Tuesday, August 28, 2012

an empty cage

This morning we found one of our family pet birds dead on the floor of his cage. He arrived one Christmas Eve, some fifteen years ago - another of my Mother's infamous 'bird phases' - she was going to teach this long-billed Corella to talk. He would be called Jake. Some time later we would come to question Jake's gender - as Jake never really got the hang of the whole talking business.

The sight of a lifeless animal, head crashed to the floor is not a nice one.  It's a vague idea that might cross your mind briefly, whenever you are reminded of the special animals in your life, when you remember they won't be here forever - but in those moments you quickly shake the picture from your mind, to think about another day - some distance in the future. We don't know what happened to Jake - but he was supposed to outlive us all, we had heard they could live for 100 years, and supposedly he was to be my inheritance one day, when my parents would no longer be around to look after him.

Jake was an odd creature - a little damaged like the rest of the members of my family.  A plump body, about the size of an AFL football, covered in brilliant white waxy feathers; beady black eyes, surrounded by a circle palette of old-lady-blue-rinse coloured crinkly skin, and a blush of coral on his 'cheeks'. And gracing the top of his head, a scaly intimidating crest that would rise whenever he was mad, or rain-happy, or scared - and when it rose, the slightest salmon pink shade could be detected beneath the feathers of his crown.

Jake could be an unadulterated pain in the ass.  He and I had a strained relationship at times.  With his fiercely hooked long beak, I could never understand why he would be spooked by gentle doves and cockatoos that got too close to the border of his world - his cage. His squawk would resound in the tiny depths of your cavernous ears - he was bloody loud, and shall we say, generous with his voice.  Whenever my little nephew would get scared by Jake's noise, I would simply tell him "it's ok, Jake's just singing".

He disliked small quick children, people wearing sunglasses and aggressive folk who tried to make him 'sing', along with the aforementioned doves/magpies/crows and any other animals that might get too close; he didn't seem to like my big camera much either. He loved sunflower seeds, apple and spreading his wings in the rain; he was also quite partial to a head rub (from the right person).  It was moments when the summer rain would trickle down the front of his cage, Jake would cling to the wire - wings outstretched, feathers flapped, crest high and proud - I think doing some pre-programed ancestral dance of the Corellas - it was these moments, I liked him best.

"JAKE! Shutup Jake! SHUUUUT UPP!" We all screamed many, many times throughout his life.  I feel a little bad now, for cursing him so much. I loved to watch him waddle on the bottom of his cage, like something from a prehistoric age - he was clumsy and cute in his quiet moments.

Before having to leave for work this morning, I had a little cry and I tried to comfort my Mum, who would without doubt be feeling the loss more than me.  I would see my Mum, red faced, watery eyed, briefly rise to look through the kitchen window to see the cage Jake used to occupy, only to remember it was empty now, and she would weep again, recalling the loss.  My Dad left for work, sombre and stone faced; I had the impression he would hold it together, until reaching the confines of his car, or office, where he would be free to shed his tears, it's what I would do, if I were him.

He was just a bird, a noisy, funny little bundle of feathers and beak, but he was a part of the family.  Sometimes I think the larger the animal, the more space it takes up in your heart, and the bigger the shattering shock to your gut when you see them fallen and unmoving.  It's easy to forget the small parts that make up the stage setting of your life - the things, people, creatures, trees - most unnamed, go unnoticed until the day they aren't there anymore. They bring colour and shape to our existence, and leave holes of various sizes when they cease to be.  It hurts when things like this happen, the endings always so much more vivid than the journey - but they enrich our lives in untold ways, and I suppose in these moments of upset, that's what we need to focus on.

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