Everett took Trixie everywhere allowed, which meant he mostly wandered outdoors with her as he could. That was alright. They sometimes visited Gerry’s Joint for lunch–she was more willing than most to have them both. Saw a couple of friends. He was retired now from his mechanic’s work and finally had time to relax. But he and Trixie were old mates, they went with the basic flow of things. Goodness knows, they had seen it all, had dealt with high and low waters.
“Literally as well as figuratively, this is the reality, and you two have been the better for it”, Annalisa, his niece, said.
Ev didn’t say things complicated like that.
The two of them lived on Chancy River’s west bank in a plain modular home, the sort you might note as a double wide trailer at first glance. He was pleased to be there. He was eight miles from town and Petersen’s Garage where he worked forty years. Annalisa lived with her husband (he was alright, but didn’t deserve her) and their two rugrats down the road. He never called them that out loud; he meant no harm in thinking it. They were just loud, got into mischief–well, they were kids. Everett liked them much of the time despite himself. It was family and family was good–mostly or, more honestly, sometimes.
But when thinking of family, he first thought of Trixie, his blue and yellow budgie, or parakeet as most called her. And he knew people didn’t quite get that.
Trixie was closer to him than any person, really. He did have John and Morrie, fished with them every Sunday, their own secret church, Morrie once said, and they all heehawed and snorted. And he had Annalisa and the bar and grill owner, Gerry. Bernie the garage owner. A coworker here and there. Overall, they respected that Trixie and Everett were companions 11 years. Trixies heard his tales, cheered him up, kept him company through the drizzly long winter. And vice versa.
At the garage it had been harder. He was teased by new guys and random customers like it made their day.
“Hey Ev, how’s the little lady this morning?
“Did you brush out her feathers before you left for work?”
“Does she complain about the greasy slob you are after work? Maybe she won’t sing a tune then, huh?”
“Polly wants a cracker–and a glass of wine, please!”
They cackled at him but he ignored them best he could, laughed back under his breath. Fools. Everyone who knew anything knew that Everett cared so much for Trixie for good cause.
Annalisa had found, bought, then taken the parakeet to him after his cabin burned down. He had also lost his dog to the wildfire. She thought since he loved birds singing and flitting about outdoors he might like one to live with him indoors. To talk to and such. And she was right. Trixie helped things get better.
Everett was a born bird lover. He had it in his blood; even his grandpa had kept track of bird sightings, their songs and habits. But it was different than his dad who hunted them to eat and for sheer sport. He never got that. But, then, he didn’t get lots of things, apparently. He learned early on he was stupid, for that’s what his dad told him day and night, and his ma said little to change that impression. He barely finished tenth grade but knew how to fix mechanical things with hardly a thought. That was how he knew birds and their singing: he paid close attention to them and used his own instincts.
He half-believed them holy. Those wings. Those songs. The amazing freedom from gravity’s heaviness.
Trixie was let out of her medium-sized, rectangular cage every day for about three hours. Ev took her to the sun room at east end of the house–so-called because that’s where pools of sunshine gathered and soaked up. There was a bunch of potted plants, a raggedy easy chair by the picture window, an end table with binoculars and a dogeared bird book. He’d have let his parakeet buddy go footloose and fancy free more, but he had things to do on his acreage. There was fishing first of all, almost daily attacks on the curse of ivy, tending his vegetable garden; errands to run; someone’s car to fix on the cheap–he couldn’t help himself on that. He found he’d nearly as few free hours as before retirement. It just filled up differently and felt better.
So Ev took Trixie out with him, her cage settled on the passenger side of his truck if he had to drive somewhere. Otherwise, they were on the riverbank or went to nearby wetlands and meadows. He could see how happy this made her. She fluttered about, hopping from one perch to the other, wings opening, closing like beautiful fans. She pecked at him affectionately and settled under his protective hold when he took her out a bit. She sang a little as wild birds called out, as if they’d invite her over. But more often she listened, and chirped and nattered at him.
“You like being out here. I wonder if I should let you go. You know, Trixie, you’re right spoiled. You wouldn’t make it out there, just chaos. We’ve a good home, ya think? Our refuge, yeah?” He wiped his brow. “Hot today.”
“Good day, Ev, good home,” she said to confirm that it was, then turned to watch a wren fly by. “Hot enough for ya?” She shook her head in slow fashion.
“Yep, sweating like a stuck pig. Good thing you hang around, buddy.”
“Buddies,” Trixie said. “Good day.”
He decided to open the tiny door and stuck his hand in. She hopped atop his index and middle finger. He placed his other hand over her body, eased her out. He could feel her trembling, almond-sized heart racing. Maybe it was wrong to do this, but she always fell under a happy spell, and later seemed calmer, and rested well. It was her little adventure the few times he had braved it.
Her bright yellow and blue mask was vibrant in the sun, her feathers so warm, shiny and soft as he carefully held her against his chest. Her head turned this way and that as she watched and then a tune escaped, one he taught her. She added other notes to wild sounds in treetops.
They sat there awhile, enjoying a light rattle of tree branches and birds working and tittering and as he was about to put her back in, the grasses behind him rustled, hushed, rustled once more but very slightly. Everett slowly turned, Trixie held closer, but he expected a rabbit or squirrel, even a beaver waddling to water. He reached for the cage, Trixie momentarily blinded by his palm, when there was the faintest swishing of grasses as the creature–bigger than he thought– closed the distance between them. His heartbeat banged away as he turned to see a sleek red fox leap out and dash to Trixie who leapt, too, right off Everett’s finger, stirring still air as she rose, a receding spot of soft blue melding with sky’s aquamarine brilliance.
Ev was frozen a second, then jumped to his feet, stared at his empty hands in disbelief while the fox glanced upwards with longing– then ran on, hidden once more in swaying grass.
“Trixie! Trixie! Oh no, no no…! Fly back to me! Where’d you go?”
He ran where she flew, ran more only to find watchful trees studded with birds who cared nothing of this small drama, and a sky so immense he’d never find her there.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid! Why did I bring her and open that door? She was bound to leave one day. She just needed a fox for an excuse!”
He knew how silly that sounded and covered his long face with scarred, strong hands, refused to cry out as surely he was not that sort of man or friend. He’d just find her somehow. Wouldn’t he? Had to.
“They’re called budgies in other parts of the world, ya know. Native to Australia. Came to the USA around 1920 and we call ’em parakeets. Related to parrots, yeah, talk pretty well if you teach ’em well. Smart, unlike me, and also sociable.”
“Unlike you?” Gerry asked. “You manage fine, Ev, just fine. And Trixie isn’t the be-all, end-all..okay, so maybe she is. Sorry.”
“They can whistle any tune you teach them, you know that? Sure, you’ve heard her.” He kept running a hand through his hair absentmindedly.
“I do like your Trixie. I can’t believe she flew off…”
“She’s a bird,” John offered.
“She’ll be back,” Morrie said, washing down a french fry with his beer. “Patience.”
“Well, she might not, it’s a big world,” John said, patting Ev on a shoulder. “Sorry, sure was a fine parakeet, a good ally.”
Morrie glared at him, nudged their friend. “There are things we get and things we don’t. You never know. She might not like it out there. Might get lucky, too.”
Ev’s shoulders, broad and muscular, folded as he hunched over, lifted the beer mug to lips. Stared into depths of amber liquid. He could get lost in there, he was not above it. “She might just end up loving it,” he said and drank it all down.
“But then foxes and cougars, snakes and eagles…” John said, as he was a practical man and felt it had to be accepted. But this time Morrie reached over, smacked him back of his head so his ears nearly rang. He glared at him, but tried again. “I mean, she knows where the house is, right? She could find her way.”
“They’re tough, smart. Lots of good food out there so that won’t be a worry.” Gerry swiped at the counter, leaned across from Ev. “Have a little faith.”
Why was everyone yakking at him? His insides were pulling apart, no matter their words or that he was on his third beer.
“Parakeets prefer being with their humans, they really do,” Gerry said, patting his hand. “Read that once. She has a decent flock right here.”
“Yeah.” Ev got up, slid off the stool, walked out the door, his friends turning and calling him to come back. He kept on.
“Man. This is going to be rough,” Morrie said quietly. His oldest friend slunk past the window into the darkness, chin hanging on his chest. He’d never seen the man look so defeated except when his cabin burned down and his mutt died–much worse, and even then he hadn’t carried on about it to others. But maybe this was partly about Trixie coming into his life on the tail of that nightmare.
It had been instant affection and stayed like that, the odd couple.
Annalisa visited her Uncle Everett on her way to night shifts but all she could say was, “I’m so sorry, Uncle. The worst. Such a budgie! But she might still come home.” And then half-hugged him, as he was not one to be hugged.
After she left, he sighed and sighed, sat like a lump, and he felt her caring and sadness, too, like a good but heavy blanket.
Ev got up at the crack of dawn day after day, made and packed a sandwich, filled his thermos with coffee, then headed to the marshy area that gave way to grasslands. Where they’d last sat under cottonwood trees. He made a spot against the best tree. He listened to birds singing their heads off and the faint rippling of Chancy River not far off and accepted sun’s offering of warmth kindly on his tired body, softly upon his mind. He’d have counted this as a fine happiness if not for Trixie’s absence. He sipped steaming coffee; more sweat rolled down his neck and disappeared under the collar of his chambray shirt.
“Why did I call you that? That’s what they always want to know. As if it matters to them. But it was the little girl in the picture book, that’s all, the one with poems and paintings when I was seven, nursery rhymes I imagine. There was a picture of her running in the field, red-winged blackbirds lining up on a fence. It was on that page: ‘Trixie gave her day away to red wings and blue butterflies, her face a beacon of happiness.’ Or maybe I made it up, the poem had to have been better… but it made me put down my own words later. We’d talk about things like that. I was reading those haiku out loud. You listened.”
He was watching, watching. He recalled the fire, how it took everything and he had been ready to leave it all, find another town but then she came, thanks to Annalisa.
“Where did you go? You had to have out-flown the murderous creatures. Got enough to eat? Fresh berries, veggies?”
At the end of the afternoon he’d trudge home and sit in the dark, doze and dream of bright wings, lightning, smoke.
It was not a surprise that he thought he spotted her on the sixth day. He always believed he saw her, in flight, perched on distant branches. This time he crisscrossed marshy parts and then there was a bundle of pale blue, tiny and crumpled in mud a few feet away. He came closer, fear filling him as he knelt. There she was–wasn’t she? Yes, Trixie, dirty, worn out and keeled over on her side, eyes opening to him.
“Trixie! Oh my, let’s get you home, there you go, girl…I got you.”
Everett very slowly put her into his cupped hand, then both hands carried her to their house. And on his front stoop were Morrie and Doc Vale.
He nearly fell to the ground in relief, only stopped by his hurt cargo. Morrie slapped his knees, stood right up followed by the other man.
“I brought the vet for ideas, to help look but– wait–is that Trixie?”
The vet took the shuddering bird as they entered the house. For several minutes no one spoke as he efficiently checked her. She was almost inert on the dining table, a twitch of foot, tiniest bob of head, barest sound loosed. She still looked half dead.
“Broken wing, surely, might be recent as she seems well fed. Dirtied up is all. She managed to stay alive–how did she elude predators?”
“Busted wing? Can that be fixed? Will she feel okay again?” Ev was horrified, expected the worst. To have found her, then lose her again would do him in.
Doc Vale stroked his white goatee and considered. “Yes, I suspect so if I determine for sure it’s a simple fracture. She must have run into something or fallen fast and hard. No other injuries. I can take her with me now, Everett.”
“Yes, take her, get her healed up and I thank you, Doc.”
“I see you,” Trixie called out from her cage perch as Ev popped up his head, then hid beind the couch again. “I see you, I see you!”
“Yeah, I see you, too, you ole feisty budgie. Here to stay– can’t fly too far now… what a surprise you are.”
“Surprise, surprise! See you!”
He finished frying up the bacon and set it aside his eggs. Tore tiniest bits into a small china bowl that held cooled, cooked potato and carrot, good seeds of all sorts, then took it to Trixie’s cage. He set it on her freshly cleaned floor, then she hopped down and over to it, wings aflutter.
“Heart and soul, heart and soul,” Trixie sang out and whistled the tune as Everett took her cage to the sun room, then got his own plate. They sat beside each other, bird cage set on side table, Ev in his easy chair.
“Yes, a pleasure, ole Trixie, let’s eat.”
“Yes, a pleasure, ole Ev–thank you!”
He gazed at her. Did she thank him, was that for real or was he hearing things? Trixie was busy gorging on breakfast so he dug in, too.