Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Mourning

So, back when I had moved home for that year between grad school and Maine, I had quite the impressive little string of vehicular bird homicides. Now, it's not like I wanted to kill those birds, and it's not like I tried to kill those birds--I certainly didn't swerve to ping them, to clip them out of orbit--but it happened anyway, and I always ended up shrieking as I heard the thunk and saw the feathers fly. For a while, my car even drove around with a little feather headdress sticking out of the grill on the front because I couldn't bring myself to clean up the evidence.

And I wasn't the only one on a bird-killing streak that year. My father was too. The worst--the one I'll never, ever forget--was the mourning dove.

It was early evening. My father and I were on our way to town to get some dinner, and we were sailing along the back country roads, the ones cutting through long, tilled-up corn fields, and that's when the fattest mourning dove I had ever seen flapped its way into our path. You could tell this dove was exhausted from hauling its fat bulk around. His flight path was ragged. He appeared drunk and belligerent. Maybe he was a little suicidal. His wings gave out and he sagged near the road, hitting the hood of the car.

And then he exploded.

I am not kidding. I am not exaggerating. It was the strangest thing I'd ever seen. That bird hit the car and exploded like a water balloon. A great gush of liquid--water, blood--washed over the windshield, and my father and I screamed. And then my father turned on the windshield wipers because there was just so much liquid.

And so, now, whenever I see a mourning dove, I can't help but insert sound effects when I watch it waddle around on its toothpick legs. Slosh, slosh, slosh, I think as the fat bird thumps around the deck. I picture its stomach like a mini-washing machine, just without clothes, the water swirling in a perpetually full cycle.

Now, here at home--I drove back to Buffalo a few days ago for spring break--there are mourning doves everywhere. There are a few that like to perch on the back porch, where my father, who, after he turned fifty, decided to take up one of his mother's favorite hobbies (feeding and acquiring certain level of inside information about birds, their habits, and their preferences in suet), puts out many different feeders. This hasn't always gone well for my father. He's battling certain tricky elements--two of which are Fat Squirrel and Fat Raccoon.

Fat Squirrel is fat because he simply climbs up into the bird feeder and parks it there while he fills his stomach with seed. Fat Raccoon does the same thing, just with a little more violence. He's been known to break the feeder, knock it over, kick it off the deck so that it falls and splits in two on the ground.

But sometimes actual birds dine at the feeders, and this afternoon those birds included two huge black birds and one fat mourning dove. You know who's particularly interested in this, in what's going on on the back porch? My cat. Abbey. She's obsessed with these birds. She will sit in front of the back door for hours, her eyes as big as saucers, her limbs tense with the desire to spring through the screen door.

It doesn't make it any better that the birds taunt her. The black birds tittered at her and bounced around on the floor of the deck just so she could get a better look, just so they could say, Fuck you, cat. You can't get out of there!

And then there was the mourning dove. She waited and waited and waited for the black birds to be done with their feeding so she could get in on the free food, but she got tired of waiting and she drifted down to the floor of the deck and planted it there. She folded her legs underneath her and nestled down, turning squarely so that she faced Abbey. The two of them were separated by a few feet and a screen door, and they would stay that way--just staring at each other--for hours. I'd never seen a more lazy (stubborn? cruel? taunting?) bird. She just locked eyes and gazed upon my cat until she finally tired and got up, turned a circle, squatted low, and shit out one tiny pellet onto the deck.

Abbey looked back at me and whined. She wanted me to open the door. Of course she did. I'm just not sure why. I don't know whether she wanted to be let out to make friends with the bird or to eat the bird, but either way I was half tempted to do it, to see what would happen if Abbey decided to leap into the afternoon sun and land on the bird. I wanted to see if it would explode instantly, leaving my cat standing on nothing but a pile of moist feathers. But I didn't. I figured that was probably too much trauma for any one cat to handle. After all, I know it was a little too much for me.

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