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We walked by the chicken coop where several warbling hens had escaped through a hole in the chicken-wire door. Paul and I devised a plan to get them back in. I held the coop door open while he crept around the perimeter and, loudly whooping, chased the birds back in. After one last hesitant hen stepped in, I latched the door. Paul got on his knees, working the chicken wire with his hands.
“I thought you didn’t like to get dirty,” I said.
“He loves those chickens,” Neve said as we began to walk again. “You should see him at feeding time.” I could tell she was getting tired by the way she hugged her belly and walked faster, ahead of Paul now, her chic cowboy boots kicking up puffs of dirt behind her. Ruby ran ahead.
By the time I reached the side of the house, Neve stood watching Ruby circle a fallen drainpipe.
“Come see,” Neve called to me, one hand propped against the small of her back. “She’s been obsessed with this.”
I joined her. Ruby began wrestling with the pipe, running from end to end. I heard a faint squeaking and asked Neve about it.
“Chipmunks have been getting stuck in the pipe. Ruby’s been going crazy trying to catch them,” Neve said, shaking her head. “Look at her.”
The squeaking grew louder as Ruby stuck her snout into the openings.
“Poor thing,” I said to Neve. She thought I meant Ruby.
The guys caught up to us. Paul walked over to the pipe and lifted it vertically. Ruby barked excitedly. Douglas began to click on his camera. Paul pounded one end of the pipe against the ground. I started to feel sick.
“What’s going on?” Douglas asked me.
I quietly told him that there was a chipmunk in the drainpipe. He lowered the camera so that it hung against his chest. Paul pounded the pipe again. Nothing. The squeaking grew louder, and I heard clicks against the metal, probably the chipmunk hanging on inside with its claws. He pounded it again, harder. Ruby began to run circles around him, panting loudly.
“You can empty it on the other side of the wall. That way it has a chance to get away,” Douglas said.
“I know, but I don’t want to,” Paul said. He gave the pipe one final whack.
“You might not want to see this,” Neve said.
Douglas looked away but I watched. The chipmunk, no bigger than a mouse, fell out at last. It hit the ground and quickly got back on its feet, looking around to orient itself. Just as it started to scamper off, Ruby snatched it up in her jaws and gave it two hard whacks against the earth. I heard the crunch of bones and walked away. Douglas put his arm around my shoulders and we went into the house. Upstairs, we stripped down to our underwear and examined each other for ticks — once, then again. As he checked my scalp, his fingers gently parting my hair, I wanted to be home.