Quarter Castle Publishing
Published: March 15, 2014
ISBN (Paperback, 5.5 x 8.5 inches; Standard; 113 pages): 978-1-927625-13-2
ISBN (eBook; approximately 23,690 words): 978-1-927625-14-9
Reviews for Fowl Summer Nights coming soon.
Fowl Summer Nights Trailer
Take a drive down Shamo Drive and see Mrs. Vorwerk at her mailbox. If you stop to talk with the decrepit widow, look out for flying teeth. A little further down the road is Angus Mills. He’s your typical widower with a backyard pool, rose bush and a love for spying on old women.
Squished between these two experienced elderly pensioners is Mildred Fowler. Unlike her neighbours, Mildred hasn’t yet mastered the art of being a retired widow. Given her spunk and passion for life however, she’s bound to stir up a little trouble in the community of Welsummer when armed with the proper determination.
Excerpt (first chapter)
The accolades and celebration of forty-three years of service with Canada Post dissipated the first week of retirement. At the age of sixty-five years and seven days Mildred Fowler concluded she had received the worst possible birthday gift: unemployment.
The smiles and hugs from coworkers still flickered before her eyes and the din of their congratulations whined in her ears. Even the sweet smell of Catalana’s breath as she toasted to long days of leisure lingered on her nose hairs. She now questioned if they genuinely believed being sent out to pasture was a joyful occasion or if they simply aimed to give her a final hurrah before she entered into obscurity. In reality, who desired to do nothing all day?
Her son Clyde told her to take up a hobby if she became bored, which he sincerely doubted she would. “You’re where everyone aims to be,” he had said. “You’ve earned this freedom. Take advantage of it while you still have your health.”
“You’ll be able to sleep in,” her youngest son Victor had said on the phone from his office in Summerside.
Mildred frowned upon sleeping in and missing the sunrise. She saw no advantage in snoozing away her day, the remainder of her life.
Her only daughter Donna had told her to travel, to visit old friends, but without a travelling companion she dared not leave the comfort of her neighbourhood.
Mildred flopped onto the big comfy chair in her livingroom and gazed around her quaint little home. Since her loving husband James had passed away seven years before, her life had seemed empty. Now it felt meaningless. While employed she at least had a purpose, a reason to rise each day. With all the time in the world, she didn’t know what to do.
She picked up the phone and dialled Clyde’s number. After four rings, she heard a click.
“Mom.” He sounded agitated, speaking only her name and not his customary cheery hello. Darn call display didn’t even give him the opportunity to greet her with optimism. “This is the third time today. I’m working.”
“Clyde, I was wondering if you’d like to have supper with me this evening,” said Mildred. “I’ll cook a turkey and all the fixings.”
“Mom…Jake’s got hockey practice and Sarah’s at dance. Jenny and I won’t have time to squeeze in a sit down between work and kids.”
He exhaled heavily. “Mom, I know you’re adjusting to your new life, but…I can’t always be there when I have so much to do here and at home.”
“I always had time for you.”
The phone hung silent for a moment. “Saturday, Mom. I’ll take you out for brunch. How does that sound?”
“If it’s all you can spare the fine woman who brought you into this world and gave you life, then I should be gracious and accept.”
“Not gonna work this time, Mom. Have you looked into the local seniors’ organisation? I’m sure they have a zillion events going on.”
Mildred huffed. “I did a drive-by. Do you know that’s a place where they ditch old people? I mean really old people. Most of them can’t hold their water let alone a shot of rum.”
“Get a pet. A cat. It will keep you company.”
“A cat? I never liked hair all over the furniture.”
“Okay, Mom. We’ll talk Saturday. I have to go. The boss is giving me the eye.” The phone went dead.
“Good-bye, son.” Mildred hung up the receiver. “A pet.” She shuddered. She’d never owned a pet in her life. The gerbil that ran away didn’t count, and the kids had claimed the stray cat that hung around during their childhood. She picked up the newspaper and sifted through the pages, not taking note of any particular article. The pictures entertained, but most depicted puffed-up politicians who yakked more than they performed.
She prepared to pitch the weekly into the wood pile when a bright, big-eyed creature caught her attention. The caption read: Support Your Local Youth Group – Buy a Chick. Mildred read more about the fund-raiser for 4-H. Members had hatched out one hundred chicks and were selling them for five dollars apiece. The article provided a brief description on how to care for chickens.
Mildred puckered her lips. It didn’t sound difficult, and it would provide her with something to do. And it would support the 4-H kids. It was a win-win opportunity. She checked the time and location. The sale began in three hours at Welsummer’s Farmers’ Market. It gave her plenty of time to prepare for her chicks.
For the first time in seven days Mildred felt she had a purpose. The spring in her step launched her out of the chair and around the house.
Before the chick stand opened for business, Mildred stood in line waiting with her empty box. Two other people arrived to wait behind her. They were a middle-aged couple, still working people who obviously had flexible schedules to be at the farmers’ market at two on a Tuesday afternoon.
“Are you here for the chicks?” asked the scarfed female. A billowy fluff of pink and black stripes buried her neck.
“I was thinking of it,” said Mildred. “Certainly with a box in my hand I’m doing more than thinking of it.” She grinned.
“How many are you getting?” asked the man next to her. He reminded Mildred of a regular customer at the post office with his shiny, slicked-back yellow hair.
“I’m not sure. Is there a limit?” She hadn’t considered the number of chicks she’d purchase. “Maybe one will be good to get me started. But it would be lonely. I should get two.”
“There’s no limit,” he said. “You could buy all one hundred if you wanted.”
“Honestly?” The idea of one hundred chicks livening up her house lost her in thought.
“No,” said the scarfed woman. “We want a few.”
Her mate chuckled. “I was only joking. What would you do when they started laying? You’d have a hundred eggs a day.”
One hundred eggs a day! thought Mildred. What would she do with them? Sell them. That would require customers. It might be the start of a mini business to generate a supplemental income and a steady stream of company.
Mildred turned to face the stand and watch several young people open the barn-style shed and hustle around, arranging tables, chairs and flyers. Perhaps two chicks would be enough to start. If she enjoyed fostering chicks, she could buy a few more. What if one died? The other would be lonely. She should get three to protect against it. Three was a crowd or were they company?
The sound of cheeping neared, and she looked to see a youth carry a box containing dozens of holes. The cheeping came from it. The lively clamour enchanted her. Three was definitely a crowd. She needed four to keep them happy, and then they’d have partners for their games. She’d buy four chicks. Four eggs a day sounded like an excellent number. She could eat two for breakfast and make cookies or muffins with the others. Fresh eggs tasted divine. She’d eaten them numerous times in her life; store-bought eggs couldn’t compete with the colour or flavour.
“Are you here to buy chicks?” A young girl in a thick sweatshirt stood near her.
“Yes, thank you.” Mildred stepped forward. “I’m debating on how many.”
“We always recommend buying one or two more than you think you’ll need. If you want only two eggs a day, get three,” she said, smiling to reveal a lovely set of braces that would make everyone run out and buy a set. “They don’t lay every day, but they lay most days.”
Mildred rolled this detail around in her mind. “Five. I believe I’ll take five. We’ve been rounding up for pennies, so it only makes sense.”
The girl imparted a blank stare as if struggling to figure out the similarities between pennies and chicks.
A boy about the same age plunked one of the cheeping boxes on the display table. “How many?”
“Five, dear,” said Mildred. She glanced into the box. The little peeps looked adorable.
“That’s twenty-five dollars,” he said, smiling. “Great, you brought a box.” He reached for it.
Mildred dug into her cavernous purse and uncovered her wallet from a mound of coupons, tissues and bandages. She extracted five five-dollar bills and deposited them in the young man’s hands. “One, two, three, four and five.” She grinned. “Five for five. That’s a high five.” She winked.
The boy passed the money to the girl and counted out five yellow chicks.
“Are they all light brown, or what is this called? Golden?” asked Mildred. “Do they come in other colours?”
“These are Rhode Island Red chicks, so they are all the same colour,” he said.
“Oh.” Mildred scrutinised the two boxes. Some chicks were a little lighter or a wee bit darker, but they all looked relatively the same. How could she name them and remember who was who?
“When they get older, they’ll have rich brown feathers decorated with dark brown and black,” he said. “Sometimes there’s also a white feather.”
“Just one white feather?”
He nodded. “Weird, ain’t it?”
“How am I to tell the boys from the girls?” she asked, inspecting the chicks as he positioned them in her box.
“They’re all girls. Hens,” he said. “They’re the only ones that lay eggs.”
“These are chickens, aren’t they?”
He paused as he considered her question. “They’re all chickens, and they’re all hens.”
She stared in silence, trying to sort out the foreign information. “Aren’t roosters chickens?”
“Yes, they are, but they don’t lay eggs. Only hens lay eggs.”
“You’re telling me these chicks are all chickens and they are all hens which imply they all lay eggs. And there are no roosters in the bunch.” She waited for the confirmation. It all sounded a little bizarre.
“That’s right.” He closed the lid of the box and held it out to her.
“So all these girls will lay eggs?” She gripped the box and pulled it close.
“Yes, because they’re all hens.” He peered past her to the waiting couple.
Mildred glanced at them. They immediately hid their smiles, but not before she caught them. She squinted, puckered her lips and made a beeline for her car. The scarfed lady stepped back to give her room. She positioned the box gingerly in the back seat and closed the door. Then she had second thoughts. They were too young to travel alone back there. She opened the door, removed the box and carried it to the passenger seat. Once in place, she analysed the arrangement of the box. It appeared unsteady. She reached over and drew the seatbelt snugly around the cardboard container, securing it in place.
“There. You’re safe to travel.” She flung the door closed and proceeded to the driver’s side. After starting the engine, she wondered if the radio played too loudly. She lowered the volume, making Stompin’ Tom whisper Gumboot Cloggeroo. Then she worried about the draft entering the open window. She rolled it up just in case.
Now that Babies were Onboard she drove slower than usual. She didn’t want to injure her precious cargo should she have an accident. By the time she turned into her driveway, she had a line-up of six vehicles following her. A few waved, but one honked brashly and pulled into the adjoining driveway.
Mildred gently slipped the box from the car seat and turned to go inside. She’d need to feed and water them right away. She had no way of knowing when they last ate.
She rotated and watched Mr. Angus Mills stomp towards her, a full head of anger already steaming. His short grey hair was disarray and his face pepper hot.
“Mrs. Fowler, are you aware there’s a law against driving too slow?” He halted so close to the box of chicks any movement might shove them into Mildred’s chest.
“No, I’m not aware of such a ridiculous rule,” she said. “If there was one—which I doubt—then bicyclists would be ticketed non-stop.”
He huffed. “It’s not for spandex pedal pushers, but for old women who should no longer be gassing it between the lines.” His nostrils flared, causing his nose hairs to shoot towards her in an unseemly manner.
“Inconceivable! Share the roads; share the laws and with it the fines.” She grunted and thrust her chin forward. Since his retirement more than five years earlier, Angus the Anal Neighbour had not given her one moment’s peace. He complained she hadn’t shovelled her driveway and sidewalk quickly enough, grumbled about her method of cutting her lawn and trimming her hedges and whined when she left the porch light on all night.
“The next time I call the police!” He spun and lumbered towards his vehicle, mumbling. “Dingbat.”
“I heard that!” he spat.
“You must have cleaned the wax out of your ears.” She cradled her precious cargo as she walked. Cheeping exploded inside the box.
“What in tarnation is that?” shouted Angus Mills.
“That is none of your nosey business.” Mildred unlocked her front door, stepped inside and slammed it behind her. With neighbours like Anus Mills who needed a power plant spewing obnoxious air? The time had arrived for him to abandon his widower’s pad and head for the nearest geriatrics institution.
She set the box of chicks gently on the floor while she removed her jacket and shoes. The cheeping fell silent as if the little birds realised they were no longer home, no longer with their mama. Mildred suddenly felt a twinge of regret. She had taken these poor dears away from their mother. They would be traumatised for life.
One innocent cheep escaped the closed box and filled the little home that had felt vacant for seven years. The sound ignited an inner desire to tend to its needs regardless of how small or how large. She had not felt essential since James had departed for the afterlife. She would answer the call.
Where could her pint-sized peeps stay safe until they grew bigger? The bathroom. More precisely, the bathtub. Mildred picked up the box and transported it protectively with two hands. Movement inside made her tilt the box against the motion to keep it balanced. She rested the box in the tub and opened the lid. Five sets of bright black eyes gazed up at her through fluffy, golden down. They appeared petrified.
“Oh, you sweeties, there’s nothing to fear with Aunt Millie.” With her index finger she gently stroked a chick’s head. It opened its beak and a cheep erupted. The others began cheeping like crazy and darting away from her hand. She withdrew and they stopped.
She scrutinised the porcelain tub. It felt cold and unwelcoming. It required sprucing-up to make it feel more like home. A thick, fluffy towel! She leapt up, rushed to the closet and extracted a green towel. “Perfect. It looks like grass.”
Mildred spread the towel on the bottom of the tub, then she removed the chicks from the box. They pecked the strands in the towel, tugging on them with their beaks. They cheeped merrily as they scratched the towel with their feet. The tranquil scene compelled Mildred to rest her chin on her arms and watch. The afternoon elapsed and before she realised it, bedtime had arrived.