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first person

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Illustration by Chelsea O'Byrne

I lounge in my flannel pj’s, snack bowl firmly nestled into my squashy paunch and poke the remote with my least cheez-puffed finger. I’m halfway zoned out, when rustling noises from behind the wall jolt me back to reality. I press the mute button. For a moment, there’s silence; then the scrabbling starts up again, accompanied by a haunted squawk.

A louder volley of frantic swooshing propels me to my feet. Holding my snack bowl at the ready in case I need to fire it at my avian invader, I scream for backup. Kevin comes running, as I splutter words like “Bird!” and “Chimney!” and others my daddy never taught me.

He raises a manly hand, knuckle hair bristling with competence. Fortunately, there’s no fire blazing in the grate, so he’s able to insert his head into the opening. He cranes his neck upward and begins to talk in bird-speech. Whistles, clucks and chirps roll off his tongue, but the pigeon must speak a different dialect because the mad flapping intensifies. Kevin yanks his head back out of the fireplace, just as the pigeon blasts up the chimney like a rocket.

“You’re welcome.” Smugness is writ large upon his face.

He grabs a handful of cheezy puffs and wanders away to do some “work” on his computer – more likely, watch ducks babysitting kittens on YouTube, or something equally stimulating. Separately but together, we enjoy a peaceful evening.

In the morning as I make coffee, the flapping commotion begins anew. That crafty fowl must have lain low all night, but it’s awake now, and it’s furious. Outside the house, its mate sings a lovelorn plaint and marches up and down on the other side of our patio glass door, its beady black eyes flashing.

“Ah. Mourning dove,” my erudite spouse announces as if this is an enlightening PBS nature show, not a domestic emergency.

“Do something!” I yell.

It’s not that we don’t have an equal marriage – we just have different strengths. I’m good at baking and dog care. He’s the gardener and (I’ve just decided) the bird guy.

Like a surgeon demanding a scalpel, he thrusts out a hand. “Towel.”

I whip down the hall to the linen closet. Normally, I’m not so biddable, but fetching anything is preferable to hanging out next to the cage aux folles here.

When I edge my way back into the area, Kevin has removed the fire screen.

I deploy the common sense my mama gave me. “Shouldn’t we cover the opening ...ˮ

Whoosh! Into the midst of our family room zooms a disoriented dove, cranking its wings to full velocity, and heading directly toward its mate. Wham! It knocks itself out cold on the glass door. Outside, Mr. Dove flies away, shaking its head sorrowfully at the foolishness of the missus. Inside, my husband and I look at each other, then at the trespasser, then at each other again. Stalemate. Eventually, he takes a fluffy towel and wraps the bruised and battered creature in it. One black dot of an eye is open; the other is closed. We can practically see cartoon stars flying around its dazed little head.

“Is it dead?” I whisper.

“Not yet,” my husband says, “but it may not last the day.”

I go get dressed. When I return, Kevin has set up a bird hospital. He’s taken a cardboard box, lined it with the towel, added a saucer of water and another of crushed up seeds, and he’s hovering over his construction with the anxious attention of a mother for a newborn.

I shrug and carry on with my day, reflecting that the good thing about being retired is that one’s husband can do whatever the heck he likes for however long he wants to, and the wheels won’t fall off our marriage. There are no kids anymore to schlep to school, no deadlines to meet, no irate bosses to please. Nowadays, if a bird decides to attack our family room, it won’t be put outside and abandoned to meet its maker (or the neighbour’s tabby). It may even survive.

I’m upstairs for a couple of hours before I decide to make a fresh pot of coffee and check on my husband. He is sitting on a patio chair, shivering in the cool spring air. On his lap, swathed in luxurious Egyptian cotton, is Madame Dove. He’s trying to feed her something out of an eyedropper.

I slide the patio door open. “How’re you doing?”

“I’m cold.”

“Would you like a jacket and a blanket?” I try not to think about bird lice.

“Could you hold her for a while?”

But I pretend not to hear. I go get the jacket and blanket. “You’re doing a great job.”

I go back upstairs and read scary things on the Internet about the symbolism of having a bird in the house. Like that if it survives, it portends we’ll get some kind of a message, but if it dies we’ll have a death in our family. I decide it will be best if it lives. I march bravely downstairs and outside and take over holding it for a while.

Sunlight glints on feathers. Up close, gold and violet highlights spangle amidst the delicate greys. The tiny chest rises and falls. My eyes mist, as I realize I hold exquisite life in my hands.

After an hour in the nippy air, I bring our new bestie back inside. Somehow, we coax it to drink and to eat a speck of food. We place it in its box, where it lies still, making no sound. We’re not sure if it’ll last until tomorrow, but it’s breathing. Perhaps it will recover from its nasty concussion and rejoin Mr. Dove, who’s back again, strutting up and down outside on the flagstones, calling out forlornly.

Just before dinner, the box budges as Birdie actually rises to her feet. We rush over. Both her eyes are open and stare at us with well-balanced hostility.

“Let’s get her out of here,” I say.

We get the box and its contents to the patio and close the door behind us. Gingerly, I ease open the top, and there’s an angelic fluttering as the bird lifts off and flies, straight and true. Her mate, hidden in a nearby bush, calls her to his side. As the sun sets, the reunited pair soar across the yard, and away.

I turn to my husband. “You did a good deed.”

He smiles. “For a bird.”

I give him a hug. “For me, too.”

Sally Basmajian lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

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