Alice loved the chickens. It was her job to gather the eggs each day, and though the family didn’t have names for the chickens, she secretly did and knew each one. She became familiar with the most common nesting places and was good at finding the eggs around the yard. Yes, she loved the chickens.
But the rooster was another matter. Alice hated the rooster. He didn’t pick on anyone else in the family—only her. Maybe it was because she was youngest, and since she was only five years old, he was about the same height as she was. And when he stood up on his claws and bristled his wings, she felt he was even taller.
He had chased after Alice more than once, causing her to throw down her basket of eggs and run for her life. She hadn’t broken a lot of eggs that way, but there had been a few. When she complained to her dad about it, he lovingly took her on his lap.
“Alice,” he said, “you’ve got to let the rooster know you aren’t afraid of him.”
“But I am afraid of him,” Alice replied.
“Well, act like you’re not. Act like you are going to knock his cluck into the middle of next week, and he will learn to respect you.”
Alice tried to stand up to the rooster, but the minute he bristled the feathers on his head, she ran. He just seemed to get ornerier and ornerier. But one day it all came to a head.
Her dad had brought home a watermelon from the market, and Alice ate a good helping. Pretty soon, she needed to visit the outhouse. But as she started toward it, she stopped dead in her tracks. Standing in front of it was the rooster. He turned to face Alice as if daring her to come any closer.
Alice retreated, but it wasn’t long before matters were getting quite desperate. She hid where she could monitor the outhouse door but not be seen. Finally, the rooster went around the back, and Alice dashed from her hiding place. She made it safely to the outhouse, ran inside, and slammed the board down that locked the door shut.
Alice did her business, and feeling much relieved, lifted the latch and opened the door. To her dismay, there stood the rooster. There was a short stare-down before Alice slammed the door and locked it. Alice kept looking out the door for over an hour, only to find the rooster was still standing guard.
It was summer, and the smell and the heat started to get to her. Alice began calling for help, and did for a long time, until she was almost hoarse. Everyone else was busy doing their own work. Finally, the family realized Alice was missing and searched for her. However, no one thought to look in the outhouse. At least, no one did until someone needed to use it. At that point, the rooster was relieved of guard duty, and Alice was freed.
The next day, Alice started to get red spots all over her. They itched horribly. She thought she was going to scratch herself to death.
“You’ll be okay,” her mother told her. “You just have a bad case of chickenpox.”
“I knew it,” Alice said. “I knew it was from the rooster keeping me shut up in the outhouse.”
“Chickenpox doesn’t come from chickens,” her father replied.
But nothing anyone said could convince her that her sickness was from anything other than the rooster. No one else got them. Of course, everyone else had already had the disease, but trying to explain that to Alice didn’t help. Her mind was made up. And her older brothers’ teasing didn’t help. They kept saying Alice had “rooster pox.”
Her dad finally gave in. “Maybe it’s time for the rooster to go.”
Once she was well, Alice returned to her chore of gathering eggs. But even with the rooster gone, it took a long time for the timidity she felt gathering eggs to go away. She kept vigilant, always looking over her shoulder.
And it took children of her own getting chickenpox before Alice finally believed chickenpox didn’t come from chickens—or at least roosters.