After many almost silent days, Gracie and Bessie came to me and sat down. They looked at each other to see who would speak first.
“We have been wondering if we could get some new chicken friends,” said Gracie.
“If we can, then it would be nice if they were ones who will stay and not move away,” added Bessie. “Because if they are going to have to move away, maybe they’d better move away before they even come to live here. But if they have to leave, we will still be happy for the time together.”
“Let me explain a bit more,” said Gracie. “We think it is better to have had friends—even if they are only with us for a time—than never to have had them at all.”
“I am so proud of the two of you. New friends might be exactly what we all need.”
And so, there were baby chicks to take care of in the sunroom once again. It was good to hear the two of them peeping and cheeping, and when I first showed them to Gracie and Bessie, it felt as if I was holding out much more than little bundles of feathery fluff. It felt like I was holding out hope.
“Meet Blanche and Pearl,” I said.
Gracie and Bessie were thrilled. They cooed over them just as if they were their own baby chicks.
But from the day I brought the two of them home, Pearl was different. She was always noisier and more active than any of the others had ever been. She never seemed to be able to completely settle down, not even when it was time to go to sleep in the evening. Pearl wanted to entertain and be entertained. Blanche just wanted to eat.
I had hoped Pearl would get better by the time they were able to move outdoors to live with Gracie and Bessie. Instead, she only got herself into more trouble.
Mishaps seemed to follow Pearl. She would accidentally turn over the food dish or the water bottle. She would even climb on top of Blanche to get to where she wanted to go simply because it was the shortest distance. Through it all, no matter how troublesome Pearl might be, Blanche kept loving her.
Pearl never quite understood how to be what the others called “a good, normal chicken.” It was something I didn’t understand myself. I only knew she was different.
But Pearl did not see herself as being different. She looked like Blanche except she was smaller. They were both White Plymouth Rocks like the big one on top of The Chicken Place Restaurant. To her way of thinking, that should be enough.
I had never wanted any of my chickens to know about The Chicken Place Restaurant, but I let it slip out one day when I was trying to convince Pearl that she really was a good, normal chicken.
“You and Blanche look just like the big statue on top of The Chicken Place Restaurant that everyone sees and admires. That big chicken is sort of a celebrity in our neighborhood.”
“So why don’t you take us all out to dinner at this restaurant? After all, it is called The Chicken Place Restaurant. Then the other chickens here would see for themselves that there is nothing wrong with me. They might treat Blanche and me like celebrities and not the newest chickens who do not know as much as they do.”
“Pearl. It doesn’t quite work like that.”
“What do you mean? If it is any kind of respectable restaurant, they will have a table big enough for the four of us, and you too, of course. We can all sit in booster seats and wear bibs. We do get messy sometimes, and for some reason, I always seem to get the messiest.”
I was unsure how to explain it to her. Even though it is named The Chicken Place Restaurant, that is only because chickens are on the menu, not seated at a table. It was not going to be easy or comfortable to explain how “We Serve Chicken” is not the same as “We Serve Chickens.”
“It has to do with the menu,” I began.
“Don’t worry about that. If the menu has no pictures, they should not mind if you read the menu to us.”
“It’s like this, Pearl—”
“Yes?” she said, looking up at me with hopeful and innocent eyes.
“They don’t have eat-in dining anymore,” I finally said. “It’s only take-out.”
That was indeed true, and it seemed to satisfy her curiosity for the time being.
“But the big white chicken on the roof is still a celebrity, right?”
And so, Pearl set out to do her best at copying everything Blanche did even though Blanche was just as new to the world as she was. Most importantly, Pearl never gave up hope of one day finally figuring it all out.
Blanche did whatever she could to help. I heard her telling Pearl more than once, “You just have a heaping helping of what makes a chicken a chicken. That’s all.”
And that was true too. One thing chickens have is persistence. Pearl has an abundance of persistence.
Gracie was persistent as well. Maybe not as persistent as Pearl, but she did not want to give up on Pearl. She had asked for new friends, and even though Pearl was not the kind of friend she had expected, Gracie remembered how it had felt to be different. She had been different on the outside, while Pearl seemed to be somehow different on the inside.
“When we told you we wanted new chicken friends,” Gracie said while Blanche and Pearl were off playing, “We had no idea one of those new friends would be like Pearl. There has never been a chicken like Pearl. She does not seem to be able to do anything right. Blanche fits in fine, but not Pearl. Why is that?”
“Gracie, would it change anything to know why?”
We smiled, shook our heads, and shrugged our shoulders the way Pearl always does when she can’t figure something out. Then we laughed.
“As irritating as Pearl can be, she also brings us smiles and laughter when we need them the most,” said Gracie. “There is no reason for that either.”
“So maybe you think we do not need to worry about the why questions so much?” I suggested.
“Maybe so. Then we would simply love her the way Blanche does,” said Gracie. “Love does not need a why.”
Gracie was looking forward to having more dancers for ballet. Four was not six, but four was better than two. Two pairs of dancers would look nice on a stage. Dancing had helped Gracie. Maybe it would help Pearl.
It felt good to bring out The Record Player again and stacks of albums. Blanche caught on quickly, but Pearl did not. Like Gracie, Pearl had a natural talent for dancing, but it was not ballet dancing. Pearl tried to copy Gracie’s steps, but often she just ended up making silly wing flaps before falling over. Mostly what she did was regular chicken dancing and a “heaping helping” of it too.
Nevertheless, something unexplainable happened whenever Pearl was dancing on our homemade stage by herself. Once again, the stage looked magical.
It had not looked that way since Lefty and the others had moved away. By herself, Pearl would dance however her heart dreamed, and Gracie could find no fault in that. It was what she herself had always done.
There were still times when Pearl tried everyone’s patience. Reasoning from me didn’t help. Scolding from the other chickens didn’t help. Pearl would look sad, but then she would do something so silly that no one could stay angry at her.
For a while, I wondered if it wouldn’t be best to find a new home for Blanche and Pearl. Perhaps they would do better where they were the only chickens and where Pearl would not need to worry about being an outcast.
But Gracie and Bessie had asked for new friends who would not move away, and life had given us Blanche and Pearl. Gracie had decided in her heart to be Pearl’s friend no matter what Pearl did or didn’t do and whether she ever fit in or not.
How could I ever explain it to Gracie if Blanche and Pearl had to leave?
Then one day, Pearl ran up to me while I was working in the garden. Earlier, Bessie had given her another peck on the head as a reminder to not cause any trouble. This happened almost every day. Sometimes it happened more than once a day, and so I thought she was running to let me know she had been pecked again for just being herself. However, something was different this time because she had the happiest expression on her face.
“What is it, Pearl?” I asked.
“Like everyone else, I just discovered what A Most Wondrous Place means!” she said, pointing toward where Blanche was sitting in the shade under the sunflowers.
After making a joyful little hop up into the air and stretching out her wings as if to give me a hug, she ran back to where Blanche was sitting.
She plopped herself down and chattered away happily. Blanche simply listened and nodded as she always did.
As Pearl leaned against Blanche, they looked up to the tops of the sunflowers together. A goldfinch had landed on one of the faded flower heads and took a few seeds for himself and dropped a few more for them.
“This is A Most Wondrous Place, Blanche,” she said. “It truly is.”
Pearl meant it with all her heart.
After that, I never thought about finding a new home for Blanche and Pearl. Somehow it would all work out. But I did wish I knew what A Most Wondrous Place was for myself. If even an awkward and silly little chicken like Pearl could figure it out, why couldn’t I?
What none of us realized at the time was that if Pearl had not been the awkward and silly little chicken she was, Gracie might never have discovered the biggest secret of The Air Shadows and The Absence of Love.