Two weeks later and it was still storming outside. During this week, my very dearest and closest friend for whom I hold the utmost respect and admiration was visiting. A weekend just would not do, so King Ranch and I made arrangements to have her up the whole week. She’s a majestic, one-of-a-kind, not sure if she’s real or a myth, graceful, gorgeous woman—as such, I have started, appropriately, referring to her as The Unicorn.
Her given name is fine, I suppose. But to me, this woman is a mythological creature so rarely encountered that only few have managed to tell first-hand accounts of her majesty. The Unicorn—my Pennsylvania-born, French-speaking, vegetable-growing best friend. It’s been five and a half years since she shook my hand for the first time.
I remember the turning point for our friendship. I was in my early 20’s and was a few weeks into recent singlehood from an ugly breakup. It wasn’t one of those mutual, clean-cut, let’s just walk away endings. It went down in flames. That breakup crashed and burned so badly that rescue efforts gave up on trying to find any remaining evidence on what really happened. Anyway, I was living alone and had lost every single means of communication with my list of confidants (or at least it seemed that way to me—it’s all quite blurry these days) in this battle of the breakup. It took me a few weeks to realize just how alone I was on that desert island. I think I had hopes of a rescue convoy showing up for the first while but when I realized no one was coming, things got weird—imagine Tom Hanks and Wilson.
Curled on the floor in my room and crying, I, for some reason, decided to call The Unicorn one night. I don’t really know why. She just kept appearing in my mind. At this point, I’d only known her a few months from having met at work—a mid-sized law firm in downtown Houston in which we were both legal assistants. I think it was her voice and the fact that she always, I mean always, made eye contact. Like, pupil-to-pupil, brain-to-brain connection. I always felt seen by her. Heard by her.
She also had what I like to refer to as ‘yankee honesty’. See, in the south, we’re usually very worried about making people feel comforted, even if that means sugar-coating things. The ‘yankee honesty’ that was born and bred into the Unicorn, I think, was what I subconsciously needed at the time. I needed some sense knocked into me, not to just be told what I wanted to hear to feel good about myself. So I called her and wouldn’t you know it, she had a raft. In that raft, she had a blanket, pizza, and unlimited wine.
I don’t think she’ll ever realize the shit-storm of drama in which I convinced myself I’d been drowning (hindsight, curling in a ball on the floor of my room alone could be considered dramatic. ‘Yankee honesty’ pointed out that I was probably better than that). I fought it—I fought my urge to open up to her. We’ve all been burned or damaged in some way or another and it makes us picky about who else we allow in to look around. But that night, her with her conversational raft and I with my drama—well, we sailed away into the sunset, never to return.
Because of the rain, The Unicorn and I had spent the better part of the day inside the house watching Little Foot roll around on the floor, desperately trying to crawl. In a white onesie patterned with red and blue cars, he kicked his feet wildly with his toes spread apart while gripping the carpet in his tiny fingers. Every minute or so, he stopped, rested his head on his hands, and then continued where he left off. He was so determined. We took turns encouraging him—I in English and The Unicorn in French.
The Unicorn loves my son. She loves my son like he’s her own. Neither King Ranch or I ever asked her to do this—she just did. She doesn’t become awkward when he begins to fuss or even when he enters into velociraptor-levels of shrieking like most people do. Most people, when the fits start, hand him over, look at us uncomfortably as if we’re holding a broken vase, and leave the room until it’s safe again to enter. Instead, the Unicorn never hesitates to pick him up, flailing or no, and speak to him back and forth in English and French. Such grace. She asks him what the matter is and compliments him on his vocal abilities.
I learned a lot observing the way The Unicorn interacts with Little Foot. As a new mom, I tread in the murky waters of parental panic with every new sound that he chirps, exhales, squeaks, or sputters. The burnt-toast smell of his head still made me noodle-kneed. I craved skin-to-skin contact with him and admittedly, this made me a wee bit overly protective of him, his safety, and his surroundings. The Unicorn, it seemed, approached this unconditional love for him with a level, clear mind.
We were expecting King Ranch to be home any minute from work and I was flirting with apprehension about his commute because outside, it poured wildly. As Forrest Gump told us once upon a time, “we been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain… and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways…”
Ignoring my little tossed in, worrisome comments of “I hope King Ranch is okay,” and “it’s really coming down out there,” The Unicorn, instead, stayed completely focused on rooting for Little Foot’s first crawl.
She glanced up at me over her glasses, shot me a small smile where only one corner lifts as if it was being tugged with thread, and then muttered some lyrical words in French to Little Foot. She was signaling to me that it was okay. Exhale. And it was.
Moments later, Bunny brayed proudly in the yard over the rain sounds announcing King Ranch’s arrival. She does this everyday—shouts for his homecoming. The Unicorn scooped up Little Foot as I made my way outside through the downpour to open the gate for King Ranch. He parked the blue Subaru, stepped out, and immediately I saw that he was feeling grief. His shoulders were hunched forward and his eyes were distant and disturbed—a glossy coating over deep brown despair. “What happened?” I asked, yelling over the rain sounds. My hair had begun to plaster to my neck.
“Black chicken,” he said, “she’s gone.”
“What?” I asked.
“She was hit by a car. She’s right down the road.” He pointed down the street, teeth gritting and one eye pinched shut—the rain pounded.
“Are you sure it’s her?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s her. I think it must have just happened, too.”
I’ve described the 7 rockstars for whom we are not sure if they’re chickens or roosters. There are, however, two other roaming birds that we know for sure are a chicken and a rooster. We’ve been referring to them as Black Chicken and White Rooster because, well, the chicken is all black the rooster is mostly white but for a green tail that, depending on the light, shimmers like oil on cement. We’ve discovered recently that Black Chicken has been laying eggs in the coop that was left by the seller of the home.
King Ranch said he would meet me inside shortly so I retreated to the house, soaked, to tell the Unicorn this news.
“That’s terrible,” she said, holding a grinning Little Foot on her knee, “what can I do?” She grinned back at Little Foot.
I asked her to look after Little Foot so I could help out King Ranch to which she replied, “of course!” and gave Little Foot an Eskimo kiss. I found my boots, a hat, a jacket, and then dug through a few large cardboard boxes looking for the same for King Ranch.
After I found at least a windbreaker for him, I headed back out into the rain. King Ranch was in the rosebushes with a shovel—his light, blue button-down work shirt soaked through and clinging to his body. His thick, black hair matted across his forehead and his teeth were gritting. The rain pelted him and drops fell from his brow and nose. He was burying Black Chicken. He must have run down the street to retrieve her.
He hadn’t noticed me standing there in the driveway watching him. I was wondering how he must have collected Black chicken’s floppy, bloody corpse, and brought it back so quickly. I also wondered why he, himself wasn’t bloody. He could have easily allowed Black Chicken to become a flatter and less-recognizable lump of roadkill over the next few days. But that’s not who he is. He is a king indeed: one who doesn’t let any of his own die in vain.
This was an ideal final resting spot for a chicken—under the freshly trimmed pink rosebushes. To be able to return to the ground and sprout into endless blooms must be eternally satisfying.
Back inside, King Ranch clutching a thick, brown towel around his bare, upper body—he’d removed his soaked shirt—we all stood by the front window. The wind blew the thick sheets of rain in all directions, switching without warning. The Unicorn was holding Little Foot and I had an arm wrapped around a damp, chilly King Ranch. We were all silent.
From behind the large magnolia tree which sits about 30 feet from the front window, White Rooster, who had been Black Chicken’s companion (the literal yang to her yin) emerged and started to crow—his neck extending high and beak pointing straight up. I’ve never seen him come out of hiding during the rain. He paced a few feet and then stopped to crow again, his branch-like feet making ripples in the puddles in which they stepped. He fluttered a bit and crowed. Pace, crow. Flutter, crow.
He was calling for her.
None of us really knew what to say to each other. This moment hung heavily in the air—his confusion and our unknowingness of just what we should do. We just watched.
Little Foot started to fuss, I imagine, because we were all so silent and awkward. The Unicorn kissed his cheek and wandered off towards the nursery singing, “Frère Jacques, Dormez-vous…” As she passed us, she touched her hand to each of our backs.
I looked over at King Ranch whose hair was beginning to dry in different directions and leaned into him.
The next morning, the sun was out. The yard and driveway were spotted with pools of murky rainwater. I took a walk outside through the with The Unicorn who was telling me a story about one of the children that she babysits and how that child reminds her of Little Foot because he’s “just so perceptive” and “I can’t wait to see who they become.” Pooled rainwater was reaching in waves into the sky.
We headed down to the rosebushes where Black Chicken was buried just the day before—I wanted to show her where King Ranch laid her down to rest.
We both stopped abruptly. White rooster was sitting on top of the loose dirt of Black Chicken’s grave. I’ve never seen him sit before—I’ve only ever seen him and Black Chicken on the move or scratching at bugs in the yard. He looked so small sitting there—his little body wide, spread out over the ground. His head was cocked and he was silent. I stared. He blinked and cocked his head the other direction.
“Is this where -” The Unicorn started, clearing her throat.
“Yes,” I interrupted.
“Oh my,” she said.
We stood in silence.
I had no idea that roosters and chickens could have bonds like this.
The Unicorn said, “Love is real.”
I said, “Mhm.”
And it is. In all forms. Romantic. Platonic. Parental. Poultry. I think you just need to allow yourself to be open to it. You have to let your walls down sometimes to let others in, even if it hurts. I think we should all lead a little more with our hearts so that we can give a friend confidence. So that we can paddle out with a raft and save someone who really needs it. So that we can do right by all creatures who, as it turns out, aren’t as simple as we once thought. So that we know we won’t be forgotten when we pass away. So that our children can learn to love, too.
The Unicorn reached for my hand, “It’s okay,” she said.
I grasped her delicate hand. “How are your hands always so soft?” I asked, slightly grinning.
“They’re not,” she said, “yours are just always calloused.”
I laughed and she did too and together, we walked back to the house, still holding hands.
I can’t wait to see how Black Chicken will bloom.