One day as the Little Red Hen was scratching in a field, she found a grain of wheat.
“This wheat should be planted,” she said.
“Who are you talking to,” said the Duck. “Who on earth do you think is talking to you?”
And the Hen had learned not to hear insults unless they were absolutely unavoidable, so the Hen did not hear the Duck say anything.
“Who will help me plant this grain of wheat?” she said.
“Not I,” said the Duck. “How embarrassing for you to ask me that, as if we were friends.”
“Not I,” said the Cat.
The Dog only snapped at her.
“Then I will,” said the Little Red Hen. And she did.
“Then why did you bother asking,” said the Duck.
“Why did you bother the rest of us.”
And the Hen kept very quiet, because it seemed like the safest thing to do. But the others were determined to punish her, and when someone is determined to punish you, there is nothing safe to do about it.
“Keep a civil tongue in your head,” the Cat said, and clawed a pawful of pinfeathers out of the Hen’s back.
Soon the wheat grew to be tall and yellow.
“The wheat is ripe,” said the Little Red Hen cheerfully. (She was cheerful because she had taught herself to forget all insults and harm, so that every day she woke up surrounded by friends.) “Who will help me cut the wheat?”
The Dog lifted its leg and pissed on her stalk of wheat by way of answer, and everyone else laughed.
“Oh,” said the Hen. “Oh, oh.” And she went and fetched water and cleaned the stalk off as best she could. The Dog is my funniest friend, she said to herself as she washed the wheat. He is always playing jokes on me.
When the wheat was cut, the Little Red Hen said, “Who will help me thresh this wheat?”
“Why do you keep asking,” said the Duck. “This isn’t funny anymore. No one will help you. None of us will help you.” And the Duck flew at her, biting and kicking dust into her eyes until she flew to the top of the barn.
“My friends are busy today,” said the Little Red Hen. “I will thresh the wheat myself.” And she did.
When the wheat was all threshed, the Little Red Hen said, “Who’ll help me take this wheat to the mill?” The Little Red Hen had found that the easiest way to deal with injury was to forget it.
If she didn’t forget it, she would be unhappy and in pain every day, and the Little Red Hen did not like to be unhappy. So instead she decided not to remember, and was happy.
The other animals said nothing. They were not interested enough to hurt her.
“How busy my friends are today,” said the Little Red Hen. “My good friends Dog and Duck and Cat must be very tired, and very busy, and they will have lots to tell me about after they are done working for the day.”
She took the wheat to the mill and had it ground into flour. “How my friends back at the farm miss me,” she told the miller. “They do not like it when I go to the mill by myself for even one afternoon. The Duck and the Cat and the Dog all offered to come to the mill for me today, but I said–”
“Your flour is ready,” said the miller.
“Thank you, Miller,” the Little Red Hen said. And so she went home.
“It’s back,” the Cat called out from its sun-spot on the fence.
“Shame,” the Duck said. “I hoped it had run away, or been made into Sunday supper at last.”
Then the Little Red Hen went into the barn and scratched out a bed among the hay. She bent her head down toward the floor and whispered: “I am back from the mill! Who will help me make this flour into bread?”
“I will help you,” said the Little Red Hen to herself in the Duck’s voice.
“I will help you too,” said the Little Red Hen in the Cat’s voice.
“Oh! Let me help,” said the Little Red Hen in the Dog’s voice.
“Let’s all help,” said the Little Red Hen quietly to the hay. And she made and baked the bread. Then she said, “Who will eat this bread?”
“Oh! I will,” said the Duck.
“And I will,” said the Cat.
“And I will,” said the Dog.
And they said little else as they fell on the bread and devoured it. And the Little Red Hen smiled to see her friends so happy.
“Quit staring,” the Dog said, and kicked at her.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.