I went out to lock up the chickens after the girls were off to bed and could only find three of the four.
I hunted under the porch, in the nesting boxes, the shed -- nowhere. Chickie Emma, the smallest and nicest of our hens, a little blue-egg-laying Araucana, was not to be found.
Then I noticed the 25-gallon plastic tub turned upside down.
I lifted it.
Underneath was a very dead Chickie Emma, along with a final blue egg.
I knew immediately what had happened: Daphne, my holy terror of a three-year-old, was the rooster of the flock, and when she came walking all the chickens froze in their tracks, let her pick them up, docile for only her. She also, of late, had been experimenting with trapping them in the shed, once even hiding two under the plastic turtle-shell lid of her sandbox. I spoke seriously then, explained that they would die, sent her to her room.
But I must not have been watching closely enough early this morning. In fact I know I wasn't. And then we left the house and were gone most of the day. The hot, sunny day. That poor little hen. What a horrible way to die. Not the humane death I had envisioned for the animals under my care. No, a hot, unpleasant, miserable, protracted death for a sweet little creature I loved best -- we all loved best -- of our chickens.
I dug a hole in the dirt just to do something with my rage. Daphne was asleep already but Sophia wandered out. I showed her Emma's stiff body, let her pet the chicken's feathers, explained what had happened. She was unfazed, and tried to comfort me by suggesting we get another chicken.
I didn't bury Emma. I put her in a trash bag in the freezer. When Daphne wakes up in the morning I will show her, and we will talk about what happened, and we will bury Emma in the yard together. We will plant a tree over the spot. ("An apple tree?" asked Sophia. "With branches to climb on and a tire swing?" [She's been agitating for one lately.])
Not that I expect this to change Daphne's behavior. She's three. Innocent, in that her brain isn't capable of making the connection between her action and the chicken's death, or for that matter of stopping the action even if she DID understand that at the very least she would be in trouble.
Obviously there's one person at fault and that's me. I didn't see what happened, I didn't watch closely enough. Worse still, I was congratulating myself all the while for providing a little wildness for my girls, an unfettered life in the confines of the backyard, with dirt and animals and bare feet and tree climbing.
That wild dirty-footed life includes death as well. Sometimes at the hands of a child.
I'm so sad for that little chicken.