by Mark Fabiano
Birdbrain, Birdbrain, Birdbrain! That is all I hear. I say what I hear. I am hungry. Is there food? Not yet. I sing. I flutter from the swing to the cage roof. I can see the sun. I feel it in my heart and my wings yearn for the cool morning air. She will not let me go. She will not let me out. If I get a chance I shall fly. This will be the day.
Her singing is strange but with practice I can repeat it. Maybe if I do that I am saying to her what is in my heart-to fly. Maybe then she will listen and let me go. I sing her songs and sing my own. She says long and low phrases, and much is unintelligible to me. I do not understand her language but I can sing it. Then maybe she will let me out. I can fly. Is there food yet? No. The sun is filling the world with a glow and to be feeling it on my wing tips as I bend and fly is all I can think.
My little heart is filled with images of the jungle. Dreams of my elders, all green and fast, flying free above the fruit trees on the river, dodging the big crows by darting in and around the branches of the thickets of trees. I hear their song of old, their cries of laughter as they evade danger. The large fruit bats hanging upside down awaiting the twilight. The crocodiles below, lurking in the muddy waters. A mongoose on the opposite shore prancing about, looking for a mole or the chance half eaten rice packet of the humans. The river widens out downstream as it touches the ocean and we fly across the sky above. Is there food yet? No. Why is she so lazy this old human? The sun comes down through the big window. The whole world is bright and green outside. It is stuffy inside. Here the air is stale with yesterday's cooking and medicinal odors. She is slow. By this time, she is singing to me. But I do not hear any voice. I sing out a little tune I might sing if I could sit on one of those branches outside. Still no voice. Birdbrain, birdbrain, birdbrain, How's my little Birdbrain?? Silence, except for the thudded echoes of passersby outside and the wind bushing the branches. Is there any food? No. I see the big cat climb up the branches and out on the limb. He stares into the window at me. I screech. Killer killer killer. But it does not go away and I flutter around my cage, a feather falls into the white cup of water at the bottom of my cage where there is no food yet.
Maybe the other song she sings. How does it go? One foot in the grave. One foot in the grave and nobody calls. Poor old Jean they'll say when I'm in the box. Birdbrain, Birdbrain, Birdbrain! Birdbrain, Birdbrain, Birdbrain! How's my little Birdbrain? Nothing. It might be different if I were a cat. I could run through the house, do what I want. But nope. I'm just here in this cage. Got my wings and can't fly. Hungry and can't eat. Who wants water with feather? I want out, out, out. I want to fly in that beam of light. Why that cat, Id show him. I'd sit myself on that branch. And he'd come sneaking out there after me in all his stinky fur. And I'd just pretend I didn't see him and id flutter my wings and hop a little further to the edge. And he'd come after me. And just at the last second, I'd flutter up and out and he'd slip cause the branch wouldn't support his big old fat weight and down down down the kitty goes and I fly up and free and happy. Is there any food yet? Nope. Birdbrain, Birdbrain, Birdbrain! How's my little Birdbrain?
Maybe another song. How did it go? If I sing it well maybe she will come.
I tell you Gloria, you spend your whole life cleaning up after others, making beds, fixing food, going to them PTO meetings, and working and then before you know it they've flown the coup. And then your old man kicks the bucket and you're left all alone. They don't call. They don't write. They spend their vacations down in Orlando, or take a cruise. But they never appreciate the life you gave them. And it was a life. Let me tell you. I suppose I should be grateful they send cards and flowers and such on all the appointed holidays. And of course, they come every Christmas. Still it'd be nice if they'd move closer...a grandchild oughta be close to his grandmother.
And then what do they do? Mom you are lonely you need a pet. How bout a cat? But they know I'm allergic to dander. And I don't want any fish tank turning into a cesspool. Just more to clean. But then they bring me this parakeet. A real bird brain. Repeats everything I say. Gloria. Yes, listen here...Birdbrain, Birdbrain, Birdbrain! How's my little Birdbrain? See I told you. I mean what am I supposed to do with a bird? I have half a mind to set it free outside...but the poor thing would die in this weather. Well Gloria of course I can't keep it I don't want it, but what can I do right now. I need to find a new home for it. Your son in law wants a bird? Well send him over. Oh, he lives in New York.
Any food yet? Nope. Birdbrain, Birdbrain, Birdbrain! And now I flutter. The bars hurt if I slap against them. I peck at them. I leave scratches. I stick my beak through them. I dream I can break them with my beak. And they shatter. And I fly up and out. But how. This other cage. With the white walls and the big glass. How could I peck my way out of there? I don't hear anything. Maybe she left me. Birdbrain, Birdbrain, Birdbrain! How's my little Birdbrain? That cat is still watching me. All it does is lie on that branch and stare. And sometimes sleep. It's so lazy. Why can't it do something? At least if it were jumping or climbing or falling it would be fun to see. I could laugh from wingtip to wingtip. I could prance upon my perch and screech. Fool Fool Fool. Maybe another song.
Birdbrain, Birdbrain, Birdbrain! what am I to do with you? Messy filthy little creature. Why anyone would want you is a sin. Why I ought to let you out right now. I cleaned diapers and toilets, and ovens and grease pits, and stoves and well now what am I supposed to do with your shit? I tell you birdbrain between you and me; I'd rather see you fly away. Never liked caged animals. I remember taking my kids Michael and Regina to the zoo when they were little. 'Zooba, Zooba, let's go to Zooba," they'd say. "Wanna see moo cow." Well they saw enough of them. I did to. But ya know what birdybrain? I didn't like seeing those poor sad creatures all caged. A wild animal ought to be free. That's you birdie bird. You come from where? Some jungle in Asia? Amazon? And you are supposed to sit pretty and sing and repeat after me but really you are supposed to be with other birdbrains, flying through the trees down there in the forest. You don't belong in this cage any more than I belong here in this old town. But I suppose we got to get along. Why don't you sing a little tune now for me birdbrain? C'mon that's it. Now you're all cleaned and pretty. Sing pretty birdbrain. Oh hell. You'll probably sing to high heaven when I'm dead and gone.
Flit and I'm here. Flit and I'm there. Or here. Everywhere I go I am here. I jump down to the perch. I swing. I flit up and cling to the bars. I see the cat. I see the sun. I see the branch. I see the glass. I see the window. I flit and now I see the wall. I see her flat against the wall. And others. Smaller ones. Bigger ones. The flowers are stale. I flit and see the cat. I jump down to the perch. I swing. Am I flat? I see my feather in the water cup. No water. Is there any food? No. I sing her song for food.
No Gloria I don't want to go to St Agnes with you. I'm not religious and I don't want to go to some church where all these old ladies gather round me and worry themselves about my loneliness. I'm not. I've got birdbrain. I only say sometimes because, well it's just a shame to live so far from one's family. And I refuse to live in a home. I'm not going to go. You go and have fun with all your gossiping and pie eating. There. I told her Birdbrain, didn't I? Last thing she needs is more pie. Why I was a dish when I was young. Tony couldn't take his eyes, nor his hands, off of me. We met at Parkview Nite Club. I was just this little, pretty, skinny thing in curls and bobby socks. We danced until they almost had to throw us out. And all the boys wanted to dance with me. But I wouldn't. I was choosy. So, this handsome ex-marine comes along one night and we kinda flirt. And well you wouldn't know about that kinda stuff being stuck in a cage all your life. Hell, I don't even know if you birds have sex or what kind you have or how it works for you. But I didn't give myself away. No I was proper. He got me a ring and then the rest is history. That was when we spent hours and hours in bed, or driving in his 57 Chevy. We had such fun. Then. Of course, after Michael came along, then the troubles began. Drinking. Angry. Resentful. Then he'd just stay out past midnight and go for long weekends to golf outings. And there I was with two of them, one on each hip, and another one on the way. That's when I did something I never forget. Nor forgive. But I wasn't going to bring another child into a home where there wasn't a father. He never knew. I let him go to his grave not knowing. And no one else knows. They say secrets make you sick, but I think I am better off you know. It didn't make any sense telling him. Certainly, not the kids when they got older. Two was plenty I always said.
Now I fly around the cage. I don't really fly. I sort of whoosh, or fall and glide a little. A tiny flap or two and in the flick of an instant I go from one side to the other. Another flick and I'm somewhere else. Birdbrain, Birdbrain, Birdbrain! How's my little Birdbrain? Is there any food yet? Nothing. I can see the sun light on that branch. That cat is soaking it all up himself. Slob. Greedy pig of a cat. I should get some sunlight too. It's not fair that he gets it all. If I could fly out there I'd wait till he was good and asleep then peck his eyes out. And fly up before he could snatch me with his claws. That'd show him to hog all the warm sunlight. Fresh air. I felt that once or twice. Like rain in the desert, or water on Mars. A real vivid spray. Like breathing pure wonderment. I liked it. I could do that all day. Fly and breathe fresh air. No need for water or....is there any food yet? Nope. Another song.
Oh, Birdie brain no more Gloria. She's gone off to her heavenly pies and gossip in the sky. Poor Gloria. Least she went in her sleep. Painless they said. But who are they to know? They don't know the aches and schisms and needlepoint wounds of a woman's heart. They weren't there when she had her last breath and if they were they weren't inside her. And I know Gloria. She was no hero. She would've cried in pain even if it was not painful just to get the attention. She was always one for that. I think she even had a fling with Tony. But maybe that's just a suspicion. One time when he first started drinking he came home and I said no to him and he'd wake the baby so I sent him to sleep in the car. And turns out he ended up somehow in Gloria's garage n an old mattress. I found that out cause I'd gone outside in the morning while Michael slept to put the trash out at the street and I thought maybe I'd been too hard on him and would sneak in to the back of the car with him, maybe try to bring back a moment of the old days. But he wasn't in there. And I head a snoring. Him snoring his snore oh it was an awful one too load and throaty, like he was choking on a chicken bone. And I followed it to the side door of their garage and I peeked in and damned if he wasn't in there sleeping like a baby. I was about to go through the door and wake him up and then I saw Gloria come into the garage in her negligee like a real Barbara Eden....and she had some coffee and sat down next to him. See smiled at him and played with his hair. And bent down to kiss him and I almost screamed and then he woke up and she jumped with a start and spilled hot coffee on both of them and they hollered and screamed and he swore at her. And I'd doubled over thinking it serves 'em right. Well who knows? The dead tell no tales. And it's not right I should go on about her. I suppose like the rest of us, she did what she could. And now she is dead and for her sake I hope heaven has glorious pies.
I sing. I sing the song that comes from me. Not from her. Now I sing the song in my heart. Not the one I have in my throat or head. I sing the heart song of the jungle. Of the bravery of dodging big birds among tiny branches. I sing the song of my ancestors who sang about their grand flocks of green and yellow ones filling the skies over the lagoon. The deep waters below. The big sky around. I sing the song of the tall coconut palms. The frangipani. The bird of the forest. The other songs, I don't sing. Other birds. The kingfisher. The crow. The stork. The sea eagle. They sing their songs and the song my ancestors sang includes their songs too. It's what we do. Sing. Fly. Eat. Is there any food? No. I want to sing my song but maybe she doesn't know it. Maybe I need to keep singing her songs. My throat so dry. I could eat this cage. I sing another one.
Oh, bird brain listen to this. It reminds me of dancing at the Parkview with Tony. Oh listen....it goes...Every day, every day I have the blues...such a nice swing to it for a blues song isn't it birdie? I suppose an old lady should be listening to Paul Anka or something sweet. And I do sometimes. But I Tony and I always loved the blues. And soul. And some rock n roll. Michael wants me to give him all our records. I guess I don't mind as long as he listens to them. But I don't know if anyone nowadays will get as much thrill as we did. We are all gone and when we go, I suppose so does the thrill. And this music reminds me of how Tony and I fell in love. It was simple. You know. We just felt it. We danced, moved, shook and shimmied. And we didn't talk too heavy or think too much about it. We just had fun. Oh, lord when the police sergeant showed up that night at the front door I thought 'Tony's off the wagon' and he went and did something stupid. But no. After all those years of sobriety, he got sober when Michael was in college, and stayed that way too. Nope. After all those years, some drunk in a pickup truck ran him off the road. Tony died in the car we had when we first met. His '57 Chevy. Sure, it was rusted in places, but he'd kept it up over the years. He was proud of that car. Almost lost it several times. No sir. Nothing like getting a knock at 3am on your door and seeing the policeman's face and knowing it's something worse than drunk and in jail. Cause if it was that, he'd just call. Once.
Now I've got to go to bed birdie brain. I'm tired. I finished this old book about the mockingbird. Sad but true one. And I'm going to bed because I am tired.
There is no song I haven't sung. I have no more. I sing the same tune over again. I sing I sing I sing. And she doesn't come. And I can't remember why I wanted her. I see the cat. I see her flat face. I see the perch swinging above me. It's a shadow, like a big bird shadow deep from the recesses of my ancestry, I flinch. My little jungle heart breaks. I feel the shadow bird breathe on me like fire. And then it's cool like fresh air, and I am no longer of this cage.
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