How We Saved A Confused Bird From Our Chimney (And Nurtured It To Life)

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Illustration by Chelsea O’Byrne

I lounge in my flannel pajamas, a snack bowl tucked firmly in my flabby belly, and poke the remote with my least swollen finger ever. I’m halfway there, when rustling sounds behind the wall bring me back to reality. I press the mute button. For a moment there is silence; then the scrabbling begins again, accompanied by a haunted scream.

A louder volley of frantic rustling propels me to my feet. Holding my snack bowl ready in case I need to fire it at my avian invader, I scream for help. Kevin comes running, while I stammer words like “Bird!” and “Fireplace!” and others that my father never taught me.

He raises a manly hand, his hair bristling with skill. Luckily, there’s no fire blazing in the grate, so he can fit his head through the opening. He cranes his neck up and starts talking like a bird. Hisses, clucks and chirps come out of its tongue, but the pigeon must be speaking a different dialect as the mad flapping intensifies. Kevin pulls his head out of the chimney, just as the pigeon explodes into the chimney like a rocket.

“You’re welcome.” Sufficiency is written large on his face.

He grabs a handful of cheese puffs and wanders off to do some “work” on his computer – more likely, watching ducks herding kittens on YouTube, or something equally stimulating. Separately but together we enjoy a peaceful evening.

In the morning, while I’m making coffee, the beating commotion begins again. This cunning hen had to hide all night, but she’s awake now, and she’s pissed. Outside the house, her companion sings an amorous lament and walks up and down the other side of the glass door to our patio, his black eyes shining.

“Ah. Mourning Dove,” my erudite wife announces as if it were an enlightening nature show on PBS, not a domestic emergency.

“Do something!” I scream.

It’s not that we don’t have an equal marriage – we just have different strengths. I’m good at baking and caring for dogs. It’s the gardener and (I just decided) the bird.

Like a surgeon demanding a scalpel, he holds out his hand. “Napkin.”

I dash down the hall to the linen closet. Normally I’m not that high a bid, but fetching anything is better than hanging out next to the crazy cage here.

When I get back to the area, Kevin has removed the spark arrester.

I deploy the common sense that my mom gave me. “Shouldn’t we cover the opening…ˮ

Phew! In the middle of our family room swoops down a disoriented dove, throwing its wings at full speed and heading straight for its mate. Pan! He is knocked out cold on the glass door. Outside, Mr. Dove flies away, shaking his head sadly at the woman’s madness. Inside, my husband and I look at each other, then at the intruder, then again. Dead end. Finally, he takes a fluffy towel and wraps the battered, battered creature in it. A blackhead in one eye is open; the other is closed. You can practically see cartoon stars flying around his dizzy little head.

“Is it dead?” I whisper.

“Not yet,” my husband said, “but it may not last the day.”

I’m going to get dressed. When I got back, Kevin set up a bird hospital. He takes a cardboard box, lines it with the towel, adds a saucer of water and another of crushed seeds, and hovers above his construction with the anxious attention of a mother to a newborn.

I shrug my shoulders and go on with my day, telling myself that the good thing about being retired is that her husband can do whatever he wants for as long as he wants, and the wheels won’t fall off our marriage. There are no more kids to send to school, no more deadlines to meet, no more irate bosses to please. These days, if a bird decides to attack our family room, it won’t be kicked out and abandoned to meet its maker (or the neighbor’s tabby cat). He may even survive.

I’m upstairs for a few hours before deciding to make another pot of coffee and check on my husband. He’s sitting on a patio chair, shivering in the cool spring air. On her lap, wrapped in luxurious Egyptian cotton, is Madame Dove. He tries to give her something with a pipette.

I slide the patio door. “How are you?”

“I’m cold.”

“Would you like a jacket and a blanket?” I try not to think about bird lice.

“Can you hold her for a while?”

But I pretend not to hear. I’ll get the jacket and blanket. “You are doing a great job.”

I go upstairs and read scary things on the internet about the symbolism of having a bird in the house. Like that, if he survives, it portends that we will receive some kind of message, but if he dies, we will have a death in our family. I decide it will be better if he lives. I bravely step down and out and take over holding him for a while.

Reflections of the sun on the feathers. Up close, golden and purple highlights sparkle amid the delicate grays. The small chest goes up and down. My eyes mist when I realize that I hold an exquisite life in my hands.

After an hour in the chilly air, I bring our new best friend inside. Somehow we trick him into drinking and eating a piece of food. We place it in its box, where it lies motionless, without making a sound. We don’t know if it will last until tomorrow, but it breathes. Maybe he’ll recover from his nasty concussion and join Mr. Dove, who’s back, strutting outside on the flagstones, crying sadly.

Just before dinner, the box moves as Birdie gets up. We rush. His two eyes are open and stare at us with well-measured hostility.

“Let’s get her out of here,” I said.

We take the box and its contents to the patio and close the door behind us. Carefully, I gently open the top, and there’s an angelic flutter as the bird takes off and flies, straight and true. His companion, hidden in a nearby bush, calls him to his side. As the sun sets, the reunited pair fly across the yard and away.

I turn to my husband. “You did a good deed.”

He smiles. “For a bird.”

I give him a hug. “For me too.”

Sally Basmajian lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

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