Melisa Peterson Lewis and Channie Greenberg

Channie Greenberg
Inspiration piece

Baby Bird
Melisa Peterson Lewis

Poppy’s hands cupped the naked baby bird as it rolled, unable to brace itself in her shifting grip. Her sisters became anxious with each wobble.

“Poppy! Don’t squeeze it.” Stella imagined Poppy’s fingers were squeezing the new treasure.

The baby bird had fallen from a nest nearby. They carried on about the best way to proceed, each hollering louder than the next. Poppy, the eldest at ten years old, was followed by her two younger sisters, Stella and Violet. Summer days left the three dirty girls covered in cuts, bruises, and poison ivy. More often than not, they could be found wielding a plastic bag filled with old cans or screws from their treasure hunts. This day was unique. They had a live specimen that surely loved them as much as they adored it.

Their hands fluttered about the tiny animal. Each girl was sure she knew the best way to care for the defenseless baby. Violet insisted they take the bird to their mom, Vanessa, who was resting on a lounge chair catching a tan. Poppy disagreed with Violet and reasoned they should keep it in the woods. She knew her mom would force them to leave the bird where they found it, but that would mean it would suffer alone in the dark.

Stella, sandwiched between her sisters, understood the natural order of the forest. The baby bird was pushed from the nest for a reason. It needed to be sacrificed to appease the balance in which mother nature intended.

“Poppy. The bird must be sick, that’s why it’s not in the nest. We need to leave it alone.” Stella reached over to take the bird from Poppy, who twisted away using her shoulder as a barricade.

Disputes could never be settled with subtle voices, and the wave of noise caught their mother’s attention. Begrudgingly, she peeled herself from the lounge chair to see what the fuss was about.

“Girls? What do you have there?” Coming from behind, she saw Poppy concealing something close to her chest, while Violet cried.

“Mom! Poppy found a baby bird and won’t let me hold it!” Violet’s tears streaked her face.

Vanessa saw the naked thing tucked in Poppy’s hand, and without thinking, reached over and shook her daughter’s wrist, causing the bird to tumble loose. It landed with a gentle crinkle of the leaves and rolled onto its back.

“It probably has mites!” Before Vanessa could regret what she had done, Poppy snapped to attention.

“Mom! You’re going to kill it!” Poppy reached down, but Vanessa was quicker and grabbed her arm, jerking her upright.

“This bird belongs to the forest sweetheart. It’s a wild animal. Come on, girls. Everyone out of the woods.” She held out her arms, trying to herd them away.

“But Mama! It will die out here!” Violet exploded from the inside out.

Stella turned red and snorted back a tear. Abandoning the tiny bird seemed harsh, even if she believed it was the right thing to do.

“Girls. I’m sorry. The bird isn’t in the nest for a reason. Look, it’s hardly moving. It’s going to die, no matter what.” Vanessa’s words didn’t match her desire to help the little thing, but she knew how difficult it was to keep a baby bird alive once it’s been tossed from the nest.

Poppy crossed her arms and stomped her foot. “Mom! This bird deserves a chance. There is no harm in keeping him in a box on the porch.”

Vanessa looked at her three girls and wondered how they’d grown so fast. Their determination warmed her over, and she gave them a nod of approval. Squeals of delight erupted, and Poppy gathered up the bird.

Vanessa spoke loudly so the girls would listen. “Rules! The bird stays on the porch. He is your responsibility. No arguing when it’s time for anything that will pull you away from him.”

They agreed to her terms with smiles and clapping.

Stella ran into the house and brought out a shoebox stuffed with tissues. The girls built a nest and found a shady spot on the porch. Buddy, the old and nearly deaf family dog, waddled over. He sniffed the bird and walked away with little interest.

“Well, at least we know Buddy won’t bother the bird.” They all laughed.

“Girls, let’s leave the bird to settle in.” The request was met with whining. “Come on, march inside. You remember the rules?”

Rules? As soon as she okayed the bird coming home, everything else drowned in their enthusiasm.

Vanessa reminded them, “Wash your hands. You can recheck the bird after lunch.”

“Wait!” Poppy protested. “We didn’t name him yet.”

Vanessa forced a smile, knowing once the girls named the animal, it was officially a pet. Even if it entered the house for five minutes, it was now bound to the family.

“Jellybean!” Stella shouted.

Their family tradition was to name new pets after food. Before Jellybean, there was Pepperoni the turtle, Coco the bunny, and Taffy the lizard, to name a few. Each animal met its end within 24 hours.

“And so it will be. Jellybean. Okay, girls, let’s move.”

The girls ate their sandwiches, each thinking about their plans for Jellybean’s future. Lunch was interrupted by noise from outside. Vanessa cocked her head and raised a finger to tell the girls to hush. They stopped chewing and gave their attention. It sounded as if the hose was being turned on and off, or no, it was a car trying to start, or no—she wasn’t sure what it was.

Poppy jumped up from her seat and ran to the door. “Mom! Buddy is choking!”

“Oh, no!” Everyone ran to witness Buddy hunched forward and saliva dripping from his flapping lips. He heaved, but nothing came out. The girls cried, wondering what was wrong. Vanessa went outside and banged on his back as if he were a choking toddler. The dog moved away and found a spot in the yard he circled several times before lying down.

“Girls. Go inside. Everything will be okay.” She rubbed her hands on her bare thighs and got closer to the dog.

“Hey, Buddy. You okay?” She rubbed his back, and the tip of the dog’s tail gave a wiggle. She took that as a good sign until he tried to stand and couldn’t. The dog’s rib cage moved forward involuntarily. Wet sloshes and gurgling came from his belly.  He coughed, and when he did it again, he paused mid-gag. He staggered, legs buckling.

Vanessa dropped to her knees in front of the dog. She was of no help on the outside, so she pried open Buddy’s mouth and saw something blocking his airway. It looked like yesterday’s trash surrounded by thick drool. Furious the dog had been in the garbage again and fueled with fear, she reached her hand into his throat and grabbed ahold of the blockage. It was wet, hot, and knobby. Bracing one hand on the dog’s forehead she pulled herself free, the dog let out a yak, slipping the contents of his stomach onto her legs. She looked away, knowing the image of her lower half would make her throw up right along with Buddy.

The dog stood and shook himself off before walking away as if nothing happened. Her hand was clenched around the object that almost killed Buddy. Sticking out from between her thumb and index finger were the talons of a small bird.

She had to act fast. Checking behind her for the girls, she stood and walked towards her neighbor’s yard where she tossed the contents in her hand over the fence, flicking her hand again to remove more drool.

The skin on her thighs started to tighten from Buddy’s barf drying in the sun. She went to the hose and washed herself off. The cold water hurt, but it didn’t mask the pain she felt knowing she would have to tell her children Jellybean was gone.

Dripping and chilled, she turned to her front door to find her daughters embracing each other. They had witnessed the entire event. Vanessa shook her head, wishing she could erase it or come up with a quick and thoughtful explanation.

Poppy’s hand rested firmly on Violet’s shoulder, and with tight lips, she said, “Mom, that dang bird tried to kill Buddy!”

Vanessa eyed her daughters, who stood fearlessly. She thought about how quickly her children turned from saviors, unwilling to leave a flightless orphaned bird unattended, to seeing the bird as a predator who tried to take out the family dog.

Stella picked up the shoe box that the bird had occupied for less than 20 minutes and held it to her chest. Her lips trembled. “Mom, what will we bury since you threw the bird over the fence?”

“The box, baby. We’ll bury Jellybean’s box.”


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