Birds of Paradise
It was just too quiet then. At about that hour they should have been settling down and tucking their heads under their wings. Most would still be cooing, at the very least. In the kitchen, where my father and mother kept the lights on and the television playing, the birds would chirp well into the night. At about eleven, when his coffee cup was empty, my father would kiss my mother goodnight and go to bed. My mother, for all I know, stayed up all night.
The house, by the time I was eight, was a stinking and noisy menagerie. The bird cages that lined the walls and in some cases touched the ceilings absolutely invaded the house, such that walking from one room to another became a difficulty. My father was sensitive of his wife’s gently declining mental state, and hoped that a loving acceptance might help to ease our lives. As such, we gradually got rid of furniture, and turned instead to using bird cages as chairs, bird cages as tables, and bird cages as working surfaces. We slept on the ground, because proper beds would take up too much space. The house became grimy, both outside and in. My father, ever supportive, did what he could to keep the house clean, but it was an impossible task.
That house at the end of the street, the one with the faded siding and the grass and weeds growing in tangles around the broken concrete steps. That house, with the constant smell being pushed through its cracks and fissures. That was our house. Besides the uniquely shabby state of its exterior, it was really the enormous stack of rusting birdcages piled high in the backyard that turned our house into a local landmark and a source of neighbourhood rumours. I once overheard a girl at school telling her friends that my mother was a witch, and a damn good one too, judging by the smell. I tucked myself away in the corner of a wall in shame. I could smell my mother’s witchcraft on my clothes.
Before my twelfth birthday my mother had passed away. She had been diagnosed with cancer six months earlier and her state worsened quickly. Despite our deplorable conditions brought on by her obsession, my father had remained devoted and loving and her death was something that he took very hard. He decided, however, that the best thing for the both of us now would be to clear out the house and start fresh. Two weeks later every bird and birdcage had been sold. We spent another two weeks cleaning the house, scraping bird shit that had dried and hardened and been weighed down by still more bird shit. When we were done, I could see through the once fog-stained windows. I could smell the pines outside, and I could hear the whisper of cars on the avenue.
But it was too quiet. At night, when I went to bed, the silence overcame me and I tore restlessly at the sheets, becoming tangled in them as I became tangled in the remembrances of a home I felt as though I had lost. At breakfast I could taste the food I ate, my nose being free of the smell of birds and, like a blind boy whose sight is suddenly returned, I became confused and angered by the new subtleties of sense which I would, in time, be forced to embrace. All those years I had felt weighed down by the layers of grime, but now I sought the comfort of that filth as I sought a blanket when the house grew cold and the night was dark.