I was upstairs working on the computer when Gill shuffled into the kitchen for coffee. I waited.
“Ma!” came the cry. “Is there any particular reason that a dirty shovel is leaning against the chair in the kitchen?”
I yelled down:”Yup. The fridge is broken.”
A long pause. “So what? You’re going to beat the fridge with a shovel for its sins?”
“Of course not! There are nine pet bird corpses in the freezer about to thaw…so we have to bury them today.”
“Nine dead birds? Ma, you’ve been letting your duties as funeral director slide.”
“True…and that reminds me — when we take each bird out of its ‘casket’ (aka Dove soap box), I have to update their family records…name, name of parents, siblings, date of birth, date of death etc.”
“Harrumph…maybe, if you have any time left over, you can finally get around to finishing up our baby books…thirty-eight years and counting for mine. And mine was the most complete. I think L’il Sis’s baby book languished in third place with only a few pictures and the hospital deets. It was like you ran out of steam. But no matter.” She added, in a voice dripping with sarcasm and a hint of bitterness: “The bird records are ever so much more crucial.”
“Well, as you would say, ‘Too right’. And I did run out of steam with three young children under the age of five. With the birds, you never know when one of them will want to mate with another bird in the room and I have to be careful there’s no hanky-panky going on between brother and sister, mother and son, etc. You have to keep a close eye on incestuous breeding, you know. Don’t want any flipper babies! You three kids may have wanted to kill each other upon occasion, but I knew there’d be no funny, weird stuff going on– so your biographies could wait.”
“Okay, you get the shovel and I’ll go put on my grave-digging ensemble.”
She returned wearing her green pants, the twenty-year old, threadbare ones so thin they’re verging on being see through. “Hope these don’t fall down,” she commented wryly. “Lost a bit of weight since I bought them. Somehow I don’t think the neighbours would appreciate a half naked gravedigger.”
“Yeah, right, cause what we’re doing isn’t strange enough…”
And so we trudged out into the backyard, pile of tiny boxes in the picnic cooler, to perform the burial service. Location was crucial.
“How about here under the crab tree? It’s so pretty when it blooms. The birds all love this tree. It would be a fitting final resting place for our sweet pets.”
“What? I’d have to be a midget to get in there to dig, Ma! I’m crippled, arthritis is bad today…no way can I bend down under those low limbs. What about this bare patch here? It’s easy to get at.”
“Won’t do…it was an ant hill. I Boraxed them to death…the residue might hurt the birds.”
“Ma! They’re already dead! They don’t care!”
We decided to bury them all in one big hole, laying their tiny bodies down side by side. I might point out that we already have several birds buried in the yard, so space, while not at a premium like it would be in a mausoleum, could still be tight. It couldn’t be in a ‘traffic path’ (the route for the parade of wild animals–squirrels, chippies, raccoons, skunks, ducks) that need access to my feeder. Another special shaded area was nixed since a pair of ducks make that their daytime refuge. And another spot was almost filled to capacity with dead pets. Nothing more upsetting than digging up an already buried beloved pet…very ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’.
Gill took shovel in hand and stood (in her flip flops) on the blade to push it into the ground. Nothing. “I can’t believe I’m not heavy enough to make a dent in the soil!” she moaned, jumping vigorously up and down on the spade. “How deep does this grave have to be?”
“Oh, at least a foot…” I said apologetically. She began again, lamenting the fact that she was probably killing a tree by digging through assorted large root systems.
“Not to worry,” I assured her. “These trees are sturdy…they won’t miss a few roots — at least not until the next gale force winds blow through.”
Then there was a noise on the path nearby. “Oh, oh,” I warned in my best stage whisper voice. “A runner on the path! Drop the shovel! Hide the cooler…look nonchalant!”
As he passed by, I smiled, “Nice day for some planting,” I shouted.
Several minutes later, Gill had dug what can only be described as a wedge in the ground — a slim wedge only a few inches deep. “Uh, I don’t think that’s big enough to lay all the birds out,” I noted. “Perhaps I can help?”
“Oh great…now I’m making my aged mother dig the grave. Not to worry, I may be crippled with arthritis and poorly, but I can still do this.” With that, she jabbed the ground again.
With the hole dug (the Boston Big Dig had nothing to fear from us), I began the process of unwrapping each bird from its tissue-lined soap box. I placed them gently in the pit, side by side, naming them as I did so. The brilliance of their colours — yellow, orange, blue, pure white — startled us. Tiny jewels they were…
Gill said, “This cries out for a picture, you know!”
“Yes!” I agreed.
“But it will not go up on Facebook…regular people might think it a bit weird or ghoulish,” Gill warned.
“Weird?” I asked. “What’s weird about nine small birds lying in a hole while we read them a lovely poem and take their picture?”
It was a beautiful service if I do say so myself. I guess it turns out that a broken fridge has a silver lining. Now I no longer have to worry that someone looking for hamburger meat in the freezer might happen upon a tiny yellow, orange or blue carcass. And my colourful babies are at peace in the garden.