Helen watched her chickens, her hands on her hips, the empty feeding can looped over one fist. Their long tray allowed room for at least twenty birds, but only Debbie, Mona, Doody, and Bethie were eating. When the other two hens, Elsie (the black one) and Reddie (a Rhode Island red) approached the tray, Debbie led a charge and drove them away, the other three hens enthusiastically joining in to attack the weaker hens. Reddie should have been fat and fluffy, but she was thin and mangy-looking, with a bare neck that showed skin where the other birds had plucked at her. Elsie had more feathers, but was thin, also, and so skittish that if any of the four fat hens turned toward her, she ran for the shelter of the bottom of the raised coop.
Reddie scratched at the dirt at the other end of the chicken yard, pretending not to be hungry. Elsie peeked out from beneath the hen-house, making grating, groaning sounds to herself while she watched the other chickens feed.
Debbie gobbled hungrily at the meal in the tray, only pausing to glance at Elsie and Reddie to make sure they stayed an appropriate distance from the food. The three other hens looked up from their pecking to keep an eye on Debbie and her leadership.
Separate feeding stations? Helen had tried that early on, but Debbie and her gang of three had dominated both feeders, punishing the other two hens if they settled in to fill their stomachs. A mouthful here and there when the four top chickens were sated were all that Reddie and Elsie were able to get, Elsie more likely than Reddie.
Plying a soft whiskbroom, Helen had tried to show the hens that Reddie was not to be picked upon. Reddie would gladly sit in Helen's lap and let her stroke her feathers and bare neck with the whiskbroom, crooning softly and shutting her eyes in delight and trust. When one of the other hens would approach aggressively to punish Reddie for her pleasure, Helen would smack them briskly with the whiskbroom. Shouldn't that teach them that Reddie had privileges? A priority with the management? But no, it did not. Chickens had their own criteria for pecking order, and that blasted Longhorn Debbie set the standard, and the rest of them could do nothing but comply.
* * *
At the home improvement store, Debbie watched the employees from her position at the Customer Service Desk, her arms crossed. When she was observed by management, Debbie ordered the clerks about, smugly smiling to herself as she clomped about in her unsensible high heels that thrust her trim pelvis forward to show her boss that she was upwardly mobile. Debbie never stood with her legs close together, which was altogether in her mind a position that would have suggested that she was not interested in promotion and a management career.
There, that stupid cashier had put the customer's receipt in the bag instead of handing it to him. Debbie gritted her lower jaw against her upper, and clomped on her white high heels to the cashier's station.
"Why did you put that customer's receipt in the bag?" she demanded.
"Did you find everything you needed today, sir?" the stupid cashier asked her current customer.
"No," the man said loudly, "When did you people stop carrying furnace filters?"
Stupid replied, "Oh, I'm so sorry! They switched them from the Hardware Aisles to the Plumbing Department, on Aisle Fifteen. Do you want me to hold these items for you while you look?"
"Yeah, thanks," the man said, leaving his stuff on the counter.
Stupid shoved his purchases to the holding area of her register, deleting the sales record of them with her right hand,
She turned to Debbie briefly. "I put his receipt in the bag because he asked me to." Her eyes did not meet Debbie's, and Debbie knew that the cashier had disrespect in her heart.
"Don't get smart with me," Debbie said. "You're about to get written up."
The stupid cashier greeted her next customer with a smile. "Hi, did you find everything you needed today?"
"No, as a matter of fact, I didn't," said the smoothly shaved man in the three-piece suit. "You used to carry safety masks guaranteed to filter out asbestos."
The stupid cashier jumped. "And there weren't any on the shelf? Let me find the Department Manager!" She punched numbers on her register phone, paged the Hardware Department.
Debbie tapped her foot. "You need to put every customer's receipt into their hand, and say 'Thank you for shopping Hardware Mart,' with no exceptions."
As Stupid Cashier answered her phone when it rang, the customer in the three piece suit observed Debbie, from heels to tight dress with fake white buckskin fringe across the low-cut bodice.
I'm on the job, Debbie thought, take a good look and you know I'm good for this company.
"Did you hear me?" she demanded of the stupid cashier, who appeared to be ignoring her.
"Sir," said Stupid, "The department manager said they came in on this afternoon's truck. He's pulling them out and will meet you on Aisle Six."
"Thank you, Susan. I appreciate your effort." Before he turned away, however, he had a long look at Debbie and her name badge beside her cleavage.
Debbie squinted her eyes genially and simpered until he was out of sight behind the other customers in line. "Susan," she said, letting her annoyance show, "after this customer rush, lock your register and take care of the restrooms, can I have you do that for me?"
"But it's early -- we're not supposed to do them until after seven," Stupid Susan dared to say.
Debbie's eyes narrowed again, this time anything but genially. "Are you refusing?"
"No! I'll do it, sorry, I wasn't refusing!"
"Thanks," Debbie said, an insincere smile distorting her face. She went back to the Customer Service Desk, tapped a pencil on the glass-topped counter while she looked at the schedule, then remembered she hadn't finished telling Daniella in Housewares about the Amway facial party she was going to have next month. It was crucial -- she planned on inviting every female in the store and she needed Daniella to help with party trays.
A half hour later, Greg the Personnel Manager showed up at the Customer Service Desk, and offered to help sign out the afternoon shift. They counted the cashiers' trays and chatted companiably with them, checked in the late shift and sent them to their assignments. "The new District Manager was in today," Greg told her in his low, uninflected voice. "He asked me why Susan was cleaning the restrooms at three-fifteen."
"Was she?" Debbie asked, incredulously. "Why on earth would she do that? I mean, I noticed that she was off-register, but I thought maybe you had told her she could go on break. I wondered if she even bothered to sign off her register... "
"Debbie, Susan told me that you insisted she do that, and Alfie, who was cashiering on the next register, backed her up."
"Oh, those two! They'll say anything to keep each other out of trouble! I shouldn't even schedule them for the same shift!"
"The District Manager also said you were interrupting Susan's work while she was on the register, and talking across customers to chew her out."
"When? That's not true! Did Susan tell him that?"
"No, he was in line, buying some safety equipment."
"I have no idea what he's talking about. I've been working my ass off all day."
Greg of Personnel put down the next day's schedule. "You're looking to go into management, aren't you, Debbie?"
She leaned back against the counter, letting her elbows rest on it. She crossed her stockinged legs and let her posture speak volumes. "Yeah, I just don't see me playing with cashiers and returns for the long run."
"That's a good thought," he said evenly. "There are a couple department positions opening up, and one of them is a department manager spot. If you're going into management, you have to have had at least two departments under your belt. How does Paint Department sound to you?"
Debbie felt the blood rush from her face. "Oh, I heard Julie was thinking about retirement, and I was hoping to take her place as Office Manager -- I was trained as backup to the Office Manager before I transferred to this store."
"No, Julie has been here since Day One, and isn't interested in leaving -- not with the economy the way it is, you know. Color and style -- Paint Department could use your sense of how to make things beautiful. What do you think?"
I think I've been royally screwed, Debbie thought. The Paint Department dealt in messy buckets of paint, smelly and dangerous solvents, and inventories of spray paints that were like the Inquisition. At the end of the day, the cretins who labored in those aisles were inclined to boom voices in the locker room, "WHO PUT THE 'PAIN' IN THE PAINT DEPARTMENT??" You can't refuse an assignment. If you do, they look right over you after that. God damn it. I don't deserve this. I'll talk to Mervin in the morning. He's the manager, and he knows I should get better treatment. "You know, Greg, this could be a great opportunity! Thanks for thinking about me! I should think about it overnight, anyway, but it sounds cool!"
* * *
Helen fed Debbie some raw hamburger, scattering the bits on the ground. When Debbie had eaten about half of the fragments, Helen picked her up and carried her, unprotesting, to a new pen on the other side of the wide yard. She set the hen down and backed out the door, knowing that the young rooster she'd bought would make his acquaintance in short order. Debbie was a take-charge kind of chicken; she'd produce some sterling chicks. She was a Leghorn, but the rooster was a Barred Rock. Helen wondered what the chicks would be like ... maybe they'd be a little less aggressive.
That afternoon, Helen's hens rushed to their feeding tray as though famished, and while the three leghorn hens gobbled, Elsie and Reddie hovered in the background. Only a few minutes later, however, the two skinny hens inched their way to the trough and began to peck -- tentatively at first, then ravenously.
Sooner or later, one or the other will start picking on the rest, Helen mused. But it sure is nice to see them have a little bit of peace for a change. I wish I'd have thought of this before -- this could turn profitable in the long run.
-- Sand Pilarski