My Mind

My Mind
This is my mind

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Don't slam that screen door!

There they were, in the back at Edwards Five and Dime.  I had pushed past adults all along the aisles just to get to them. 
“Don’t run in the store, little boy!” yelled one grownup I’d pushed aside.
“Sorry, mister,” I mumbled without looking back.
My folks had been promising for weeks to take me to this store Just to look at all the colors.  Edwards Five, Ten and One Dollar store sat on the corner of King Street far from the battery.  Dad worked at the Armour Star Meat Packing Plant which was two blocks thataway.  Edwards was a huge store with just about anything a person could want.  For me it said five cents, ten cents or a dollar and I believed that was the cost of anything on the shelves.  My parents knew better.  They paid the price tag amount.  All of that meant nothing to me because we were finally here.
The counters were just high enough that I had to stand on my tiptoes to look at the items for sale.  Everything was laid out on the counters for self service.  Dad had slipped away to find the tools counter.  He never went into a store without at least looking over the tools offered for sale.  It was a rare trip that saw him exit any store without buying some tool that he absolutely must have for a project at home.  My mother had tried to keep up with me but I had slipped around and through the legs of adult shoppers without a thought for them.  My mother lost sight of me but knew exactly where I would be found.  She looked through the crowd for my dad.  She was short enough that she had to stand on tiptoes as well.  Locating him she brushed by several shoppers with quiet “excuse me’s” until she stood beside dad.
“Look, Dear,” he said, “this is just what I need.”  He held a pair of wire cutters along with needle nose pliers in his left hand.  “I think I’ll get them.”
Looking around he asked, “Where’s the boy?”
“You know where he is.  He’s been talking about this trip for weeks now.  You promised he could spend his money when he had enough.  You told him yes and he knows that means absolutely yes.  It’s when you say maybe or we’ll see that he puts no store in it.  But you said yes.”
“I did, did I?”  He looked at her and smiled.  “I guess we’d better head over there then.”
They found me staring up enrapt in the noise and colors.  They were behind me but I wasn’t aware until my mother’s hand slipped onto my shoulder and gave it a squeeze.  I looked around half-heartedly.
Then it burst out of me.
“See!” I yelled pointing up above the counter.  “See how many colors!”
My folks, I know, smiled down on me but I wasn’t aware in my state of wonder and happiness.  There was squawking and fluttering of wings as the blue and green parakeets voiced their opinion of the intrusion.  Two were on a corner perch with their heads touching and rolling their beaks over and over as if kissing.  A great burst of winged frenzy on one of the other perches showed one’s displeasure with another.  All the while there was constant chirping and squawking in the cage full of colored bodies ruffling and smoothing those richly mottled feathers.  Aqua blue, deep purple, bright green and sun yellow budgies with rounded beaks and long dark tail feathers.  The cage was large and alive with the energy of what seemed a hundred birds to me.
“I want that green one right there,” I said pointing at a lone bird on a high perch.
“I thought you liked blue?” my mother asked.
“I do, but I just like that one.  I don’t know why.  He’s the one I want.”
“Well, since you’ve chosen I’ll see if I can find someone to help us.”  Dad turned to find a cashier.
I stared at my choice while dad was away.  I could have sworn he was watching me at the same time.
“I found someone to help us, son.  Point out to the nice lady which one you want and she’ll get him for you.” 
The lady with the nametag that said Edwards stooped down to me.
She looked me in the face and asked, “Do you have a favorite that you would like me to get?”
“Yes, ma’am.  See that one on the perch second to the top?
“The pretty green one?”
“Yes, ma’am.  That’s the one.  Please don’t hurt him!” I shouted as she reached into the cage.  Pandemonium resulted. They all swarmed away from her arm crashing into the cage and the bars for their feet.  In all that madness she was able to slip her hand gently around my choice and pull him out of the cage into the new one my mother had already picked out.  I had a parakeet.  While I watched him face to face my parents sought out the seed, cuttlebone,  gravel paper and other supplies to make his new home comfortable.
“Thank you, miss,” said my dad as he handed her well over five cents, ten cents or a dollar.
“I hope you and your new pet enjoy hours of fun together,” said the lady looking down at me.
“Oh, I know we will,” I said in my excitement.  “Momma, can I carry the cage?”
“Here, see if you can,” she said as she stopped to give me the ring at the top.
I grabbed the ring. It went to the floor before I could hold it.  My bird squawked loudly as he fell toward the floor.  My mother was fast enough to get it before it hit.
“Why don’t we wait until we get home.  I know you’re excited but we want him to feel welcome and safe, don’t we?”  She smiled at me as she lifted the cage.
The three of us and our new family member walked to the lot where dad’s Ford was parked.  Mom placed the cage on the back seat.  I slid in beside it and held onto it.  The parakeet side walked along the bar to the opposite side of the cage.
“He doesn’t trust me yet,” I said to mom.  I turned the cage and as I did little bird feet side stepped to the opposite side once more.  I laughed.  He squawked.
“Don’t aggravate him, son.” My dad said as he cranked the car.
“Yessir.”  I sat back but held the cage still with my fingers curled around one of the vertical bars.
We turned into the driveway after what seemed like forever.  The low squat house weighed upon the ground as we pulled next to the porch.  My mother opened the door telling me to slide out and that she would carry the cage inside.
Dad pulled out his new tools and walked around back without looking at the front door.
“Your daddy will be busy for a while. “
“What’s he working on now?” I asked.
“I don’t know, sweetheart. He said it was going to be a surprise.”
We entered the front room which always reminded me of a bowling alley since it stretched from one side of the house to the other with not one obstacle in the way.  I had skated on that long room’s linoleum unbeknownst to my parents when I was alone one day.  Next to the bedroom door was a new side table that mom had found for the birdcage.  She placed the bird cage in the middle of it.  She watched me as she removed her coat.
“Well, now you have him.  What will you name him?” dad asked as he stood behind me.
“I don’t know.  He’s really pretty isn’t he?”
“Yes he is,” said dad.  “That sounds like the perfect name to me.”
“Pretty Boy,” said dad.  “I understand they can be taught to talk.  So call him Pretty Boy every chance you get and if that is true he should be able to say his own name in no time.”
“Pretty Boy!” I repeated.
“You don’t have to yell at him, son.  Just repeat it in a normal voice.  Like this.  Pretty Boy.  Hello Pretty Boy.”
I said it over and over during the next few days.  He became less wary over time.  He would approach the side of the cage I held my finger.  He’d nibble at my fingernail and roll his beak from side to side against it.
Dad spent his time outside in the back shed when he was home.  There were hammering noises with the occasional swear word biting the air followed by quiet.   Mom would be boiling water for tea and frying food for supper as I sat in front of the cage talking to Pretty Boy.  I hadn’t heard him repeat his name yet and I was ready to give up.
This particular night after we had eaten dad looked over at me.
“Has he said his name yet?” he asked.
“No sir.  I don’t think it’s true that they can talk.”
“Well, let’s try something different tonight.”  He said it as he got up moving toward the cage.  “Make sure the windows and the front door are closed.”
Puzzled I ran around checking.
“Everything is closed.  Why did you want to know that?”
In answer he opened the cage door.
“Are you sure you want to do that?” mom asked walking in from the kitchen drying her hands on her apron.  “He may not go back into the cage.”
Dad looked over at mom and smiled. 
“Let’s just give it a try and see what happens.”
Dad’s hand was too big to fit through the door but he placed his finger near Pretty Boy’s feet and with a nudge he stepped on.  Slowly he withdrew his finger.  Pretty Boy leaned away from the top of the cage door as he passed through.
“He’s out!” I yelled.  Dad looked at me with a frown as Pretty Boy left his fingers flying into the wall and then bounced from one wall to another.  He became frantic and flew toward the window bouncing again.  Finally after minutes of panic he grabbed the top of the curtain and clung there his chest heaving while he looked around in bewilderment.
“Rickey, you shouldn’t yell like that.  You scared the little thing to death.”
“What do we do, daddy?  How do we get him to come down?”
“And there he goes,” said my mother.
“Where?” dad and I said together.
“Right there,” she pointed. “All over the curtain.  Now I’ll have to wash them.”  She slowly walked toward them to see how much damage had been done.
“Careful,” dad said.  “Don’t scare him.”
“I’m not goi…’” she said as Pretty Boy dropped then swooped past her head.  He flew back and forth from wall to wall until finally he came to rest on the top of his cage.
“Alright now.  Let’s be quiet and see what he does.”  Dad was always for waiting to see what happens before acting when a moment of crisis came up. 
After a bit, dad slowly inched over the cage.  Pretty Boy eyed him carefully.  He watched dad’s finger slowly approach him.  When that finger touched his little bird legs he stepped up and settled.  Dad raised his hand ever so slowly so that he was eye to eye with him.  Pretty Boy sat still for a minute then reached over and bit dad’s nose then flitted back to the top of the cage.
Dad’s face winced with pain.  He held back the swear words a hammer blow would bring so that he wouldn’t frighten Pretty Boy.  Then, typically of dad, he smiled and slowly moved back to the cage.  He went through the same slow motions until he had a parakeet on his finger once again.  This time he raised him eye to eye and whispered, “Pretty Boy.” 
Pretty Boy reached over toward dad’s nose.  Dad’s face winced in preparation for another nip but was surprised when Pretty Boy’s beak nibbled at his nose and a sound came out that we swear was “Pretty Boy.”
From that day we often let him out of his cage to fly around the house.  He would land on our shoulders and rest while being walked from room to room.  His favorite shoulder was my dad’s.  He took a real shine to my dad who constantly said, “Pretty Boy,” each time he sat on his finger in his face.  Dad’s nose became used to the beak nibbles and after some time finally spoke his name so that we understood it.
“Pretty Boy!” he’d say as he settled on dad’s head with a flutter of wings.  In reality he was dad’s bird but it never stopped that critter from flying to everyone in the house.
My mother ever wary of bird poop made it a rule for me to wear an old sweatshirt over my school clothes for those occasions Pretty Boy forgot where he was and planted a bird blossom on my shoulder.
I’d come home from school and run to my room for my bird shirt, as I called it, before opening the cage. 
Mom was home and in the kitchen when I came in slamming the screen door. 
“Don’t slam that screen door!” she’d yell from the other room.
“Sorry,” I’d say. 
This one particular day I ran it looking at the cage.  Pretty Boy was excited as he always was when the screen door slammed.  It meant I was home and the cage came open for him to be free.  He danced back and forth on the main perch his head bobbing as he would repeat, “Pretty Boy, Pretty Boy.”
“Hey Pretty Boy,” I said reaching for the cage door.
“Oh no you don’t,” came my mother’s voice from the kitchen.  “You go put on your bird shirt before that cage comes open.”
“Oh, I forgot.  I’ll get it now.  Be right back, Pretty Boy,” I said, running for my room.  I slipped on the shirt that was clean once more.   Mom must have washed that shirt more than any other I owned.
Back to the cage I ran.  I clamped the door back with a clothes pen so that he could walk in and out at his pleasure.  With the cage open he jumped on the wire of the cage and with beak and toes made his way to the opening.  He sat on the bottom wire of the opening and looked around.  Then he jumped with a flutter of wings onto my shoulder and promptly forgot where he was christening it immediately.  He squawked and said Pretty Boy followed by a whistle.
I heard my mother grown when she looked over at me. 
“Don’t forget your homework, Rickey.”  She was always reminding me of my homework.
“OK,”I said and got my books together.  Pretty Boy clung to my shirt with his little talons fluttering his wings for balance as I moved around.  His beak would nibble at my ear while I was doing my homework and I would laugh moving away.  His little feet moved him closer and he would start again.  This went on the entire time I studied.  I was almost finished and Pretty Boy was dozing his feathers fluffed when I heard my name outside. 
“Somebody’s calling for you, Rickey,” said mom.  “That’s the third time they’ve called out.”
“I’ll go see,” I said jumping up.  I saw through the door it was my cousin.  I walked through the door and to the railing when the screen door slammed.  It sounded like a shot.  At my ear a wing brushed my face and a green body flitted past and up.  Pretty Boy, startled by the noise of the door, had jumped and flown. 
“NO!” I screamed. “Come back, Pretty Boy!”
I ran out into the yard under the limb of the oak he had settled in.  I looked up into the branches and saw the rich yellow green of my parakeet.  He was too far away to reach.  He was too startled to look at me.  I yelled one more time, “Pretty Boy come back.”
That beautiful green plumage grew to a faint dot and then was gone in the blink of an eye.  He never looked back.  I stood crying under the oak branches.  My mother ran outside.  She understood immediately what had happened.  Her arms surrounded me as I cried into her shoulder.
“He just flew away,” I blubbered.
“Yes, he did.”
“Will he come back?”
“I don’t think he will, sweetheart,” she said.  “He’s found the open sky and taken to it.  I don’t think he’d trade that for a cage in a house.  You’ll just have to pray that God looks after parakeets just as He does sparrows.  It will be alright.”
“What will dad do?” I continued to cry realizing dad’s Pretty Boy had flown the coop never to rest on his shoulder again.
“I don’t know.  We’ll have to see what he says when he gets home.”
I was awash in sadness for losing Pretty Boy and fear of my dad’s reaction when he got home for the rest of the day.
“There’s dad,” I said hours later.  The car stopped and he got out. 
“What should I do?” I sniffled at mom.
“Let me talk to him,” she said ruffling my hair.
I went to my room expecting the worst and worrying about Pretty Boy being on his own.  I heard dad’s voice rise with a single word,  ”WHAT!”
I put the pillow over my head.  A few minutes later my mother lifted the pillow.  She sat beside me.
“Is he mad?”
“He isn’t happy, sweetheart.  He grew very attached to Pretty Boy.  I believe he’s more hurt that he is gone than mad.  He wishes you had been a little more thoughtful and hadn’t run outside with him on your shoulder.”
“I forgot, mommy.  I just forgot.”
“Yes, I understand and he does too but he is still upset that Pretty Boy is gone.  A kept bird has little chance on his own in that big world.  That’s why he is so upset.”
“I didn’t mean to….”
“Yes, we know.”
“Do you think daddy will pray that God will watch out for him like He does the sparrows like you told me to do?”
“Yes.  He will most definitely do that.  Why don’t you go out and tell him how sorry you are like you’ve just told me?” said my mother.
“I’m afraid.”
“No, no.  Don’t be afraid.  Your daddy loves you and he could use your love to help him let go of the hurt.”
“Are you sure?”  I had my doubts.
“Yes.  You go out there and help him look.”
I walked outside very slowly.  Dad was walking around looking up into the oak as the sun was dimming in the evening sky.  I walked over to him and stood there.
He looked down at me, a tear rolling down his cheek. 
“He’s gone,” dad said.  He wiped the tear from his face continuing to look at me.  He seemed to be trying to say something but wasn’t sure what to say.  “I’m going to miss him.”
“Will he come back?” I asked.

“I don’t think so, son.  He’s gone.  He was a sweet bird.  We’ll all miss him.”  He reached down and picked me up.  He carried me inside.  He didn’t look back again.

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