dimanche 8 août 2010

I have breathed my soul

An arc-en-ciel for the duck

From the balcony, August 4

"'Death is coming to me as the divine kiss which is both parting and reunion -- which takes me from your bodily eyes and gives me full presence in your soul. Where thou goest, Daniel, I shall go. Is it not begun? Have I not breathed my soul into you? We shall live together.'"
-- George Eliot, "Daniel Deronda"

Death has been the oppressing theme of this summer. The unwelcome visitor who would not leave.

Three close friends have lost their parents, one losing both and their 10-year-old Golden Retriever to cancer, like our Baccarat, whom we lost, and I have lost count of the number of birds, including the duck, who have died here. Another small bird expired in my hand the day before yesterday, and Eliot's words, spoken by Ezra to Daniel, provide comfort in speaking what I felt the last days and moments I spent with Bacs; she breathed her soul into me. She had been doing that ever since I first saw her when she was 8 weeks old, and I realized, really, I am taking you home, to our house. You are my dog. This, on top of several other friends who lost parents this year, some at the same time as they lost their Golden Retriever or their cat, too.

Have I not breathed my soul into you? We shall live together.

I had taken to lying on my back on the sofa or in my room, reading Daniel Deronda, when I was not wielding pickax and sledge hammer, knocking the rest of the paving someone before us had installed at the foot of the house years ago. This last bit was hidden under the skirts of the gigantic evergreen shrub at the corner of the house, where it turns into the small entry courtyard, and shielded us from the neighbors' eyes. I had forgotten about it until I went to clean up the pile of chaux the workers left in a mound where the tree-sized shrub had been.

And, I was lying just so on the sofa reading when I heard the birds begin to chirp and squawk with what seemed like more than their usual energy. It was enough, anyway, to distract me from the terrible Duke Alfonso, the Duchess and Daniel and make me listen. Then, an animal went tearing up the staircase over my head. I looked up from the page.

It had to have been Wisp, judging by the sound of the paws on the wood stairs and the speed. She is much faster than Shadow, although I maintain that Shadow is not fat; she is large of frame. I bolted up off the sofa and ran up the stairs after her, and there she was, hesitating on the landing, wondering whether to turn left toward the bathroom or run into the nearer piège of Sam's room. Would she, she was surely asking herself, measuring the possibilities and the probabilities, be more likely to find a means of escape with her prize in one room, or the other? It didn't matter; she knows me too well by now. I always win.

She turned her head just to glance at me and measure my progress on her, enough to show me that it was not a mouse as I had first thought when my eyes took her and the object in her mouth in from behind, but a bird, and took off straight into Sam's room.

Of course it was a bird, said myself. Hadn't you heard them making a ruckus? Did you think it was over a mouse?

I didn't answer. There was not time. I chose to ignore the snide chortle and pursue Wisp.

She had made it to just in front of the French windows. It was open. I clapped my hands and shouted, "Wisp! Mauvaise chatte méchante!" She dropped the bird and swiveled her head to look at me in the same motion. Thinking fast (George Eliot's locution is excellent preparation for mental quickness), I grabbed the cat and dashed her into the nearby laundry hamper, bringing the lid across it in case she could jump and get in my way.

Cat neutralized, I turned my attention back to the little bird. It was just disappearing under the bookshelves, behind the plastic bins of Sam's miscellaneous Lego bits and pieces.

He had far too much Lego.

Dropping to my knees, I moved the bins around, trying to trap it gently into a corner where I had a chance of getting my hands around it without smushing it (or scaring it more than necessary).

Oh my God, look at the dust balls! They are as big as the bird, said myself. Didn't you just vacuum in here?

"Yes, I did. I waxed the floor, too." Myself drew her brows together and shook her head. "Alright, I did the parts where it was visible, and under Sam's bed. Could you please let me concentrate on this bird now? Please?" I shifted a bin, and the bird scuttled beyond it and into the other corner. I pulled out another and shifted the one nearer it into the farther one. The bird was faster, and scuttled back past both bins to hide in the first corner. I removed both bins and the bird blinked at me.

"I've got you. Please don't fight." It blinked again, and then it was in my hands, staining my fingers with its blood.

I turned it gently to see how bad it was. There was blood below its left eye, and possibly an injury to the neck, just above the breast, but nothing else. It jerked its head from side to side, cocking it to look at me, and blinked.

"I think you might make it, little one," I said, heading downstairs for a bit of paper towel and wet it to dab the blood from its injuries, and then we went outside to see if it could fly.

I set it down in the grass in front of the French door. It spread its wings, flapped and rose about a foot above the grass, coming to a rest about two feet from where it had started, before hopping and trying to launch itself again. After three tries, I aborted its efforts as futile at present time and thought about what to do. I could not forget at that moment that I have not had great luck saving birds. You can click on any number of recent posts, and you will see for yourself. I believe I am some 1 for 7 or 8.

That one was the jogging bird.

We went inside, where I picked up the camera, and headed back outdoors, where it had the best chance to take off, or at least do it where it had the best chance of escape, and I took a few pictures while it jerked its head left and right and finally came to a rest looking straight at me. I sat down the camera and looked off across the terrace to the field, aware of Rapide sitting by my side. The bird sat warm in my hand, and then it was taking off. Just like that, it was in the air, winging out under the branches of the linden tree toward the twin sentinels, the yews at either side of Baccarat's old lookout, and then it dipped, and a dark form rose and snapped its white paws together. Just like that. No bird flew on. Shadow fell to a crouch, and I sprang forward, screaming.

"Shadow! Nooooooooo!"

Her head twisted around to face the fullness of my fury, and she didn't think twice before abandoning her catch and sprinting to the top of the second set of stairs. I looked down. The little beak was opening and closing, the chest heaving.

"Shadow, you bad, bad, bad, bad, bad cat!" I hissed at her, dropping to my knees to lift the badly injured bird. She looked back at me, perfectly collected and calm, but I think I saw something of Mrs. Glasher flashing in her eyes.

The bird lay in my hand and gasped. It went on and on. Her claw had to have pierced its lung, but how long would it go on before it finally died? I thought about crushing it. I heard a voice.

You can't do that. You know you can't do that.

"It would be kinder, wouldn't it?" I replied to myself.

Of course, but you can't do that. You know you can't. It was true. I thought about Old Yeller and pioneer farmers' sons who could.

"How long? How long will it take it to die? This is awful," I said to myself, watching the beak, the half-closed eyes, imagining the lungs filling with blood.

The gasps gradually became fainter, the beak closing, opening less and less with each breath. It continued, and then it was still. It took its last breath and then not another.

I stood there with it in my palm, wondering what I'd do. It stayed warm a long time, and I finally lay it down in the dirt of my window planter with the basil and the coriander.

"I'll decide later," I told myself.

Wisp sauntered past my, glancing up and quickening her pace almost imperceptibly when her eyes met mine.

I imagined that I was now resembling Mrs. Glasher, and I wondered how she would do in the part of the drowned Duke Alfonso. Along with Shadow.

When Audouin came home that evening and asked how my day went, I could say, "Oh, tu sais, rien de nouveau. Une journée comme les autres."

"Encore un oiseau mort alors?"

No, I joke. I told him that death had come to me again, but there is no mystery.

"Non, ça c'est sûr," he said, turning to scold Shadow, "Vous êtes les vrais méchants les chats," he said in his sternest, most deprecating tone. "Vous ne tuez pas pour manger mais pour le plaisir de tuer."

I couldn't argue against that. I imagined he in turn was imagining them drowned and gone, the birds safe to swoop without fear of a leaping body and severely sharp claws snapping together around their fragile bodies, flying on as they would.

"C'est la memoire génétique. Ils ne sont pour rien," I said, "Pas que je cherche à leur faire des excuses," I added hastily. There is no excuse to make for them in their meanness.

Later that night, Wisp came and curled up around my neck, purring into our ears.

The struggle over life and our affections goes on.

Oh, did I not mention that I left Wisp in the laundry hamper to stew awhile and went back to take a picture? Not easy to focus with a small bird in your hand.

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