12/23: Winter Solstice, 1995

Kyrie and I found a studio to live in, just in time for winter.

It took seven months of searching to find a management company who allowed small birds, but at last I signed the lease for one year in Allston.

The small bird and I didn’t know about the furnace.
On cold windy nights all winter, the building furnace was going to backfire and shut off after midnight. Then the apartment temperature would fall to near freezing, and fill up with oil fumes. Then the Fire Department would show up, turn off the furnace, and leave. One firefighter explained that the City wasn’t taking any more complaints against this landlord; he was already due for a hearing in some kind of housing court, but the court cases were backlogged for the next couple of years.

Winter Solstice Eve was clear with a wind chill of 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or -14 Celsius. That night for the first time, Kyrie hopped out of her cage and crawled into bed with me. Cockatiels are flock animals; they enjoy nesting together in trees, or failing that a warm pillow. But to keep her from smothering under the covers or getting rolled on, I woke up and put her back on her perch. The furnace was off, so I filled the cage with hot water Mason jars dressed in my socks, added lots of fluffy paper towels, and covered the cage with a blanket. Then I opened the front window a little to let out the oil fumes from the kitchen courtyard, and went back to sleep.

Early next morning, pulling a quilt over my nightgown and robe, I shut the window and headed to the bathroom. With my breath in white clouds I looked in to the cage. On the cage floor Kyrie sat dazed and silent, trying to incubate a tiny cold egg yolk. She must have gotten too chilled to lay the eggshell that came with it, which explained why she’d tried to get into bed with me the night before.

There was an aviary vet two suburbs away in Jamaica Plain, but rush-hour traffic was jammed to a halt in a sleet storm; calling the cab company wasn’t going to help us now. I spoon-fed her some hot miso broth, and wrapped her up in bed with me. I dialed my therapist’s answering machine recording because she liked his voice. (Every time he returned my calls she would fly right to the phone receiver and listen to him, chirping and tapping the holes in the mouthpiece with her beak.) I left a message about Kyrie, apologizing for an interruption like this over a relatively small loss.

Then I told Kyrie I was sorry for not keeping her safe in a good enough place to live. I thanked her for spending a year in my life, and sang her “Siúil A Rún.” She sat still, huddled up in my hands, and then between one second and the next she was gone. I kept her warm a little longer before making her a new nest and putting her back in the cage and heading out to the office.

On Solstice Night after work I picked up Kyrie, cut two tail feathers and put them in an envelope, bundled her up in the nest and some towels, and put her outside on the deep kitchen windowsill. Then I turned out the lights and got into bed. The phone rang; when I picked up the receiver, my therapist said “It’s a small bird. Not a small loss.”

It took a while for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw on a dry day. At Spring Equinox I took her to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir. Outside the security fence I unwrapped the towels, set her nest on the ground, and started digging. The sun came out. The spring wind flicked her out of the nest and straight up over my head. She sailed in a rising spiral in the first free flight of her time on earth, into the sky and gone.

But meanwhile, on Christmas, it felt empty to wake up without egg-laying songs of exuberance coming from the bathroom, or to eat lunch without little pink toes perched on the plate or walking through my hair. I walked all afternoon and ended up at Hall’s Pond in Brookline. I sat on a rock while the pale white sun hovered in the willows.

Then, a Tufted Titmouse peered out of a hole in a tree.
He looked like Kyrie, whenever she popped out of a cabinet all pleased with herself after pecking holes in all my Top Ramen noodle packets. As in this entry from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, both Titmice and Cockatiels have very large eyes and a wee topknot. The Titmouse though doesn’t have the filched ramen noodles sticking out of his beak.

More and more Titmice came flocking around and kicking up ruckus in the dead leaves underfoot. They were good company. When Kyrie came into my life, every bird everywhere acted more familiar and more used to me. It was good to be with birds still acting familiar even after she was gone. I thought back on that whole magical year of her color and grace and clowny antics and commentary and astonishing flashes of perceptiveness and constant snuggling and footprints through my tapioca pudding.

I sang the Titmice a Bruce Cockburn song. “Something jewelled slips away, round the next bend with a splash; laughing at the hands I hold out, only air within their grasp…. I see your rose above the sky, ooooopen, and a light behind the sun takes all.” The birds didn’t mind. They went on hopping and scuffing.

Christmas drew to a close.
Over the pond the sun on snow set, white as the moon.

About maryangelis

Hello Readers! (= Здравствуйте, Читатели!) The writer lives in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and the English and Russian languages, working in an archive by day and writing at night. Her walk in the world is normally one human being and one small detail after another. Then she goes home and types about it all until the soup is done.
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2 Responses to 12/23: Winter Solstice, 1995

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love this piece. Actually, you wrote me a letter ages ago about this incident which I showed Pat. The other night at the dinner table I we were talking about birds and the relationships people can have with them. Then Pat and I both remembered your touching writing about Kyrie. And then….the next day I found this on your blog! It is a beautiful story.

    • maryangelis says:

      Why hello! How dear to see your message today!
      Cockatiels can be like a pocket-sized dog if they’re raised with enough interaction. My birds needed extensive engagement every single day, outside the cage for at least a couple of hours, or they showed all kinds of neurotic traits. I carried them on my shoulders or head and talked to them and explained literally everything I was doing, and it’s amazing how much they respond and how much they understand. Maybe that’s true for many different animals, who knows?
      But how nice that you liked the story, and that you left a comment, thank you!

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