Today the kids and I ventured into the backyard and the first thing I saw was a robin hanging from one of my patio chairs by a string. Its leg was snared by some of the random playtime trash we have floating around back there. I immediately thought of the anti-pollution ads of my childhood, the turtles and seagulls tangled in beer can rings. I wasn’t in the past for long because the thing flapped when I approached. Even now I’m trying to make it an object by calling it a thing, as if it would stave the guilt of leaving kite line unattended. The bird had beaten the hell out of itself and it bled from the ass and the mouth. Fuck.
The babies regarded it with interest and not much alarm. They’re pretty brave when it comes to animals. Just a month ago, a baby bird on its first flight landed on Cora’s chest. She yelped for a moment when it took off, but she was otherwise fine. We had to chase the little guy around the garage for a bit and captured it and placed it on the neighbor’s shed. It hopped and glided from surface to surface until it made it back into our pecan tree. I wondered if this one was related to that one. Surely it wasn’t the same.
I ducked into the house and retrieved a rubber glove. “Ain’t no way I’m touching a random bird,” I said. The girls observed as I cut it loose with my small keychain Swiss Army knife. The robin panted and its eyes were half open. I’m not sure how many bones it had broken, but it was a non-zero amount. It didn’t attempt to fly away and I picked it up without any fuss. They followed as I carried it to the front yard.
I didn’t want to mercy kill this thing, especially in front of my children, but I knew it could not be saved. I sat it on a low branch in the oak tree in the front yard. Its good foot gripped hard and its eyes opened wide, then it fell straight down. I don’t know if it died in my hand or when it hit the ground, but when I bent down, it was dead. Huge eyed, floppy necked, wings folded, dead.
“Well kids,” I said, “time to get the shovel. We’ll bury it in the spooky forest.”
That’s what Cora calls the shady area between the place I park my truck and the back fence. There’s a large pecan tree there, and it makes a dark hollow even in broad daylight.
I dug a hole, which took a couple of minutes because the ground is dry, and told Cora that we had to bury it so it could go back to the earth. “That’s where we all come from,” I said. We’ve done this before. Her first was a roadkilled box turtle a year ago, so she knows the drill. Bea farted around in the background doing something or other. Cora observed. When I was done digging, I paused and said, “Isn’t it pretty?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Now we have to put it underground,” I said, and I did.
When we do this, we are solemn but we’re not particularly sad. Cora can still throw a tantrum over a cookie but at these times she’s far older. I want to impart on her that we can be kind to small things and treat them with respect, even in death. There was a moment, before I started digging, when I had to rest the bird atop our garbage can.
“Don’t throw it away,” Cora said.
I assured her I would not. Like I said, she knows the drill.