He didn’t smile, not even a forced, limpid half bow. We’ve been teasing each other since 10th grade, with 25 years of hurling groan-worthy quips, sparking and not-so-sparkling wit between us. But for whatever reason, “Baby Killer” crossed the line. Within the context of crossed lines, this barb landed somewhere between your kid sneaking forbidden screen time and the “Global Red Line” for gassing your own people. The epithet “Baby Killer” inched closer to the latter. Except that I was trying to be funny. It all started when one of our children shrieked, “Mommy, get the dog. Hold back Dexter. Keep him inside.” Surreptitiously, I peeked out the window. I could race to the bathroom, feigning GI emergency or pretend I was on vacation in Hawaii, crashing ocean waves drowning out her impeding meltdown. No dice. My daughter was crying those big snotty, web sobs and dragging the dog by the collar. “He’ll eat them,” she choked. In an unprecedented fit of spring-cleaning, Brian had dislodged a bird’s nest, actually a pair of them. When he poked out the nests with the broom handle, he’d unwittingly disrupted a flock of babies. The naked, hapless fledglings were writhing on the concrete, dog-nip for our terrier mutt, Dexter. Besides fetch, taking down birds, lizards, and rodents was his raison d’etre. To let the dog loose would be too gruesome. Besides, the trauma of the fall had already effected most of the damage. Hazmat cleanup was the final step. Double-bagged, the whole mess landed in our garbage can. The kids were too distressed to save the nest for their science teacher. Plus she recycles zip-lock bags and tinfoil remnants. The dead bird thing would damage our family reputation as caring, global citizens poised to contribute to our local, county, state, and cosmic communities. Bird killers, especially baby bird killers, fall outside our school’s community code.
So for days I tormented Brian, whispering “baby killer” under my breath. He just looked grim. “Come on,” I urged. “We live in the country. These things happen. Remember when the barn cat died in the gulley? It’s the Circle of Life, like Lion King. Hakuna Matata.” Just to clarify, we are the kind of people who bought a 4H pig named “Honey Bear” for our personal bacon larder. We hear the mewing of our neighbor’s baby lambs and then retrieve one in white butcher paper 6 months later. We are not squeamish. We enjoy bone marrow, sweetbreads, and non-organic blueberries. Occasionally we watch Fox News.
Then one day, the nests were back. I’m like, “Hey dumb birds, re-tweet this: #Darwin.” So I asked Brian to whack them down. But he was chicken. He didn’t want to kill any more itty-bitty, adorable, just-born chickadees. Before you cast stones of judgment and unleash your fury of indignation, behold my reasoning. Those buggers set up camp on our outdoor speakers. Our speakers are mounted underneath the roofline, where the eaves overhang the house. This configuration creates a perfect, snuggly, protected triangle between the top of the speaker, the eaves, and the wall. It’s heaven for dumb birds. It also exactly where we’ve set our outdoor table. Essentially we eat al fresco beneath a rainstorm of bird crap. Bird excrement slides down the sides of our speakers and stains the shell with brown-white glop. Did I mention it’s where we eat?
Today I took it upon myself to detox the feathered tenement. I grabbed a rake and gently nudged the corner of the first nest with the butt end. A bird swooped out, high tailing it to the safety of an adjacent, leafy tree. It was just the sort of place a bird might want to make her nest. Great. The inhabitants can fly, ergo they can re-make their nest in the aforementioned tree. I inverted the rake and pulled out the nest with the claw hand. Two blue eggs, tiny as a hummingbird’s, hit the concrete, their sticky contents pooling in the sunshine. A newly-hatched bird fell and died on contact. Another hit the concrete and skittered/flew aside, towards the dog. There was no commotion from the adjacent nest. I gave it a tiny poke. An avalanche of dried bird poop blew onto the table. And then a third fledgling toppled out. The shifting motion rocked the nest backwards, behind the speaker. It was lodged against the wall, impossible to extricate. My own medicine was bitter. I tried to be stoic.
I texted Brian. His response was no surprise.