We don’t know why the budgie did it. He must have been unhappy. It can’t have been easy for him—pecking the bell, hanging about on the pole, staring at the free birds outside the window, the robins, the gulls. Then every night the cage covered with a smelly dish towel. We wonder now whether he was lonely for his own kind. Maybe he was pining for some squawky budgie sex. We wonder, too, at the strangeness of caging small birds. Like imprisoned souls, my mother-in-law once said.
Day after day we watched the budgie hopping along the pole, cocking his head at our huge faces pressed against the cage. Cheep, cheep, cheep, we’d boom, and then scream happily when he paused, seemingly in communication.
We found him hanging from the bell. He had somehow wrapped the cord around his neck. We wonder if our monstrous singing drove him mad.
We held a funeral for the budgie. I wrapped him in a handkerchief, then dug a hole between the marigolds at the side of the house. My husband had said, Flush it down the toilet. It’s dead. Get rid of it. But I wanted a proper funeral, something grand.
I placed the wrapped body in the hole and covered it over. It was a cold afternoon, light rain. Hundreds of birds perched in the fir trees that border our yard—crows, gulls and smaller chirping birds. We stared at the mound. No one knew what to say. Finally I said, Poor Harry, and the children and I sobbed. When my husband pulled out his imaginary violin and started to play, the birds sent up a terrific screech, flapping their wings and causing the trees to tremble. A budgie requiem, thunderous, there in the rain.
At last, something grand.
I saw something funny out the side of my eye as we drove along. It was my two aunts and Grandma returned from the dead. They were clucking together like hens by the side of the road.
Everything was black and white. A voice-over said, “A family of hens land by the side of the road and spy a pile of cigarette butts! What will they do?” It was the soothing voice of George Page, who for many years spoke on television about Kraft products.
By now I’d stopped the car. A cloud of ash had risen around my aunts’ and Grandma’s feet.
George Page said, “The hens are having a bath! In the animal kingdom, scratching, pecking the ground, laying eggs, wing flapping and dust bathing in a pile of cigarette ash are all normal hen behaviours.”
It was wonderful to hear George Page’s voice again, those warm, round notes that made Kraft seem so endearing. And it was good of him to remind me that I am living in the animal kingdom. I often forget that, in the same way that I forget I am on a planet, one of millions in a universe without end.
Seeing my aunts and Grandma gave me great comfort. They were so involved with the cigarette ash, slapping it on their aprons, laughing away.