Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Little Bodies

We lived in a one story squared off 60s style house with orange and brown scroll-patterned linoleum in the kitchen and orange and yellow shag carpeting in the rest of the house. By the time I have any memory of the house the shag carpeting was only left in one small closet, the rest replaced by a short blue sea. The linoleum, however, stayed for as long as we did.

Both the dining area and the TV room had large, floor to ceiling picture windows, walls that no bird ever saw. Every time a bird hit, we’d rush outside to see if it had survived. It was a clear sign that spring had arrived whenever we started finding a larger number of robins, rather than chickadees, lying stunned and prone in the flower beds. If the birds were alive we would pick them up carefully, tucking their scratchy little feet between our hands and then holding them up, like we were cupping water to drink. The birds’ quick hearts fluttered, their small dark eyes darting back and forth, the birds were so soft and fragile, like precious babies. We were big and clumsy and could hurt them, so we had to be extra careful to be nice, to hold them for only a few moments, to pet them softly, and ultimately to set them carefully in the hedge so that when the bird was ready, it would fly away on its own.

Rufous feeding
If the bird was dead, then it belonged to my father. We held no birdie burials at my house. Instead, dad would go back in and get a sandwich bag, wrap the bird up in its clear shroud, and deliver it to our birdie morgue: the freezer. There was nothing strange to us about the fact that there was a little pile of bird corpses in between the Eggos box and the ice trays. After my first year of college I was speaking to a friend about our college entrance essays, she had written hers about how her father stored birds in their freezer. Her father was also a biologist. Clearly though, she had been much more aware of herself than I had, because it wasn’t until she told me about her essay that I realized that maybe people would view that as strange behavior.

Not too long ago I dropped by my parents house after work.

“If you’re getting a glass of wine will you get me one? It’s in the freezer,” my mom asked.  Next to the bottle of chardonnay, was a little body bag.

“Did you guys have a bird hit the window?”

“It’s one of the humming birds!” my dad said, “do you want to see it?”


In their new house they also have picture windows, but these are on a second story, so the only birds that come close are those drawn in by my father’s hummingbird feeders.

“I feel a little guilty,” he said.

It was beautiful, but strange to see a hummingbird so still. My father was particularly excited that its tongue was extended out of its bill, like a stamen left after the flower petals had been stripped away. He explained to me about the coloring of the males versus the females, that this was a male.

As they feed from his feeder, they flash in the sun like gaudy living gems. Now on the dining room table it was like seeing the gimmick behind a magic trick.

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