When Newton (my parakeet) passed away, toward the end of my tenure at The Mom’s, I was beyond bereft. I was inconsolable. I keened for a week. L’il Sis was drafted into, if not tending to, then bearing witness to my mental and emotional unravelling. It was not a good time. I am not good when I am deeply upset and I bristle at The Mom’s methods of coping, which include but are not limited to talking, crying, talking and crying whilst having a good stiff drink.
Newton hadn’t been well, but he hadn’t been too obviously ill either. So it came to pass that he had one last sleep in The Mom’s nest. The Mom had rushed into my room slightly before the crack of dawn on the fated morning and dragged me out of bed so he and I could have one last snuggle. He died in my hand, cupped as he was wont to, in what I used to refer to as the ‘duck position’. I don’t know why. I didn’t expect it to have made any sense when I first came up with it. But that was sort of how things went with Newton.
As he had no capacity for the English language beyond ‘Sweet-sweet’, his catch-all chirrup, call, and warning signal, he was a bit of a blank canvas for whatever needed to come out of my head or mouth that day. And when I was staying at The Mom’s, I needed something in a creative outlet. So, sometimes at dinner, when he’d look over the edge of the table in a perplexed and somewhat suspicious manner, I’d put on the voice I’d decided for him (which sounded something like a cross between a drunk and idiotic but harmless fool, and how I imagined an upper class Victorian to sound), and say something along the lines of, “Uh oh, Mummy, lemon sharks!”
Whereupon I’d launch into a short or long monologue about the various characteristics of lemon sharks.
The Mom, for reasons that are not entirely clear, warmed to these random outbursts that become less and less random as time wore on. There were days when Newton would talk all through dinner and The Mom would have to sit and wait patiently for me to finish up the food was now cold and more miserable than it had been when originally presented.
The Mom, understandably, grew to adore Newton. So when he died she decided we couldn’t bury him right away. I was in no state to make any decisions. She did what she always did when one of the flock passed away, she wrapped them up and put them in a box. But Newton was different. He and I had shared some good times in Chinatown and so, myself being rather fond of Chinese funerial traditions, I went to the local supermarket to buy what was needed: incense, though I skipped out on the other stuff to burn bit, thinking that The Mom would in no way allow me to burn a miniature car in the backyard. We burned incense for five days, according to custom or whatever I’d made up in my mind.
The Mom, for her part, made note of his passing on the calendar I’d put up in the birds’ room. It’s not that I thought they’d have need of a monthly calendar, but rather that they might enjoy looking at the picture. I put a sticker on the day, 11 June, and she circled it with a heart and wrote his name in her best block capital letters (because I can’t read her flowery cursive).
Later, it dawned on me that we hadn’t included enough money for him to pay his fare over the River Styx, so I rushed out to put two pennies in his casket, which was the fanciest cardboard box The Mom could find.
I knew the day would come that we would bury him. It was always going to be on my next summer visit. My next summer visit for about three years. We were always putting it off, because why say goodbye to an old friend if you don’t have to? I knew The Mom took him out of the freezer on her darker or more unusual days, and I was kind of okay with it. Who am I to judge, anyhow? It’s not like I don’t have strange habits.
But then, there we were. In the back garden, lurking about with the closest things to shovels we could find. It was one of those moments in life I find difficult. An obvious outpouring of deep untethered emotion. Which I like, but I just like it in private.
We didn’t take a picture of Newton and his soulmate Pete lying in the wee hole together. It seemed wrong. But that they were together now for good seemed terribly right. Correct, completely. And, in an unusual, for our lot, turn of events, we put a stone on top of the grave, once it was filled in. Which was a nice touch. And we’d had peach pie that night, which would’ve gone down a storm with Newton. His breed are suckers for pastry.