I am sitting on the verandah, in the warm Queensland wind, reading Intimacies by Katie Kitamura. The light starts early here and is almost silver. We are visiting my sister-in-law for the first time since her husband died. Bill from next door walks up to the gate: Is that your chicken? he asks. A little fat, brown hen pecking around on the verge outside the house. My sister-in-law does own chickens, so the question is not absurd. Kitamura writes that humans don’t look at each other with intimacy anymore because of what photography and film have done to our sense of connection. Bill is not accusing, he is curious, hoping to help. We all spend some time trying to corral the visiting chicken into the yard, keep her safe until we can find out where she is from. We have no luck. Later, we walk across wet grass, rattling buckets of pellets, to coax the chickens who do live here back into their pen for the night. They get chopped up pecans on their feed. They eat what we eat, plus their special chicken food. A few of them are getting old. My sister-in-law hopes they will die of their own accord. If they don’t, and they’re sick, you drown them or hit them on the head. It’s hard, the drowning, sad at first, she says, and then they relax. During our stay she shows us her prowess with the ride-on mower. In the coolness of dusk she walks us through her garden. We settle in for the evening. Her shy adopted cat yowls at us, these strange visitors.
Night comes quickly here. We chat over cups of tea. The chickens sleep.