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Requiem (Habits of Coexistence)

While I was away in Seattle, my birds died. I returned to an empty house and an anguished note from Gareth saying I swear when I came in on Friday the bird had enough food, but I came back Sunday and (here, in hyperbolic desperation, he lapsed into medical jargon) bird was prone, not breathing, showing no reflex or sign of life. Gareth had put the body in the freezer, not knowing whether I wanted to bury or just trash it, and offered to hold the funeral in his own family’s historic plot for dead pets (their backyard, three blocks away).

Bird, I thought to myself. He said Bird, singular. I had two birds.

I checked the freezer, and got a glimpse of dilute grey and yellow feathers before I got too creeped out and had to put it back. That would be the female. I called Gareth to clarify. He had only seen one bird in the cage since I had left on Wednesday. Where was the male?

I caught a flash of bright orange beak that night as I went looking for clean pajamas. He was sitting upright in the open lower drawer of my dresser, in such a way that I started, momentarily presuming he was alive. I have since been finding bird droppings on my stereo, on picture frames, and elsewhere in my room, which makes me disbelieve my original hypothesis that he’d bashed himself to death against the windows. More likely, he slipped between the bars of the oversized cage, spent the next few days finding other perches in the room as he tried to get back in, and eventually settled, exhausted, on the final nest of jeans. The female, I think, died of grief.

I sometimes catch myself inadvertently looking to the cage. I am still cautious when I turn on a light or make noise after sunset, checking first to see if the cage cover is on so I don’t wake them. It disconcerts my subconscious to see the cage naked late at night. Though before they died the ceaseless beeping call noises they made led me to consider handing them off to a friend, I find my room too quiet to work now. These reflexes will probably linger for a while. I still look towards the missing fishtank when I enter the kitchen, even though Tiger died some time ago. I still feel loathe to leave my jewelry on top of the dresser, even though Ralphie, my cat, lives with my mom now.

I feel like I’ve said this before, but there is something particularly poignant about the habits of coexistence once the other has gone.

I buried the birds in the nest they’d made out of yarn and grass and unraveled sock. I sat them together — lucky things, they were always together — on their last two unhatched eggs, and wrapped the whole thing in lavender tissue. My family has a history of burying animals in state. Our first rat had a hinged wooden coffin filled with paste jewelry and decorated with yard flowers. I always wonder what archaeologists will make of this.

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Please note I’ve added a Discuss link at the bottom of every post. Hope it works. I also plan to index my archives by title soon.

One Comment

  1. thank

    Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

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