I knew something was up as soon as I slid open the back door, a wave of cold air against my face while the heat still radiated against my back.
Peter Parker, our adopted shelter terrier, looked sheepish. Instead of running and jumping on my just-home-from-school six year old, the dog lay on the carpet, four legs splayed out.
I looked around for what naughtiness he’d left while we’d been away. Nothing obvious: no knocked over trash cans, half licked up piles of doggy puke, or brown streaks in corners. Maybe the dog just missed us, I thought, and stopped worrying.
The kindergarten puts in a solid ten minutes on homework and then hits play time: Legos. I turn on the light in his room and notice something amiss. Over there, near the edge of the bunkbed. What is that? I think, actually making a quizzical look though no one can see me. No, it can’t be. But it is.
There’s a dead bird on the floor of my son’s bedroom. A dove, one of the thousands from around our neighborhood. This one is more gray than brown. Not a baby, maybe a teenager. I leave the room without investigating further, flipping off the light on my way out. I know I have to deal with it but not just yet.
On the scale of dead things, this isn’t too bad. I’m able to remove the little bird without anyone else seeing. Less sad than the dead baby dove in the swimming pool, who must have tried to take a drink, fallen in, and gotten trapped under an inflatable ring. Less gross than the turkey vulture–eight foot wing span, smell of death like the carrion it eats–that fell dead out of the eucalyptus tree in the front yard.
And then there was Katie, my gray-yellow parakeet. Not the parrot I asked for, but considering that we lived in Alaska, a reasonable compromise. Freshman year of college, when I’m 2,500 miles away, my mom lets slip a little secret about sweet Katie: “The cat didn’t get Katie like I told you. She starved to death.”
I hope this is what she told me, but in my memory the words are slightly different. “You starved Katie to death.”
A ten-year conspiracy about a pet store bird? The parakeet was already controversial, as we didn’t discover that it was male till long after naming it Katie. The name stuck, as well as the lingering smell of damp, bird-feces-covered newspaper in the kitchen nook where we kept it.
Could it be that I neglected this five-ounce creature for so long it gave up the ghost? Gruesome perhaps, but it does sound more likely than the elaborate scheme I’d always assumed. A cage door left open, calico Mama Kitty pouncing despite her advanced age and complete lack of previous stealth.
Friends have cockatoos, finches. I avoid them all. I bypass aviaries when advertised or stumbled upon. Birds just don’t bode well for me.
If there was any doubt, an cemented my anti-avian sentiments for good. A Thanksgiving reunion in San Diego, the whole family gathered for the first time in many moons. We spend a day at the zoo, oohing and ahhing and living it up. Before the pandas, we walk paths through lush vegetation rife with birds. I’m caught up in the moment so I follow, six months pregnant and starting to walk more like a duck than a human. It is here, in the little bit of Eden hidden in busy Southern California, that I am attacked by a peacock. Said peacock doesn’t like me, or at least doesn’t like my pants. He’s biting my leg, following me, repeatedly pecking and squawking. It is terrifying to me, hilarious to my siblings and parents.
The only safe bird is a dead one.
Eliana Osborn is a mom of two, husband to one, English professor to legions. She lives on the US-Mexico border and spends most of her time in the sunshine.
Photo Credit: Eugene Regis