Author’s Note: A client I saw this morning was trying to keep a family pet — a goldfish named Sebastian — alive. The kids were at school when he was changing the water of their small aquarium, hoping that fresh water would revive Sebastian. The odds didn’t look good to me. It reminded me of this piece I wrote last summer.
Out early to walk the dog. The heaviness of the air makes you notice it. It rained last night and the sun is sleeping late, covered with abundant clouds. A recent encounter with old treasured memories on my mind and Pandora providing the soundtrack. Time to be with my thoughts and a chance to do some good for my heart.
There’s a little bird on the sidewalk, ten paces from my door. It’s flapping it’s wings that have yet to learn to fly. They can’t carry him away as I approach.
I pick him up (do you call a bird “it” if you don’t know their sex?). I’ll call him “him” because I think he was a boy bird. Something in his eyes gave it away. They’re blinking slowly and as I pick him up, he suddenly stops trying to get away. I put the walk on hold. I feel he needs me but I’m not certain what to do for him. I bring him inside, leaving the dog in another room complaining about the delay.
Birdie opens his beak, the way I’ve seen birds do when they’re taking food from a bird-parent. Is he thirsty or hungry? I try both. A little low-fat milk on my son’s syringe. But birds don’t drink milk, they drink water from bird baths or little puddles left behind by June rain. He spits it out. I try water, the smallest drops I can squeeze out. The way he’s opening and closing his beak make me think that birdie is dehydrated. I hold him in my palm and he stretches one of the wings. He blinks some more and gasps. I whisper: “You better not fucking die, you hear?” I think of Saint Francis of Asisi or whichever saint was good at rescuing little animals. I’m no fucking saint, I say to myself.
I should’ve just kept on walking. I couldn’t do it, of course. I have no time for this but I couldn’t walk away either. Where the fuck is the mother or the father bird? Your kid is dying and I don’t know what to do…
Maybe is hunger. He could be hungry. I try bird seeds but they’re too big for his little throat. He’d choke for sure. There are little crumbs on the cutting board from this morning’s toast I made for my four year-old. Glad he’s not home. I can’t explain what’s going on while I try reviving birdie. And the kid would be asking me what I was doing, over and over again.
I time dropping the powdered bread down the hatch when he gasps. I squeeze a tiny water chaser. He shakes his head. Am I helping? Who the fuck knows…
There are always plenty of birds hanging around our yard waiting for us to refill the feeder by the pear tree. But not today. Birdie is my problem. I rub the tiny chest and blow a little warm air his way. A little more powdered bread and water. He perks up, or at least he no longer looks like he will die any moment now.
I’ll fill the bird feeder to attract the regular gang. I wrap him up in a dish towel and place him on the bluestone wall below. Maybe a little company will cheer him up. Can birds take care of their own, in between snacks? I move back into the house to give them space. No bird shows up. It could take a little time. I decide to walk Celeste. She hadn’t complained for a while, like she understood I was involved in serious business. Who the fuck knows…
I walk our regular route. A bunch of memories sprinkled throughout a mile and a-half and stretched over forty years of living and dying in the same area of the world.
We get back and after I refill the water bowl, I go out to the yard to check on birdie. He’s dead, of course, his dark eye looking up at the deserted bird feeder hanging from the gray sky. I feed myself some bullshit, like at least the last few minutes of his life he wasn’t alone. He had some company that stroked his chest and blew warm air on his feathers. He had a last meal and he didn’t die on some sidewalk. Like I said, it’s bullshit, but I wish someone did that for me if I was dying on some sidewalk.
I give the bird a proper burial. He’s wrapped in a paper towel inside a plastic bag from the food store my son is visiting with his Mom this morning. Glad he’s not around. Birdie will go out with the Sunday trash before he returns. There would be plenty of time to explain that birds — and people we love or hate — die, just like that.
I write this. It’s neither an obit or a eulogy. It’s a mentioning.
It’s the least I can do for the dead boy bird.