Birdie

by marthastephens

JOE WILSON and his Mexican wife Leute run an old motel they bought some years ago from the Holiday Inn. It’s a great rambling old place of three floors, with 80 rooms and kitchenettes, almost all of them looking out on a broad courtyard ringed by palm trees, ash trees, roses, and Italian spruce. The skinny spruce are very tall and beautiful, reaching way up over the rooftops of the building.

Joe and Leute live in a ground-floor apartment. They seem to wish sometimes they had grandchildren running about the place, but then they figure they don’t really need any because they have two very active and perspicacious pets.

Their little white spaniel is named Mitzi, and no cost is too great to meet the needs of this little beast. Mitzi is getting on and has suffered recently from glaucoma. Joe and Leute seldom travel away from Plaza Suites, but they did travel last year to a specialist three hours away in Alberquerque, one who knew how to treat Mitzi’s eye disease. She has lost some vision in one eye, but the other eye has been saved!

THE OTHER PLAZA PET is a tiny brown bird called Birdie — or just Bird. Joe thought Bird was a “house-sparrow,” but he looked her up in a bird book he borrowed from one of the guests and was interested to find that she was actually a “finch” and that she might live to be twenty years old!

In Birdie’s early life, she was just part of the wild ecology of the courtyard, but she had fallen out of her nest, could hardly fly, and Joe and Leute had taken her in. They bought her a cage, nursed her along, and permitted her to fly around in their living quarters, mainly one large room, with kitchen in back, and looking out through wide floor-to-ceiling windows to the courtyard and pool.

After a few weeks, they felt Bird was doing very well, so they set her cage out on the courtyard grass, opened its door, and stood by on a shady path to watch her fly away. But when she ventured out of the cage even a few feet, Birdie scared herself and stepped right back in. Her cage was left out all night, but in the morning she was still inside, sleeping peacefully. Joe and Leute had to accept that Birdie did not wish to join the flock of finches that met for sociability in the courtyard, and that she would live with them for the rest of her life.

Birdie is a happy pet and likes to sing. She starts her song whenever she hears the faucet running in the kitchen sink — perhaps it sounds to her like a running brook. She likes to nap on Joe’s shoulder or in the crook of his arm, and sometimes in the folds of Leute’s smock when she sits down restfully at night, after a long day of folding towels and sheets.

Leute, in fact, is Birdie’s primary playmate. Each morning when Bird wakes up, she flies right into Leute’s face and darts back and forth as if in severe aggression. Her wings are all aflutter, and she even nips at Leute’s nose. Leute pretends to fight back. She swats and strikes at Bird, and Bird is very pleased with all this.

At night Birdie retires to her cage. She does not beg to stay up, and Joe and Leute throw a towel over her little house. She snuggles under her loose wraps of cloth and goes to sleep.

One might wonder if Bird’s diet is not a little unusual for birds of the desert plains. Her roost is in a corner of Joe’s large kitchen, and she loves his cooking. When Joe and Leute buy food at a drive-through, she gets some, too. She dearly loves chicken nuggets.

Now Birdie’s health has sometimes been concerning to her parents. She has had a rather ugly skin disease, for instance. Her little feathers quite disappeared for a time from an area over her wing. She received help with this malady, though, from a woman veterinarian of the town. As it turned out, a certain salve applied to her balding spot of skin was the right medicine. Birdie got well!

POSTSCRIPT of February 2014: It is time for an authorial note. I was the guest that loaned Joe Wilson a bird book, and I knew Birdie.

I am writing this addendum on my laptop at a small square table in one of Joe Wilson’s old-timey kitchenettes. I am a steady winter guest, and when I returned one year, I found that Birdie was gone. She had become ill. Her vet had conducted tests and found that Birdie had ovulated and that an egg had lodged in her female tract and could not be passed.

Our little avian friend, with her tiny three-ounce body and her super-sized personality, had lapsed into the ether . . . beyond the shining river we all must one day cross. ##

Readers, please share any thoughts you have about this little bird — or any birds you happen to know!

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