Victor Savic tugged the chain of his bedside lamp.
“Get it,” his wife mumbled.
Victor swung his legs out from under the covers. The floor was cold. He grabbed his robe from the bedpost and rushed towards the sound.
“Vickie, it’s Sadie Brown. Sorry to call so late.”
Victor cleared his throat. “It’s all right.”
Sadie lived two kilometers down the road, near the marina. She had lived alone since her husband left four years before. She liked to talk to Victor whenever he ran into her at the grocery. Every autumn, she brought him and his wife a jar of homemade strawberry jam—jam Victor found too sweet.
“I didn’t know who else to call. There’s been an incident…with the chickens. Can you come over?”
It was nearing midnight, and Victor hated to drive at night. He rubbed his hand on top of his head. There was still a scab under his thinned hair from a tree-felling incident a few weeks before. “Oh, I don’t know.”
“I’ll pick you up.”
Victor picked up the pile of clothes he had taken off just a few hours before, the fabric still smelling of wet grass and soil. His belt buckle clinked as he pulled his pants on.
His wife lifted the pillow from her head. “Who was it?”
“She needs help with something.”
“At this hour?” His wife let out a sigh. “Really, Victor?”
* * *
Victor waited for Sadie under the carport.
Sadie’s turquoise Tercel eased into the driveway. She rolled her window down and popped her head out. “Thanks, Vickie. I really appreciate this.”
He lifted the wet handle on the passenger side and ducked inside the car. The heat vents roared. He undid the top two buttons of his flannel jacket.
Sadie’s fingers tapped. “Too warm?”
Victor shook his head.
“I’m really sorry to have called you so late.” She turned down the heat. “The chickens.” She slammed her hands on the wheel. “They’re all dead.”
“I’m hoping you can tell me.”
The lane to Sadie’s house wove narrowly between the trees. Victor didn’t like this part of the island—too many trees, not enough sunlight. No one could keep a garden here. He’d worked his land, corner to corner, for almost forty-five years. His hands had become bulbous, deep-set with lines. Hippocratic fingers, the doctor had said years ago. Victor hadn’t gone to see him about his hands.
Sadie dashed out of the car to the awning of her house. She wore pink plaid pajamas under her rain jacket. Her black rubber boots were the same as his wife’s, except for the red soles.
Victor stepped out of the car. The misty air smelled of fir and cedar.
“Shall we have a drink first?” Sadie asked.
Victor ran his hands through his hair and stepped towards the chicken coop. “We should probably check out the damage.”
“Let me get the flashlight.” Sadie darted inside the house. The house had wood siding and was as compact as a cottage, the window frames painted fuchsia. Victor couldn’t imagine a man ever living there.
“Got it.” Sadie shone the light at the henhouse. A shot of silver gleamed from her other hand.
“A golf club.” Sadie swung it awkwardly. “My ex-husband left it behind. It might be useful?”
Victor followed her to the coop. The smell of hay, fowl, and shit mingled with the hint of something metallic.
Like Victor and his wife, Sadie kept both meat and laying chickens, but Victor’s henhouse was three times the size. His wife let the hens out into the field each morning to scratch in the field. She collected the eggs and fed them scraps from the garden. His role came only at the end: when he forced their beaks through a hole of a bucket. Took an axe to their necks. Plucked the feathers. Blow-torched the bodies.
Sadie opened the wire mesh door and stepped inside. She flashed the light quickly from one corner of the floor to the other. Half a dozen brown bodies lay limp on the straw. “You should’ve heard it, Vic. I had no idea what was out here.” Sadie sighed. “Once I saw the bodies and the feathers everywhere, I ran back inside. Called you. Thought, Vickie will know what to do.”
Victor reached for the flashlight in Sadie’s hand. He shone the light on the first hen. The back of her head was matted red. Others were heaped in the opposite corner. A few lay on their backs, legs up and bent. He lifted one by the comb, its head barely attached to the body. Another had its head ripped off. Victor turned the body of a fat brown chicken to reveal two small puncture holes in the neck.
Sadie shivered. “What did this?”
Victor exhaled slowly. He walked past her to go outside. Feline footprints imprinted the mud. He turned to face Sadie. “Well, the girls’ windpipes were cut. No blood left in the bodies.” Victor pointed to the ground. “And these footprints…”
“You’re close to the water. Must be a mink.”
“What should we do?”
Victor took the club from her hand and crept around the chicken coop. His vision wasn’t good enough to spot a mink in daylight, let alone now. He inspected the bottom edge of the coop.
He walked back to Sadie. Victor held his two fingers apart. “An inch. That’s all it takes for a mink to squeeze in. You need to tighten your coop and check regularly for holes.” He tapped the golf club against his boot. “Do you have a live trap?”
“I think so.” Sadie headed towards the house.
Victor trailed behind her. “We’ll need some meat.”
* * *
Victor stood in the living room while Sadie got the trap from the shed. He parted the curtains. Through the trees he got a dim glance of the bay.
“Okay, Vickie!” Sadie’s voice sang from the back of the house. “Got it. Never have had the patience for little springs and finicky things like that, but I’m sure you know how to set this.”
Victor crouched to examine the trap.
“I haven’t seen you at the marina in a while,” Sadie said.
“I gave up my boat.”
“Oh.” Sadie pulled at a lock of hair.
Victor lifted the galvanized trap. He put it down to readjust. “I go with my son, sometimes. He’s got a boat.”
“Oh, yes. He’s a handsome fellow.” Sadie bent down next to Victor. “How’s he doing?”
“Do you two still go hunting?”
“He goes on his own now.”
Sadie nodded. “Did your wife ever go hunting with you?”
“Once, maybe twice.”
“She didn’t like being in the wilderness?”
Victor rubbed his neck. “Women prefer being in their houses.” He poked the trap door with his finger. It moved slightly. “Minks are curious creatures. They’re cleverer than you’d imagine. They need an elaborate trap. We’ll cover this in hay and sticks—maybe some driftwood. Get their interest. We can dig a bit of a hole to set the trap in and keep it steady.”
“I’ll check in the fridge for some meat.” Sadie headed for the kitchen. “Does it matter if it’s cooked?”
“Has to be raw.”
Sadie walked back into the living room. “Should I thaw something out?”
“We need something fresh.”
“I don’t really have anything…” Sadie leaned against the doorway. She pursed her lips and raised her eyebrows. “There’s a fairly fresh mouse on a sticky trap in the storage room. Would that work?”
“If animals are desperate, they’ll eat anything.” Victor kept his gaze to the rug. “But this animal just had its fill of chickens.”
Sadie wandered to the small bar in the living room and poured herself a glass of wine. “You sure I can’t get you a drink, Vickie?”
“Well, okay. Sure.” He sat in the chair by the window and sighed. “You know, at the hospital, they told me I shouldn’t drink. Why bother changing now?”
Sadie poured another glass of red and handed it to Victor. “I still feel pretty shaken. Thanks for staying a bit.” She pulled a chair beside him. “Are you hungry? You’re so skinny, Vickie.”
Victor shook his head and stretched his shoulders back.
“I make a killer bacon and cheese sandwich. Want one?”
“No, I’m good.” Victor shifted in his seat. A crimson line had formed around the edge of Sadie’s upper lip. He took a swig of his drink, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. The wine was stale.
Sadie clutched the stem of the glass. “What do we do with the mink when we get it?”
Colour crept into Victor’s cheeks. “I suppose it’d make a fashionable scarf.” He lifted his eyes.
Sadie laughed, leaned towards him and pressed her hand on his knee. “You’re funny, Vickie.”
She let go of his knee, but Victor could still feel her warmth through the fabric of his pants. He rose to the window, and again, parted the curtains for a glimpse of the sea.
Leanne Dunic was a child growing up on Vancouver Island when she first started dreaming about Paul McCartney. Those dreams led her to words and music, arms reaching for instruments, random library discoveries, and an opportunity to make you laugh. She transgresses genre and form to produce projects such as To Love the Coming End (Book*hug/Chin Music Press 2017) and The Gift (Book*hug 2019). She is the leader of The Deep Cove, living on the unceded and occupied traditional territories of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh people.
featured photo courtesy of the author