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A Feathered Fable
Rose, my oldest sister, stood in the doorway of the solarium, attempting unsuccessfully to mask her delighted expression with one of indifference. “They chirped!” she told me as warm morning sunshine bathed the room in light. “I was eating breakfast”—she jerked her thumb towards the dining room—“and I heard a tiny little chirp!” This was an exciting development. I surveyed the two baby parakeets—one yellow-and-green and the other blue-and-white—huddling shyly in the corner of their cage. The pair, less than 24 hours since they’d been adopted from PetSmart, was timidly adjusting to their new home. Their names were Peebee and Jay.
It was a clear, sunny day in early June, and our family’s first parakeet, Nikky, had perished in April. Everyone agreed that the vacant cage needed at least one new occupant.
“Can we get two birds? They can be bros!” Rose suggested.
“How would you guys feel about getting a canary?” asked Mom dreamily, contemplating the cage thoughtfully. “I’d love that! Nikky could be SO obnoxious when I was working. She was so loud!” Mom’s primary concern was how prettily the bird sang.
“Oh, but I’d like another parakeet,” Molly begged. She was ten at the time and really missed Nikky.
The debate continued as the school year drew to a close.
Rose announced, “I still think we should get two parakeets.”
I agreed. I figured the birds could keep each other company, plus our family would already know how to care for the little budgies.
Mom, attempting to compromise, had the idea of picking one canary and one parakeet. Emma, my older sister, was supportive of this plan. However, it was vetoed when we heard that a budgie would bully a tiny canary.
Two parakeets, then (“Bros!” Rose proclaimed delightedly), was the solution our family agreed upon. One afternoon towards the culmination of the school year, Mom drove the minivan to PetSmart after school with Rose, Emma, Molly, and me in tow. Warm summer sun streamed through the rolled-down car windows and wind whipped through our hair as we began the massive naming debate.
“How ‘bout Calvin and Hobbes?” Rose proposed.
“I agree,” I said.
“Can we name one of them Aberforth?” Molly asked, straining against her seatbelt to join the conversation. Aberforth was Albus Dumbledore’s brother in the Harry Potter series.
“NO.” Everyone else put her foot down on that.
Emma said Zelda would be a perfect name, after Zelda Fitzgerald, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife.
By the time our car had pulled into PetSmart, one condition was certain: whatever names we chose, they had to go together.
The sliding doors whisked open, ushering our group into the air conditioning. It was noisy in PetSmart; dogs barked, checkout scan guns beeped, and little kids crooned at animals. All of us simultaneously grunted “Ugh!” as the stench that’s always present in pet stores threatened to send us back, gagging, into the fading afternoon light. We pressed on, though, and marched purposefully to the bird section.
Our ears found the aisles we were looking for before our eyes did. The raucous screech of a parrot resonated through the high-ceilinged, echoey store. An enormous glass cage full of budgies came into view, and the birds within were doing their best to create a deafening cacophony. Parakeets flapped wildly, yelled, stepped on each other’s tails…. The birds scrambled around, bickered, pushed each other into food dishes, fought over toys, and created general chaos.
The birds kept jumbling themselves up, making it very difficult to distinguish one form another. However, after a few minutes in which we all gazed at the birds rapturously and cooed “Aaw” on a regular basis, Rose nudged me and hissed in my ear, “Look at that little guy. Right there.”
Rose and I settled our attention on this one parakeet in particular. A clutch of babies had just been moved into these public cages; this was the first day we were permitted to buy them. The baby we were observing was one of that clutch.
His cere (nose) was a royal blue, indicating that he was male, but the color could prove deceptive at so young an age. Stripes of black came low on his face, signifying his youth, and his eyes were alert and lively. He had a yellow face and a rich green belly, the color you might see in a perfect field of grass. His tail was long and elegant and went from a gorgeous green hue to a deep blue. He was very active, eagerly joining older budgies in rowdy games that all seemed to require him to chase the other birds and yell at the top of his voice.
Meanwhile, Mom was admiring the canaries.
“Anybody vote in favor of getting two canaries?” she asked. My sisters and I could tell that option was one that appealed to her. Then she saw the price and cried, “$112? That’s outrageous!”
At that, we all dedicated our concentrations to the parakeets.
“Mom, look at the baby there. The green one with the yellow face,” I said, pointing out the bird Rose and I had been keeping track of. Emma and Molly came over, too, admiring his bright plumage. He would be coming home with us, that much was certain.
Molly was hovering to one side, doting on a dark blue parakeet. It was sitting there in full view, showing off. At first she loved that parakeet, but then I spotted another bird.
I fell in love with her at once. She was smaller than the dark blue parakeet--I could see that--and a lighter shade of blue: almost exactly the color of a robin’s egg. Her cere appeared to be relatively pink, a sort of beige shade that’s common in very immature females. She had bright, deep black eyes that darted around the cage intelligently. I knew she was one of the newborns from the same group of babies as the green-and-yellow parakeet. I could tell that she was quick at adjusting to the chaos of the budgie community. The bird was chirping energetically as I beckoned Molly over and indicated the baby bird.
Molly forgot the dark blue bird at once and turned over all her adoration to the light blue parakeet. Meanwhile, I struggled to make myself heard over the din to update the rest of my family on our latest find.
Mom steered over an employee and told her, over the racket, which birds we would like to take home. The young woman nodded and fetched scissors and a net. She let herself into a small room behind the display, opened the cage, and thrust the little net in. She maneuvered straight for the green-and-yellow baby, but he wasn’t exactly thrilled to be targeted. Angry calls from the birds reverberated in our eardrums as the parakeet we’d set our hearts on squawked, flapped, and did all he could to evade capture. Next was the blue-and-white female. Having “warmed up,” the employee netted that baby much more quickly. Deftly snipping with the scissors, the woman trimmed the birds’ wings, then plopped them into a cardboard box with airholes in the lid.
After paying for the birds and quickly selecting a few cage accessories, we strolled out to the car under a setting sun, excited to take the “bros” home.
The question presented itself anew: what to name the birds? In the end, Rose and Emma thought of Peebee and Jay, names that carried the popular vote. As we sisters took turns peeping through the holes in the PetSmart box, inhaling the scent of baby bird feathers, we determined that the green bird with the yellow face would be dubbed PB, or Peebee. Molly announced that PB could stand for Pet Bird or Pretty Bird. The blue-and-white parakeet’s name would be Jay.
Mom squatted on the floor of the solarium once our family arrived home and grabbed Peebee to stick him in the cage.
“OW!” she exclaimed. “He bit me! Oh, that little birdbrain,” she muttered. Clutching him in a little had towel so he couldn’t bite her, she told me, “Here, stroke him.”
I tentatively reached for the bird. I could feel him trembling under my fingers. He was a warm, unimaginably soft bundle of feathers. I sensed his pulse beating away less than an inch from my fingertip. Peebee squirmed, and my blissful stroking of the little guy was at an end. I was glad he was with our family.
Mom scooped up Jay, pausing to allow Molly to caress the bird’s soft, downy feathers, then gently released her into her new home with Peebee.
The birds huddled, traumatized from the sudden changes, in the back of the cage. By morning the following day, they had hardly moved, but later that morning Rose detected them whispering little chirps to each other. It wasn’t long before Peebee and Jay became accustomed to their new home. They were soon chirping boisterously and playing noisy budgie games.
There was one quirk that took a month or so for the birds to outgrow. They had a tendency to fall off their perch. Peebee might topple over and thump to the cage floor and, as if on cue, Jay would follow suit. The parakeets didn’t seem to mind, though: they’d chirp, shake their feathers into place, scramble back up to their favorite perch, and then promptly repeat the whole performance. They had almost grown out of it when they decided to try out a swing in their cage. Once they discovered how delightful it was to swing back and forth, Peebee and Jay realized they weren’t quite dexterous enough to hold on. PLONK! After another week or so, however, the birds had mastered the art of not falling off their toys and perches.
So it was that my family acquired Peebee and Jay, two of the goofiest birds ever to be born in PetSmart. I stood in the solarium doorway with Rose that morning, grinning at our baby birds, then returned to the living room where I’d been reading. As I settled down with my book, I could have sworn I heard two tiny little thumps, one after the other, then the scrabbling of parakeet feet on the cage walls and the pleasant sound of contented chirping.