Friday, February 26, 2010

The parakeet story


Everybody has a true life story or two which need telling, if only as a soul-cleansing confession. Here’s mine:

Some years ago Carolann and I agreed to take care of a parakeet for our friends while they went on vacation.

I know what you’re thinking and so did I. Who needs baby sitters for a bird? You clean the cage, leave plenty of food and water and then go on vacation without giving the bird a second thought, right? Of course I’m right.

The thing is, our friend Tim (not his real name) had inexplicably fallen head-over-tiny-little-claws in love with this bird. He taught it to sit on his shoulder and play with him and to take food from his lips. I never had the nerve to ask but I’m pretty sure that Tim would have taken the bird to bed with him at night but for fear that his wife, Susan (not her real name) would roll over and crush the little guy.

Tim loved that bird completely, selflessly and without qualification and for that reason we felt a huge weight of responsibility for its well-being, as much as if it had been a human child left in our care.

But, still — one small bird in a small cage. How much trouble could that be?

Well, I’ll tell you…

We had three cats at the time so we wisely put the parakeet cage in a spare bedroom with the door closed tightly. Or, so we thought.

One day we came home from someplace and discovered the spare room door open, the cage on the floor with its door open, and a few horrifying feathers scattered here and there.

No sign of the bird.

After some frenzied searching and to our indescribable relief we found the parakeet literally trembling on the floor in a corner. Miraculously he had survived by scurrying from the truly terrorizing lightning pursuit of one to three monstrous cat demons, each a hundred times larger than himself!

You can just imagine!

Making cooing, soothing noises and with words of quiet reassurance we further terrified the little creature by picking it up and gently putting it back in its cage. We gave it fresh food and water just to be sweet, closed the door and left it alone to cry into its pillow and gather its wits.

An hour later the bird was dead.

Heart attack brought on by residual stress, or so they tell us.

Carolann and I were mortified. Tim and Susan would be home within a day or two and we had just murdered their baby.

What should we do?? Think!

And of course we reached the only reasonable solution to the crisis:

LIE!!!

We put the dead bird in a small paper bag and drove to a pet store. Honest to God, we did. Nerves jangling as if we were first-time shoplifters, we entered Jungleland and tried to act nonchalant.

“Hi, can I help you?”

“I hope so. Look…” (Opening the bag.) “We need a bird that looks exactly like this.”

I don’t remember if the girl looked at us quizzically or if she choked down a nostril-rattling guffaw. Maybe she did neither. Maybe this sort of thing happens all the time in pet stores, I don’t know. In any case, I didn’t ask and volunteered no explanation.

Miraculously, she found a dead ringer (so to speak) for our deceased charge. She netted it, we exchanged our lifeless bird-in-a-bag for the lively, but nervous, bird-in-a-box. We paid the cashier fifteen bucks plus tax and like Lucy and Ethel we hightailed it back home accompanied by a nervous laugh track and suspenseful bumper music.

“WAH-WAH-WAH-WAAAAAHHHHHH…”

Fade to commercial.


Tim and Susan returned from vacation happy, relaxed and refreshed but Tim was very anxious to hold his baby.

Carolann and I, shameful deceivers we had become, managed to hug them with warm smiles and, you should pardon the expression, give them the bird.

We held our breaths for about a week when Susan called on the phone and mentioned to Carolann, as if it were a passing thought, that the bird was acting peculiar. He didn’t seem as affectionate as he had before; seemed to have forgotten his tricks; wouldn’t sit on Tim’s shoulder; actually pecked at him!

We collapsed, Carolann confessed and we are both going to Hell.

Tim and Susan were stunned but held their disappointment as best they could. They didn’t chastise us and though it has never become a funny memory for us to laugh about over dinner and a glass of wine, they have continued to be our friends, albeit at some safe distance.

I think Godparenting their two sons is pretty much out of the question.

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