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Penultimate Turkey Day

Shirley.

So there I was, amid scurrying rats with an upside-down plastic penguin and a galloping heart, gasping for breath.

…maybe I should back up.

So, I was taking care of livestock for two separate out-of-town friends. This particular day I’d already whistled a bunch of goats into behaving and had a flock of geese very curious about me and whatever snacks I might be carrying. Then it was another half-hour in the car to get to my second livestock babysitting job, and I was about to face Turkey Boy once more.

It’s not that I dislike him. It’s just that I had a job to do, and he seemed very determined to interfere. And really, I was the source of fowl kibble, and it was in his best interests to leave me be while I filled the trough–but good luck explaining that to a puffed-up, very angry turkey just entering his first mating season.

Anyway, I carried Shirley down to the coop, braced myself, and went around the side to prop her on a yellow rain bucket. I was greeted by the chickens, who had figured out my arrival meant food of one type or another and were very excited, and Goose Girl, whose honking started pretty much the moment I opened my friend’s back door to go down the coop hill.

And, of course, Turkey Boy strutted into the covered yard, gobbling once or twice and eyeing me with beady impatience.

Now, the day before had brought an unwelcome development or two. First, Turkey Boy had figured out that I had to remove the shovel from the egg room entrance as I retreated; he was bound and determined to keep my rearguard engaged, hoping to force a battle upon familiar ground. It’s no secret that the hardest maneuver to pull off is a fighting retreat, but so far I’d managed. And if the gods were willing and the two-foot plastic penguin could distract Turkey Boy for long enough, I could be in and out in short order, and retire safely.

I’d been doing some thinking, and instead of putting Shirley on a concrete stepping stone, I decided some altitude was necessary. (She is, after all, a flightless bird.) Fortunately there was a yellow rain bucket at the far end of the covered yard, so I propped her there, careful to point her beak away so she would appear to be eyeing the yard sidelong.

It seemed to work–Goose Girl and Turkey Boy took turns yelling at the interloper, while the chickens, almost unconcerned, watched me for any sign of scratch grain. I tossed in their daily ration and tried not to scream when I saw a flicker of tail and beady eye well across the yard. The rats were keeping a low profile, since Schrodinger Roy had followed me down the hill.

Roy’s an interesting case. He’s actually two smoke-grey cats who could be twins, or, like Olsen Twins, one cat vibrating so quickly he appears to be in two places at once. If I hadn’t been possessed of absolute proof, both photographic and direct, that they were a pair, I’d’ve thought my friend had a teleporting cat outside as well as in. (Long story.) Anyway, Schrodinger Roy does a great deal of ratting down at the coop, and I am sure pickings are quite good.

Anyway, I gathered the kibble, got the trusty shovel, and managed to get in the egg room and block the door as usual. I think the chickens had pecked an importunate rat to death, since I had to also use the shovel to get a rag of fur and bones out of the egg room and one of the fresh-laid eggs had been destroyed, poor thing.

Turkey Boy was gobbling loudly, letting everyone know that there was an observer he didn’t care for. And then, as I dumped the kibble and began loading the can with unsmashed hen fruit, a deadly quiet descended.

Uh-oh, I thought, but had to finish my work. It was another feat of agility and flexibility to gather the eggs while keeping the door blocked, and suddenly the shovel was almost wrenched out of my hand again.

Turkey Boy had decided on a surprise attack.

Once more, I retreated with shovel in one hand and a coffee can of eggs in the other. Once more, Turkey Boy threw himself at the egg room door, and I heard his claws scrape wood suspiciously near where my head would be.

Did I mention turkeys fly for short distances, since they like to roost above the forest floor? Yeah, I found that out.

I braced the egg room door and had to outright tell my fingers to turn loose of the shovel. Then there was tidying the small antechamber with the galvanized bins of kibble and scratch, as well as transferring the eggs to a plastic bag for carrying up the hill. When I was done, I closed the coop door with a sigh of relief, and almost jumped out of my skin as Schrodinger (or Roy, who can tell, although Roy is usually the more vocal of the two) mewed slightly to let me know backup had arrived.

“You missed the party,” I told him, sotto voce, and his tail flicked. Then I realized something that made my heart plummet into my guts with an almost audible splash.

It was, again, quiet. Too quiet.

I rounded the corner and hurried along the coop wall, reached the fence, and stopped, somewhat confused. At first I thought the damn turkey had exploded out of sheer spite, and then I thought he had melted like hot wax.

Apparently, Turkey Boy had figured out I wasn’t in the egg room to punish, so he chose the next best thing, the tuxedo-clad interloper. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but…

Apparently Goose Girl had been attempting to snake her neck through the fencing and get to Shirley. She might have succeeded, being a creature with no little cunning and quite a bit of persistence, if not for Turkey Boy catching sight of this and deciding, in truly male fashion, that he could do it better.

Especially if he stood on a goose.

“Oh shit,” I said, and Roy mewed again, taking off at an angle along the coop fence. Now, the cat was supremely unconcerned about Shirley or me. What he was really interested in was a rat, and I suppose he’d seen one.

Feathers flew. Goose Girl honked like a bagpipe in the squeezing arms of a murderous clown, and Turkey Boy attempted to climb her in order to reach Shirley, who floated serenely above the fray.

Or, she appeared to, because she was teetering on the rain barrel. Motion communicated through the fencing couldn’t tip over the small barrel, but Shirley, though large, is also hollow.

I am almost certain I teleported across the intervening space, because if I had moved in the usual manner I’m sure I would have punted a cat. I had the hazy idea that Shirley might be injured if she fell from that height, but also, the fencing was beginning to look a little like it might not hold up under Turkey Boy’s assault, and poor Goose Girl, stunned but not yet down for the count, still had her neck through it.

Things happened very quickly.

I got there just as Shirley toppled, grabbed her head–look, it was the only handle I could be sure of–and raised her aloft. Turkey Boy beat his wings, gobbling and making a noise I can only describe as a rattle, and Goose Girl began to curse him with the fervor of a Roman matron warning an entire temple about the approach of the Gauls. Chickens scattered, Roy leapt on a hole–just missing a long naked tail–and, true to form, I was swearing.

At the top of my lungs.

I finished by holding Shirley aloft like a war club and screaming, “GODDAMN YOU, [turkey name], THAT IS E-NOUGH!”

It was the same tone I’d take with a bus full of misbehaving third-graders, and while it didn’t dent Turkey Boy’s enthusiasm, it startled Goose Girl into retracting her head through the fence, clearly grasping this was a higher priority than getting the dumbass Meleagris off her back. Which was, frankly, all to the good. But if the damn fence came down, I was going to have to fight a pitched battle with the fucking turkey.

So that was how I came to be swearing at top volume, waving a plastic penguin at a turkey while rats fled a teleporting cat.

At least I was wearing shoes. (Small mercies.)

Goose Girl reared, spreading her snow-white wings, and I would have been lost in artistic appreciation if the situation hadn’t been so dire. Turkey Boy sailed backwards, since he had not–thank the gods–been clutching with his spurs, and he landed with a feathery oof that would have been funny if I hadn’t been so, well, out of sorts is the only way I can describe it.

I checked the fence, left Roy stalking around and waiting for some quiet to entice his prey back out, and hoped Goose Girl hadn’t been injured. (She’s fine, don’t worry.) I carried Shirley up the hill, cradling her somewhat tenderly, and I realized halfway that not only was I apologizing (aloud and repeatedly) to a plastic penguin…

…but I had dropped the eggs. Fortunately, I was able to scurry back downhill and grab the plastic bag without incident, since Turkey Boy had decided to nurse his grudges and look for scratch in the wider, fenced, but uncovered yard on the other side of the coop.

That was my second-to-last day of turkey wrangling. And you know what? I hadn’t cracked a single egg.

Goddamn turkey. But at least Shirley–and Goose Girl–were uninjured.

And I still had one more day of turkey wrangling to go.