “Just a sec,” I said aloud, dropping my purse onto the kitchen counter. I had been listening to a funny audiobook, Bad Monkey, by Carl Hiaasen, on my iPhone in the car. I tucked the phone into my bra so I could continue listening, grabbed a small basket, and followed Oso into the front yard. I have two vegetable gardens. The one in front is circular and surrounded by a chicken run. It looks like an enclosed jungle, with vines on the fence and tall sunflowers, asparagus plants, and weeds swaying in the breeze. I picked some green beans, cucumbers, and a few late snow peas, then walked over to get the day’s eggs. The chicken coop, a 4’ x 6’ structure that has been painted and repainted by my grandchildren and their friends with sample colors from Lowe’s, is resplendent with stripes and polka dots and random splotches of color. I smiled, as I always do when I see it.

Just then there was a gust of breeze—and the door slammed closed behind me.

The coop has a hinged cover over the nest boxes so that eggs should be easy to pick up from the nest. My chickens, uncooperative biddies that they are, prefer to lay their eggs in the straw on the floor of the coop. Sure enough, there were no eggs in the nest boxes. I opened the 4’ door on the back of the coop and peered into the dim interior. “Darn it,” I muttered. There were three eggs, all in the farthest corner from the door—with six feet of straw and chicken poop between me and them.

I never know how to do this. If I crawl across the coop, I end up with chicken poop on my knees, and I was still in work clothes. This time I tried hunching down and duck waddling. I made it to the back of the coop and reached forward to pick up the beautiful brown eggs. Just then there was a gust of breeze—and the door slammed closed behind me.

“Oh, shoot!” I cried. My iPhone continued to read Bad Monkey. I—Dumb Monkey—wasn’t laughing now. I pushed on the door. The steel latch on the outside didn’t budge. I banged on the plywood door. Nothing—except that the noise attracted Oso. He ran up to the coop and peered through the tiny screen windows, looking puzzled. He whined to see me in there. I whined, too.

I considered lying on the straw bedding and trying to kick the door open, but I didn’t know if I could apply enough force to break either the steel latch or the hinges. I also didn’t relish the thought of getting chicken poo and straw in my hair.

I looked at the little screen windows—no chance of getting through those. Poodle, a white chicken that reliably laid an egg a day for me, wandered up the ramp to its 10” x 16” doorway, tilted her head, and clucked a greeting. Thanks, Poodle.

I looked at my phone: one bar of reception. Still, it was my only option. My son lives in Raleigh, a bit more than 30 miles away, and my daughter is on the other side of town, at least 45 minutes from me. Her ex-husband is a little closer, but calling him was just out of the question. There is only so much humiliation I can bear, and exposing my stupidity to that jerk was well over my limit. Call 911? I thought about it for a few minutes, while flies buzzed around my head and the coop got warmer in the sun (which had finally emerged, just to spite me).

911 it was. I pushed the numbers on the screen.

“911. What is the nature of your emergency?”

“Umm, I am locked in my chicken coop. I know this is stupid, but the door blew shut and I can’t get out. I’m sorry to bother…”

“Ma’am, are you OK? Do you have enough air?”

Being called Ma’am always makes me want to rant, but I was in no position to be critical. ”Uh, yeah, I’m fine. I’m just locked in.”

“What is the address of your emergency?”

Was this an emergency? I felt like an idiot calling her!

She kept calmly asking me questions about my location. “Where is the coop located in relation to your house?”

“In the front yard.”

“The front yard?”

“Yes. The front.”

What color is it?”

I finally managed to convince her that the coop—with its bright colors and crazy patterns—would be easy to find.

“I have called an officer, Ma’am, and he is on his way. Are you breathing OK?”

I wanted to scream, “Yes, yes, YES! I’m fine, but I am as embarrassed as heck and just want to get out of here!” But she sounded so nice and so kind that I couldn’t.

“I am going to stay on the line with you as long as I can.”

I meekly thanked her and brushed away more flies.

Since the dispatcher was still on the line, I couldn’t swear at the chickens or even talk to the dog. I sat on the chicken perch, pondered laying an egg (how hard can it be?), stared out through the little windows, and sweated. I sang—silently—to myself. Dum de dum de dum.

Ten—long—minutes later, I saw a black, mercifully unmarked car come up the driveway, and stop by the gate. I could see the driver on his radio looking through the window at Oso, who was barking and jumping against the fence.

“He’s here,” I said to the dispatcher. “Tell him that the dog is a cream puff.” I heard her relay my exact words and the car door opened, revealing a young man with short brown hair. He had a badge on his belt and gingerly petted Oso over the fence. He relaxed as Oso’s short-tailed rear oscillated rapidly.

The officer, or detective actually, as the dispatcher told me before she signed off, opened the gate and came over to the coop, trying hard to keep a straight face. He opened the door, and I unfolded myself off the perch and wiggled out.

“Are you all right, Ma’am?” Have I mentioned that being called Ma’am makes me want to rant?

I didn’t. I wanted to, but I didn’t. I thanked him sweetly. “All in a days work, Ma’am,” he said, grinning way too broadly.

I watched as he walked—or rather swaggered—back to his car. He was speaking into the radio, no doubt calling the dispatcher, his girlfriend, his drinking buddies, and probably the entire police department.

Nope, it was not my day. But I had certainly made his!


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