Picking Up The Girls

By: John Yunker

“In about six miles you’re going to take a right,” Emily says, her eyes on the
email she had printed out. “Del Norte Road.”

Bill wants to tell her to look up at the tree trunks pushing against the road.
After another few miles on the Redwood Highway and they will exit this ancient
forest, the road will straighten, cars will accelerate, the falling sun again in his eyes.
He thinks about the last time they travelled this road, two years ago. They had just
moved north from San Jose to Ashland, Oregon, and Bill, a Midwesterner, had never
seen trees so large, limitless, the creations of some mad developer bent on touching
heaven. Two limitless years ago, he and Emily strolled among these trees, her free
hand cradling a swollen belly. And for this reason, Bill says nothing. He turns right at
the sign.
“You’re going to take a left on Elk Valley Road. It doesn’t say how far.”
“It’s about a half mile,” he says. “We’re all good. I Googled it before we left.”
Emily remains fixed on her directions. “You know this place is only about a quarter
mile from the ocean,” he continues. “Maybe we can take a quick walk on the beach
“We’re supposed to be there at four-thirty.”
“What’s wrong with being fashionably late?”
“I want to be there early,” she says. “That reminds me. Don’t forget to turn off
your cell phone.”
“How am I supposed to keep up with the Giants game?”
“If you didn’t want to do this, you should have stayed home.”
There is a tinny quality to her voice that Bill interprets as irritation or nerves,
and he’s not sure which is worse. Emily was invited to this event two weeks ago, by
friends of hers he didn’t know, and she only mentioned it to Bill because she
planned on taking the car. Bill insisted he come along. The drive to the coast was
two hours of hairpin turns and pickup trucks; it would be dark by the time she left,
and her night vision was poor, a side of effect of Lasik more than a decade earlier.
And though Bill was worried about the odds of vehicles colliding in the darkest
hours, he was just as haunted by collisions of a different sort.
“I was only kidding,” he says.
The road turns to gravel. Bill watches the plumes of dust rising behind them,
rocks ricocheting in the wheel wells. Finally, he thinks, they’re using this Subaru for
something remotely close to off-roading.
“So who will we be meeting first?” he asks.
“Her name is Liz. Be nice.”
“Aren’t I always?” He gives her knee a squeeze.
“You realize you’ll be the only non-vegan there.”
“I’m vegan when you cook.”
“That’s not the point.” She looks up. “I think this is it.”
A quarter mile up, a half-dozen cars are parked single file off the gravel road
leaning into a drainage ditch. A small farmhouse is across the street. Bill drives to
the end of the line of cars and edges over, until their car is slouching like the rest.

Em puts a hand on his knee. “Please don’t make a scene,” she says.
“I’ll do just what I’m told.” He waits for her to lean in for a kiss, but she has
already opened her door.
Outside, turkey vultures float overhead. Bill faces the cool, ripe breeze from
an unseen ocean. During his Google search, he discovered that they would be
standing on the most tsunami-prone point of land along the entire west coast. In
2011, the earthquake that took 15,000 Japanese lives sent a five-foot wave across
the Pacific Ocean at 500 miles per hour, drowning 110,000 birds on Midway Atoll,
breaking off icebergs in Antarctica, and sweeping a man out of the harbor not far
from here, the lone continental casualty.
As Bill paces himself behind Emily he wonders if a wave could reach this far
inland drowning everyone and everything and if the irony would be lost on this
They pass a trio of young women standing by a white, Budget, rental van, one
of four parked in a row behind the cars. Just passed the last van is group of fifteen
people, more women than men, average age of maybe twenty-three. Bill reads the
T-shirts: Sea Shepherd. Herbivore. Don’t eat my friends. A short-cropped blond
woman, with a tattoo of a whale tail on the back of her neck, is talking to a young
man with a ponytail.
Emily stops and Bill leans in. “We’re old enough to be chaperones.”
She smiles, for the first time today, and he feels the pressure between them
easing. “I’m glad they’re young. Makes me feel hopeful.”
“Makes me feel like I should check IDs.”

He reaches in to give her hand a squeeze, but she is already walking
towards a heavyset woman, nearer to their age, wearing a black T-shirt with
Animal Rescue in white letters.
“This is my husband, Bill,” Emily says. “Bill, this is Liz.”
Bill shakes her hand.
“In about fifteen minutes, I’ll prep everyone,” Liz says. “We’re just waiting
for the girls to roost. Shouldn’t be long.”
Bill looks over Liz’s shoulder, past the wire fencing and cypress windbreak to
a flat field patched with grass and dirt and puddles that reflect the setting sun. About
a hundred yards away is a shed, shaped like an army barracks built for the tiniest of
troops. Thirty feet long, an opening on either side, corrugated metal that was once
painted blue, now stained with rust.
Another hundred yards beyond, he sees a congregation of chickens. At first,
they appear motionless, but as Bill watches more closely, they appear to be waltzing
in slow motion, a tiny two-step, followed by a peck at the ground, then two steps
more, each according to her own separate rhythm.
“Are those the lucky birds?” Bill asks.
Liz gives him a curious look. “In a manner of speaking.”
Bill feels oddly exposed. Was he too flippant? Is humor not allowed at a
chicken rescue?
He notices a larger bird off to one side of the flock, more assertive in step,
less interested in the ground beneath its feet.
“That taller bird, with the red,” Bill says, pointing, desperate to appear
earnest. “Is that the rooster?”
Liz nods. “There are four roosters with this flock.”
“Are we taking them too?” Emily asks.
“Maybe one or two,” Liz says. “If the owner lets us. The roosters are generally
left behind.”
“I read that the roosters won’t eat until they’ve made sure all their hens are
fed,” Emily says.
“Unlike the males of our species, the rooster eats last.”
Liz and Emily share a silent laugh. After Liz moves on, Emily takes two steps
forward and introduces herself to a group of three, two girls and a guy. Names and
nodding heads and Bill knows he will remember none of it. He forces a smile and
when Emily is engaged in a conversation about vegan fast food restaurants, wanders
over to the galvanized steel gate that divides the road from farmland. As a software
developer, Bill never saw much value in mastering the subtle human language of
small talk. There were too many unwritten rules. Computers, at least, could not be
offended. Austerity of code was all that mattered to them, and this mentality
migrated over to communications of the analog kind. Why tell someone via text
message that you agree with them when a “+1” will suffice?
Em never had a problem with his stoicism. Probably because she’d been
working around developers for years and had grown numb to the culture. She was a
technical writer at their company down in San Jose and used to sit in on code
reviews and bug bashes. All the guys asked her out at one point or another, even the
married ones. But not Bill. Not that he didn’t find the plastic, black-rimmed glasses
she wore as seductive as any bikini on a supermodel. Or the way Emily would blow
at her shoulder-length blond hair when it fell in front of her face as she typed on her
laptop. And it wasn’t because he wasn’t attractive enough, at least when compared
with the median software engineer. He never asked Emily out because he knew the
odds by now and that numbers did not root for underdogs.
One Tuesday morning their weekly scrum ended fifteen minutes early, a
miracle on par with an error-free rebuild, and as the conference room emptied Bill
stayed seated, eyes on his laptop, taking advantage of the post-meeting silence only
to hear someone exhale, glance up and see Emily in the corner of the room, hair
fluttering in front of her glasses. She looked up at him.
“I thought I was all alone,” he said.
“Is that a problem?” She smiled at him in a way he’d never seen before, and
he shook his head and returned his eyes to the safety of his screen.
“Can I ask you a question?” she asked.
“Why have you never asked me out?” Bill looked up, not entirely sure he
heard her correctly but not daring to ask her to repeat herself.
“I. I don’t know,” he said.
“Okay.” She returned to her laptop. He could hear blood pulsing through his
ears, the room stifling, his brain cycling through regrets, and then a thought
occurred; he opened a chat window and texted her. Would you like to join me for
dinner tonight?

He looked up at her preoccupied face, could hear the muted ding of her chat
app but she made no attempt to brush away that hair or meet his eyes and he
realized he had made a terrible miscalculation.
Until he heard a matching ding and looked down.


* * *

Bill turns to his right to see a dusty, black, Ford pickup pulling off the road a
few feet away. The driver gets out, no more than 25 years old, wearing a tan cowboy
hat and red flannel shirt, his left arm in a sling.

Bill glances back at Liz and the others. Nobody makes a move to meet the
cowboy, so Bill steps forward.

“Hi there.” He shakes the cowboy’s hand. “Bill.”

“Chase,” the man says. Out of the passenger side emerges an Hispanic man wearing
a faded, green, John Deere T-shirt, jeans, and a straw hat; he heads with purpose to
the gate. “That’s Roberto.”

Bill points at Chase’s arm. “How’d you do that?”

“I was welding and a steel beam fell on it. Building one of those.” He points
with his good arm. “That chicken shed. We manufacture our own.”

“Are you expanding?”

He nods. “Just acquired twenty acres. Adding another three thousand hens.
We’re the largest supplier of cage-free eggs in northern California,” Chase says. “Ship
60,000 a week to Costco.”

“That’s a lot of omelets.” Bill laughs, then worries Em or the others heard
him. “You get coyotes around here?”

“Foxes mostly. That’s why we’ve got Max.”

Bill follows Chase’s eyes to the sheepdog tethered to a pole outside the shed.
His white fur tangled and stained.

Chase levels his gaze. “Now before you all get started, I have to clear the air
about something.”

“Oh. I think you need to talk to Liz,” Bill says. “She’s the one in charge here.
That’s her.”

When Bill turns to point her out, he sees Em, standing next to Liz, giving him
a look that portends an argument on the return trip.


Bill watches Chase walk towards the others and wonders what he must think of
these activists, this odd confluence of cultures: pickup trucks and Subarus, duck
blinds and yoga mats, red meat and vegetables.

Bill returns to the fence, where Roberto is standing at the gate. The sun is
now well behind the horizon, the blue sky dimming gray. Roberto leans against the
gate watching the birds.

“They seem to be taking their time,” Bill says.

Roberto nods. “I moved the roost this morning. They’re confused.”

“You moved it?”

“We build them on sleds, so you can tractor them around. Yesterday it was
on the far side of the pasture.”

“Why’d you move it?”

“So you people don’t have to walk a mile each way.”

“Good point.”

Roberto unlocks the padlock on the gate and Bill steps back. By the shed, Max
rises to all four feet, watching. He feels a hand on his shoulder and turns to
see Emily. She whispers, “Why are you talking to him?”

“Nobody else is.”

“You said you weren’t going to make a scene.”

“And this qualifies? Fraternizing with farmers?”

She shakes her head and turns. He follows her back to the group. Chase is
talking to Liz, his eyes low. “I see these emails and you all keep using the word

“Yes,” Liz says.

“But look at them out there. We do right by these birds. Free range for
hundreds of acres. These girls never knew a battery cage,” he says. “You have to
admit it’s not a bad life.”

Liz says nothing and Bill suspects by her pained expression that she is
chewing on something not plant based.

Chase continues, “Yet you all call this a rescue. Like we’re hurting them.”

“How would you have us refer to it?”

“I don’t know. How about ‘picking up the girls’?”

“Fine. We’ll call it … picking up the girls.”

“Thank you.” He doesn’t look thankful, but he tips his head, walks back to his
pickup, waits for Roberto to get in, and turns the pickup around, leaving behind a
cloud of dust.

“Okay, everyone, gather ’round.” Liz stands on the edge of the gravel road
giving her a view over everyone. “For this rescue, we’re going to have four handlers.
Me, Rob, Kelly and Jo.” Liz points them out, all wearing staff shirts. “They’ll go in and
pass the hens out to you. You’ll work two to a crate. One takes the hen and places
her into the crate, and other makes sure the hens stay in there. Be careful with their
feet, because they can get caught underneath the crates. Everyone needs to wear iso
gear.” She points to boxes containing white coveralls, gloves and hair nets. “And
you’ll need to soak your boots in Virkon to disinfect them.” She points to two green,
plastic, litter boxes halfway filled with what looks like the remnants of a bubble

“Now this is important. This is our first time working with these folks. We
agreed not to share the name of the farm, the location, anything specific. Keep your
phones off and do not take photos. If you want to tell people what you did this
evening, just tell them you rescued hens from a free-range operation somewhere in
Northern California. If all goes well we’ll be out of here by eight.”

They get dressed. Bill laughs when he sees Emily ankle to neck in white.

“Now I know why they don’t want us taking pictures,” he says. Emily laughs as Bill
trips while trying to squeeze his left boot through the pants.

People begin carrying large, white, plastic crates from the vans over to
the shed. The crates are Target dorm room style but as wide as a big-screen TV.
He turns to find Emily already struggling with one.

“You need a hand?”

“I can manage,” she grunts.

“But we could carry two crates at a time,” he says, pleased with his initiative.

“Kill two birds at once.” Em stares at him sideways until he realizes what he just
said. His stomach tightens as he watches her trudge alone onto the field.
Bill goes to the second van where the girl with the whale tattoo is removing
crates. He grabs one, not so much heavy as it is bulky, the sharp plastic edges tearing
at his coveralls. A few steps onto the field, his feet sink into muck. He sidesteps the
puddles, staying on the grass, glad he listened when Emily had told him to wear
heavy-duty work boots that he didn’t mind getting covered in mud and feces.

Ten minutes later, they have stacked the crates into a half-dozen piles, eighthigh, on either side of the shed, like wine glasses in anticipation of some catered
event. Yet it is not the humans arriving fashionably late, but the hens, who remain a
safe distance from the shed, their white coats glowing in the twilight. Bill knows he
should attempt join the other volunteers back by the vans, where Emily is now
surrounded by friends, but he’ll only say something stupid again.

He watches the chickens from the open gate and wonders what Emily sees in
them, what fuels her desire to save a few hundred birds from a fate that nine billion
suffer each year. How does one sustain empathy for numbers of such magnitude?

Should he too be shedding tears over a billion chickens? Fifteen thousand Japanese?
One dog left alone all night in a field?

Bill can muster empathy for only the dog. Empathy works best in small
numbers; it does not scale like a software algorithm. It is a finite resource, which is
why he has so little left after Lily.

At the one-year anniversary of Lily’s death, Bill and Em visited the marker
they put up for her in Ashland cemetery. Em’s parents paid for it. “A stillborn child is
still a child,” her mom said. As much as Bill wanted to leave Ashland, to find a new
city for them to begin again, he knew he couldn’t leave this stone behind, any more
than Em could give up searching the Internet for the answer. How many different
searches on placental abruption can a person enter? How many variations on risk
factors? Emily was 41. He was 45. This wasn’t about diet or DNA or some mysterious
chemical used in their laundry detergent. The risk factors were them.

After visiting Lily that day, Bill took Emily to the Black Sheep and they drank
too much, and as they walked home in the darkness Bill asked Em if she was ready
to try again.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready,” she said.

“Ever?” He could feel the pavement swaying under him. “As in never?”

“I don’t know, Bill. I can’t just flip the page like you can.”

“I didn’t flip any page. I just want to start a family. That’s why we moved

“I need more time.”

The night ended without sex, like most nights after. Bill took on new projects
that kept him on call through the evenings. Em began volunteering at the animal
shelter and, not long after, gave up eating meat. Bill figured it was a phase, like
juicing or CrossFit, until she started to give him the evil eye anytime he came home
with takeout from In-N-Out.

It didn’t occur to Bill when she replaced mayonnaise with Vegenaise,
parmesan with Parmela, turkey with Tofurkey, that he could one day be next. Until
Emily suggested driving alone to the rescue, where among the younger, passionate,
tattooed men she could find a plant-based alternative to her carnivore husband.
One who would give her a plant-based child.

His heart racing, Bill unzips his white coverall to let the heat out. Lily would
be two years old now. He imagines her out on that field, right in the middle of all
those chickens, chasing them in circles, Buster chasing her, the dog Bill had put on
hold at the animal shelter the day before her birth.

The next day, Emily sat comatose on the couch, a toilet paper roll on her lap,
the phone next to her buzzing out useless condolences. In the other room, Bill
disassembled the crib, tried to let the air out of the balloons without making a
sound, and stared with defeated eyes at the letters of her name on the wall, letters
he could not bear to remove. LILY. And he realized that her name formed a recursive
acronym, the four letters spelling out Lily I Love You. How could he have missed
that? He called the animal shelter and cancelled the hold.

The nights that followed were unbearably quiet, Emily lost in the Internet,
Bill staring blankly at a laptop screen. Every conversation felt like a job interview,
forced enthusiasm and small talk. A week later, in a fit of panic, Bill returned to the
shelter to fetch Buster, realizing that they needed a distraction, from themselves and
from each other. But by then Buster was gone.

Across the road, noses against a wire fence, curious cattle have assembled.
Bill watches Emily as she yanks handfuls of grass and feeds it to them. Perhaps
that’s what Emily is searching for out here, Bill thinks. Another distraction. Another

Liz approaches the open gate to get a closer look at the hens, which have
moved incrementally closer to their roost yet are still a long way from bedding
down for the night.

“I think we’re going to have to nudge them along,” she says.

“How old are they, the hens?”

“Three years,” she said.

“How long do they live?”

“About ten to twelve, if they’re not production birds. Which these are. So
they’ll live maybe five or six years.”

Max is on his feet still, tail wagging.

“Can we take the dog too?”

“I wish. He’s a Maremma sheepdog,” she says. “They breed these dogs to
spend their entire lives watching over these birds.” Liz motions to the staffers, and
they follow her onto the field. The volunteers mass at the open gate, waiting for a
signal and, when there is none, begin walking onto the field. Emily looks at Bill.
“We should go, right?” she asks.

Bill and Emily take up the end of the procession, and soon it becomes clear
what they are doing, forming a human lasso, each person spaced about ten feet from
the other, to corral the hens into their home. He takes up the far end, facing the roost
just twenty yards in front of him. He watches the far end of the loop as it constricts
and hens begin touching wing to wing, the clucking getting louder. The humans,
their arms outstretched and waving. Humans acting like birds to get birds to act like
humans and go to bed early.

One by one, chickens squirt through the porous lasso, forcing it to undulate
and double back. But most stay with the flock, and by the time the last chicken
enters the shed, the staff has begun switching on their headlamps. Bill’s eyes blur in
the fading light. He peeks into the shed, the smell, acrid. A soothing hum of clicks
and purrs. The birds on their metal perches, gradated back like stadium seating.

“Remember, ten to a crate,” Liz shouts. “We don’t have extras. It might seem
tight, but they’ll be fine. Just be sure you keep their wings folded down.”

Bill and Emily take position on either side of a stack of four empty crates. “I
can man the crate,” he says.

A hand reaches out from the darkness, and Em takes the chicken with both
hands. A wing springs free, flapping wildly. Bill reaches over to lend a hand, their
four hands carefully navigating the hen into the crate. Before Em can swing around
again, a set of hands holds out another bundle of feathers.

The way the hens poke their heads up looking for a way out before you close
the door on them. This is only temporary, he wants to tell them: riding wing to wing,
bracing against every pothole, whispering to one another in their secret
language, until, just before dawn, after the veterinary checkup, after the last of the
hands have handled them, they will be on their feet again, in an open field,
wandering among the grasses and one another, telling tales of the journey they
survived. Oh, the tales they will tell. When the crate is filled, Bill carries it ten feet
away where other volunteers have begun, in pairs, carrying the crates back to the

The pace picks up, and Bill and Emily quickly develop a routine. She hands
over the birds without looking as Bill carefully shuffles them into their allotted
spaces in the crate, ensuring nobody gets pinched or stepped on. After filling their
fifth create, he notices they are working twice as fast other volunteer pairs, and he
feels hopeful again that all is not lost. Would any other man, a vegan even, work so
fluidly with her?

The hours move by so quickly he doesn’t realize they’re done until he’s
standing by the last van with open doors. The white coveralls are piled in a
cardboard box. Bill looks for Emily and notices flashlights out mowing the field. He
sees Liz and asks.

“We lost one,” Liz says, her face strained. “Hopefully they can find her. We
gotta get moving.”

Bill hears a loud bellowing from the field. “Is that the hen?” he asks.

“It’s Max.”

This is not barking; it’s wailing, crying, infant-like, the sound he swore he
heard that afternoon when Lily was born, before he opened his eyes and saw the
body, gray and still, and he realized the sound was not that of their daughter but
that of his wife.

Max keeps barking, and Bill feels the wailing inside of him, pressing against
his chest. He is halfway to Max when he sees Emily coming towards him, flashlight in
hand. “Where are you going?”

He pauses. “To help.”

“We have to go.”

“Did you find the chicken?”

Em shakes her head. He follows her light back to the road and the headlights
but the distance doesn’t silence the noise behind him. He watches Emily hug a girl
from Arcata, a guy from Redding. And still Max is barking, wondering where
everyone has gone. His family. Stolen from him one dark evening. Bill tries to focus.
The car. The road. But his mind is still out there in the darkness, chained to a pole.
“You ready?” Emily is standing on the road looking back at him. Bill takes his
time getting back to the car. He drives slowly, until the tail lights of the other cars
are gone, then he pulls the car off the gravel.

“What’s wrong?” Em asks.

“I left something behind.” Bill says as he turns around.

“What? Bill, what?”

“Max,” he says.

“What about Max?”

“We can’t just leave him there.”

Bill skids up to the gate, rolls down his window. Another bark, this one
hopeful. Bill feels his body trembling.

“We can’t take the dog, Bill.”

“He’s howling.”

“Yes, because we took his charges. He’ll get new ones.”

“We’ll name him Buster,” Bill says. He reaches for the door, but she grabs
him. “Bill, I want to take him too. But there are rules. Laws, for crying out

“It’s okay to rescue the chickens but not the dog?”

“The chickens were given to us. The dog is stealing.”

“Isn’t stealing what activists do?”

“You think we’ll ever be invited back if you take him? Think of how many
more lives will be lost.” Em is in his face now. “Bill. Please.”
Bill opens the door.
“You get out of this car and you’re on your own.” Her voice an octave lower.
“So help me God I’ll leave you behind.”
“You already have,” he says, not looking back. He hears her shouting after
him as he runs through the dark, wondering if he’s going in the right direction, when
it occurs to him he left the flashlight in the car. His right foot catches and he lands in
mud; his glasses covered, he pushes himself onto his knees, the freezing water
seeping through his jeans, running down the insides of his boots.
He stands and squints through his glasses back at the road. Em isn’t shouting
anymore. No headlights. No interior lights. Only darkness to confirm she kept her
word. Another bark, this one optimistic, and Bill follows it until Max’s ghost white
body comes into view and his tail is wagging and Bill is talking to him as he wrestles
the rope free from the post.
Max lifts a nose toward the ocean breeze. Bill smells saltwater and he
remembers the ocean. That’s where they’ll go. Head into the wind until they’re
standing on sand and he’ll wash the mud from his glasses, from Max’s matted fur
and, together, they will start over. Maybe they’ll head north, somewhere far away
from people. And every morning he and Max will walk along the water and Max
won’t be asked to look after anyone ever again.
“Come on, Max,” he says, taking two steps waiting for Max to follow. “You’re
free. You have no flock.”
Max stands there. Untethered but unmoved. Bill returns to him, rubs a hand
over the matted fur, picks up the rope and gives it a gentle pull. “C’mon buddy. I
know this seems strange. But I’ll take care of you.”
Max sits. Bill gives the rope another tug, this time more forceful, and Max gets
to his feet again but instead turns toward the shed. Bill looks inside and sees
movement. Two roosters look back at him, heads cocked.
The roosters eat last.
A flashlight in the distance, scanning the field, getting brighter. It will be the
cowboy, a rifle over his good shoulder. What will Bill tell the man? He was lost? In
need of a friend? Or maybe he was just used up, spent, like the rest of the birds.
Bill drops the rope, feeling his knees go weak, and he hears another sound, a
panting, sobbing chant, his own, mud soaking through the isolation-free jeans. The
dog eyeing him. The roosters eyeing him. The shared loss of nine billion lives and
the dog is looking down on him, the roosters looking down on him and a light
shining above him and he raises his eyes to it, blinking into it, ready to see Lily again
and she will be walking now and they will be eye to eye, and he will whisper in her
ear, Lily I Love You.
Emily’s voice.
He speaks into the light. “I thought you left me.”
“Come on, let’s go.”
The flashlight changes direction and picks up the pace. Bill follows, the mud
grabbing at his boots but nothing slows him down. Inside the car and Bill has it
moving before they have their seat belts on, the warning alarm dinging until they
are a half mile away. When the noise is gone and they’ve left the gravel road and are
back on the Redwood Highway he says, “I’m sorry, Em. I lost my head back there. I
hope you can forgive me, I just, I don’t know. I just—”
“That’s okay.” She sounds almost giddy. “I’m glad you did.”
He turns to her. In the darkness he sees a shadow of white on her lap.
“I found her, Bill.” Em is glowing. “I found her.”
Bill looks back at the road, knowing soon he will be back among old friends,
passing under a century-old ceiling of branches and he understands now and
finally that love can scale, the ways trees can scale, the way anything left alone long
enough can grow into anything.
Bill reaches over and squeezes Em’s knee. He doesn’t ask what they will do
with a chicken because he already knows, without a word spoken between them, he
knows where this orphan will live, and how they will dote over her like new
parents, and what they will name her and, after a few days of unexplained absence,
the message he will send his boss when she asks if he enjoyed his last-minute
vacation to that town where the tsunami swept a solitary man out to sea.