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The Sad Story of Nana Garcia's Birds
Issac’s immediate family contained three dogs; Benigno the shaggy Great Pyrenees, Dulce the Spanish born Catalan Sheepdog and Javiera, an opinionated little toy breed with long silky ears known as the Phalène. Issac’s paternal grandparents originally had one dog, an old Ibizan Hound dog called Pablo who was tired of the world and everything in it, choosing to focus all his energy on Abuelito Garcia. When Issac was seven they adopted Rico, some kind of husky mix. And finally, they came upon Bosque, a random puppy allegedly rescued during a thunderstorm. This made for a grand total of six dogs living in the summer villa from End of June to Mid-August, when both Garcia families came together for the season. After the addition of Bosque, Issac’s father, Adrian Garcia, made his parents swear not to take on any more dogs. He was foolish enough to let them get away with a promise as vaguely stated as that.
The Grandparents Garcia arrived the summer Issac was nine with all three mutts and four exotic birds- Bianca, Charlie, Taylor, and Seraphina. Taylor was a nasty little dude, with a habit of thrashing his wings in a frenzy and squawking like a deranged being. He was the color of a stop sign, with some blue and black feathers blended into the underside of his wings, and vibrant yellow streaks on the crown of his head and tops of his shoulders. Despite his striking appearance, something was quite off about him, and he had absolutely no patience for anyone or anything. When the aviary quadruplets were introduced to the rest of the Garcia clan, Taylor’s first impression was to scream and snap at Issac’s fingers when the boy stuck them past the bars of his birdcage. Issac’s mother, Ana Garcia, quickly steered her mother in law towards the conservatory - an office space towards the front of the house that had been converted to a separate haven for Nana Garcia’s abundance of things that the old woman brought along with her for the summer. In no time at all four heavy wrought iron bird cages were suspended from the ceiling like a cross between medieval torture devices and light fixtures stuffed with ornery birds of bright plumage. They made a continuous racket, and it didn’t take long for the whole room to smell damp and slightly acrid, the ill effects of four cages worth of bird scat. Issac was fascinated, and his mother had difficulty keeping him away from that area of the house since he was so dead set on watching his grandmother care for her exotic foul. By mid-July he had spent a great deal of time with Nana Garcia and her brood since tending to four parrots was a significant undertaking.
Seraphina and Charlie amused themselves with the various dangling trinkets installed in their little homes, but Bianca began showing signs of illness almost immediately after moving into the villa. Most likely she had lived a long and illustrious life, but nobody knew exactly how old these animals were- the grandparents wouldn’t even say where they’d come from. Adrian had warned his wife that they could be well past middle age, and eventually it became safe to say that Bianca was at the tail end of her years. Her faded royal blue feathers began to drift in great quantities onto the orange dyed woven straw rug on the polished white floor of the conservatory, and her droppings were first observed as soupy white, then grainy grey, and finally rancid clumps of greenish blue. At first Nana Garcia tried passing this off as seasonal ‘molting,’ and a continuation of airplane sickness. But when Issac noticed bald patches appearing between her sparsely distributed coat and a distinct pinkness to her eyes, Nana Garcia took out her rosary.
Noticing her grandson’s concern, she wrapped a comforting arm around his bony shoulders,
“There’s nothing to worry about sugar. Birds get sick just like you and I.” She assured him, then lifted her gaze to coo at the unhealthy inmate, who delivered a woeful glance.
Then Bianca stopped eating. Issac thought maybe she wasn’t hungry, and if that was the case there would be plenty of food for her when she was. Nana had brought along two ridiculously sized bags of birdseed, stored in a cupboard of the conservatory. Issac took great pride in filling up each bird’s little dish at breakfast time. His grandmother had taught him to fill it to the brim, like you would a cup of sugar, but not to dust any off, and to leave them on the windowsill between her African violets and a large clear vase of developing tiger lily bulbs. After his initial experience with Taylor’s temper she didn’t want her grandson to start lifting the latches on any of their enclosures with or without her supervision.
One morning Issac woke up at around seven or so in the morning, and discovered he was the only one awake. It was a Wednesday, but the kitchen staff didn’t put breakfast on the table until eight o’clock, and an hour seemed like an eternity to him, especially since his little sisters weren’t up, and Nana had been playing cards and reminiscing with Abuelito the night before, so they would probably be sleeping in even later than usual. He slid out of bed and went to his window. It looked out on the reef and the ocean- a glorious sight of cathedral skies over rippling clear water and tropical flora, so perfect it must have looked painted. But this was Issac’s morning view every summer of his life since age 7, and he was developing an indifference to such beauty. Leaning his elbows against the windowsill and pressing his forehead against the glass he noticed a finch warbling a morning song in a swaying palm, bulky bright green leaves caressed by a soft breeze. She beat her wings and lifted into the sky, flapping off out of sight. Perhaps this image was what sent Issac out his bedroom door in his green pajamas with the blue stripes, hoofing it shoeless across the courtyard.
The six family dogs always slept in a pile beneath the centerpiece table in the big empty front room, which opened out onto the tanning patio. Immediately they roused themselves to greet this young Garcia, going solo across the courtyard- all except Pablo of course, who gave Issac little more than a sleepy nod before settling his head back onto his paws. If anyone noticed the other’s excited commotions, they didn’t bother to wake up and see what was going on. This pack barked all the time, and so long as they stopped barking after a few minutes, Issac figured his family wouldn’t do much but roll over in their beds and kick the covers to the bottom of the mattress. He took the time to pet all six dogs and then continued through the living room.
It wasn’t as if his journey to the conservatory was a top-secret operation, he wasn’t planning to set the parrots free or try to touch Taylor again and probably wouldn’t have been reprimanded if he was found filling their food bowls and setting them on the self. But the early excursion wouldn’t be the same with supervision. Now followed by dogs Benigno and Bosque, Issac walked into another open-air hallway and made a left into Nana Garcia’s domain.
Right away there was something wrong. Taylor’s ever-present din had ceased, and he was sitting stock still on the wooden perch of his coop, his head titled slightly to the right as if asking a question. Beady black eyes trained on nothing in particular, it was the stillest Issac had ever seen him. Seraphina struck a similar pose, but Charlie was taking the liberty to peck at the downy white under fluff on the shoulder of his right wing. A fuzzy feather cascaded to the spoiled newsprint carpeting of his home. And Bianca wasn’t alive.
It took a moment for Issac to register this. At first, he thought he’d made a mistake. He looked away and stared long and hard at Seraphina’s birdcage. She gave him a slight soulful nod, so he dared to glance back at Bianca’s. It was like something out of a movie. Her crooked talons were extended as if grasping some invisible branch, what was left of her tail splayed out on the newspaper, her smooth glossy head of royal blue coloring propped up against the bars of the cage. Her glassy blank stare was fixated on the ceiling, and her featureless ears heard nothing. As a last resort, Issac turned the cage. It swayed slightly, but the thick chain it hung by would not let it turn. Issac didn’t know what to think after that. He knew that his family had always kept pets, thus the six dogs, but as long as he’d been alive none of them had ever went so far as to die. What came upon him was a feeling so intensely hollow that at first, he didn’t think it was a feeling. Only when his vision became cloudy did he realize he was crying, and when he did the tears came faster and harder and then he was making deep heaving sobs, moaning in the sadness of the hour. He swayed on his feet, and Benigno made his presence known in the room by slipping his huge white head beneath Issac’s left hand and sitting more or less on his foot. Unaccustomed to the sudden emotions of children but eager to please the boy, Bosque paced nervously by the door, his tail at half-mast.
All at once Issac’s mother was in the room, because no matter how big that island villa would get she would always be able to hear her children needing her.
“Shhhh, Shhhh, honey, it’s ok, it’s ok. Bianca went to a better place.” She wrapped her arms around her son, tucked his face into her yellow terrycloth bathrobe and buried her nose in his soft kinky mop of chocolate colored hair. When he could manage somewhat comprehensible words, Issac made her aware of the true problem at stake.
“Buh- buh, she-she *hic! * she-she DIED.” And resumed crying. It wasn’t as though he missed Nana’s bird. He just couldn’t figure out how something had been breathing and sitting up the day before, and now they were lying stiff and strange with their toes turned up.
The repetitive shushing and southing resumed.
Nana Garcia stuffed the deceased into a Froot Loops box and held a funeral for Bianca in her courtyard garden. Adrian made an allowance for his grieving mother and took down the other three bird cages, loaded them one by one onto Issac’s sister’s doll carriage and transported them to the tanning patio for the service. Issac was asked to say a few words but shook his head. There was nothing he wished to comment on. Nana, who had no shortage of words, placed a worn hand on his shoulder, lifted her face to the puffy blue clouds and began talking about Saint Francis and animals and the saving of souls. Issac focused on a sunny little marigold planted over the gravesite, it’s rounded petals bobbing in a sea breeze that came through the courtyard arches. Next to the flower a wooden stake bore a sign that read- HERE LIES BIANCA GARCIA MAY SHE REST IN PEACE. Halfway through the speech Taylor blew a gasket; clucking, cawing, throwing himself at the bars of his cage, a pandemonium of shrill screams and flying feathers. He was hustled back to whence he came, and Bianca was thus laid to rest for all eternity.
Three days later, a veterinarian arrived per Adrian’s demands, and he took poor deranged Taylor with him. Something concerning Taylor’s deranged little bird brain prevented the creature from staying at the villa, much to the relief of Issac’s parents. Miraculously, no argument ensued, and Nana Garcia accepted this lot, having born the deaths of many beloved pets over her lifetime. Left with only Charlie and Seraphina to look after and two empty cages, she threw herself back into her favored summer pastimes- gardening and animals- while Issac consoled himself with the dogs and the gentle torturing of his sisters. Despite his best interests, he would help his grandmother care for the birds every summer from then on.