The first we heard about the caper was a call from my brother in law, Ralph Jones, who works at the Vineyard Haven Thrift Shop on Fridays. On his way to work, he’d stopped at our place to pick up some paper bags and other stuff we were donating to the shop.
About a half hour later I got the call from him. “Cynner,” he addressed me in a strained voice by my childhood nickname. “I got to the Thrift Shop, opened the trunk, and a chicken hopped out.”
“Uhhh,” I said. “We’ll be there as soon as we can get there.”
In the course of the first year of our marriage, Howie and I have acquired seven Guinea fowl, six rental goats, and four laying hens — two Rhode Island Reds and two Plymouth Rocks. One of the Reds, Whitey by name, has a fascination for motorized vehicles. We discovered this when we were at MVTV, our local community access TV channel. On this particular day we’d picked up the mail, shopped at Cronig’s, gone to Conroy’s Apothecary, and then went on to MVTV to check out their new building.
After touring the facilities we were headed back to the parking lot when Howie stopped, cocking an ear toward the back of his truck. “I hear a chicken,” he said.
“Impossible,” I responded. But then I, too, heard that distinctive “brrruck? brrruck?” of a contented hen.
He lifted the cover, let down the tailgate with care, and there, nesting on his safari hat, was Whitey, the Red. She’d nested there for two days.
So when we got Ralph’s call, we weren’t exactly surprised. We snatched up a Cronig’s cloth bag, dumped in a cup full of millet seed, and headed for Chicken Alley. Whitey had eluded all attempts to catch her, and like the magician she is, she had scurried off in all directions. Search parties from the Thrift Shop had fanned out toward Five Corners, the Vineyard Haven Post Office, the Chamber of Commerce, the Black Dog, the Steamship Authority, the Art Cliff Diner, Tisbury Printer, the ball field, and the soon-to-be museum building. No luck.
As soon as we got there, we scattered millet seed around the Thrift Shop’s small parking area, left the cloth bag and remaining seed with Annie Tuerff, who works there, and left. Whitey had escaped capture by some of the Island’s finest, and it was hopeless to search further.
We went home. Howie drank his pomegranate juice and I had a double gin and tonic.
“She’s been run over,” I said, taking a large swallow of my drink.
“She’ll be fine,” said Howie. “Someone will adopt her.”
“Chicken fricassee,” I mourned.
Howie patted my knee. “She’s got a nice new home.”
Eight o’clock the next morning, I’d finally fallen asleep after a night of tossing and turning, when the phone rang. I let the answering machine pick up.
“Cynner?” It was my sister, Alvida, Ralph’s wife. “They caught your chicken, but you’d better hurry because the man has to get to work.”
I threw on clothes, ran outside to find Howie, who was picking zucchini in his zucchini patch. “They found Whitey!” I gasped, out of breath. “Quick, before she escapes!”
We headed down State Road toward Five Corners. Saturday in July. Traffic was summer normal. From the intersection of the Vineyard Haven/Edgartown Road to Five Corners, Howie had the pleasure of watching a young woman in short shorts stroll leisurely just ahead of us.
Would the man who’d captured Whitey leave for work before we got there? What would happen to her if he did? I was straining against my seat belt. Howie reached into the glove box and found a semi-melted bar of chocolate. He handed it to me wordlessly.
A full 45 minutes after we left West Tisbury, we turned right onto Lagoon Pond Road, aka Chicken Alley. Howie parked. Annie rushed out from the door of the Thrift Shop, where she’d been watching for us, and escorted me across the road, holding up her hands to stop traffic. We crossed to the other side and headed for a house with the most magnificent porch I’d ever seen, where two of the most handsome men I’d ever laid eyes on sat, and there was Whitey, cozying up to the man on the left, whose name was Lindberg, I learned later. She was sipping intermittently from a bowl of water and looking up with tenderness at Lindberg, who was smoothing her feathers. “Brrruck? brrruck?” she cooed softly.
“She’s all yours,” said Lindberg, lifting Whitey to her feet. “She’s a nice chicken. Friendly.”
She’s back home now, thanks to the ministrations of the Thrift Shop and Lindberg.
Ralph has been regaling Thrift Shop customers with the tale of how he brought a chicken to Chicken Alley.
As soon as we get up enough guts to face Vineyard Haven’s summer traffic again, we plan to deliver some of Whitey and her associates’ eggs to Lindberg. With thanks.
Makes you understand why chickens cross the road, doesn’t it.
Cynthia Riggs is a mystery writer who lives in West Tisbury with her husband Howard Attebery.