It costs two hundred dollars to humanely put a bird to sleep. That’s significantly less than the one thousand it costs for the MRI to see if surgery is possible. And the surgery is still more. So, to Vance, two hundred sounds like a steal. The bird in question lays in a small box by human standard, but it’s the perfect size for Sven, the cockatiel.
Aislin, Vance’s daughter, comes back from the bathroom. She said she had to pee. Really, she wanted to cry in peace for five minutes without making her dad uncomfortable. She could count on him to not inquire about her red puffy eyes.
Crying in front of him was mortifying. Not because Vance would yell or get angry or smash things. Instead, he’d go pink, then white, and would mumble mixed metaphors and cliches. Once she said she was OK, he’d rush off, released. It was like this at her mother’s funeral. It was like this when she fell off her bike as a child. Tears were tears to him.
“Poor, Sven,” she says.
Vance relays how the doctor — “bird doc,” he says, not hiding an eye roll — told him the options. Surgery — “which really, with him being ten, isn’t a guarantee” — or a peaceful death. Vance leaves out the prices.
Aislin’s remembering all the times she held Sven’s body in her lap, stroking the iridescent feathers with a Barbie comb stolen from her sister’s bedroom. Each time her parents fought, even after the illness came back for her mother, Aislin and Sven would sit on her window bench in the sun. Aislin would count Sven’s feathers over and over. She discovered that by the time she got to one thousand, the fight would be over, and she would feel a little better.
“Sven has 168 feathers on his neck,” Aislin says.
“That’s nice,” Vance says. “You see, Sven is old, and doc really seems to think we shouldn’t let him suffer any longer.”
Aislin steps toward the table and stares at the bird. Sven is a funny name for a silver cockatiel. Her mother was the one who came up with it. At age three, Aislin probably would have picked Birdie or something obvious like that. Sven was the name of her mother’s favorite hairstylist from Miami. Sven, the hairstylist, had a coiffed silver mohawk and sang
Mexican pop songs as he cut and washed her mother’s hair.
Aislin looks at Vance and nods, their heads bobbing.
“Why don’t you say goodbye before the doc gets back,” Vance says.
Aislin kisses the grey beak, the closed eyes, the crest. She notices feathers covering Sven’s eyelids, each one no larger than a pin-head.
Devin Kate Pope is a writer of fiction, poetry, essays, zines, and long to-do lists based in Tempe, AZ. You can find her writing in Versification, little somethings press,Write On, Downtown,The Revolution Relaunch, and AZ Central’s Poetry Spot. Find her online at @devinkatepope (Twitter and Instagram.)
image: Lindsay Hargrave