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Just how it happened.

I lolled in the bathtub, 14, watching a trickle of hot water come from the faucet. My mother shot into the room with a huge kitchen knife in her left hand and her parakeet, Babeck, in the right. I covered my crotch with my hands, splashing.

Shiny green Babeck (“baby” in Turkish), squirmed, biting my mother's index finger. Hysterical, my mother said, “The bird is sick. I need you to cut the red band off her leg right now.”

As long as we had owned her, there'd been a circle of red plastic above Babeck's left claw. 2 days ago my mother had noticed pink, swollen skin beneath the plastic.

Voice high, I shouted: “Get out!”

The bird raged against her palm. My mother handed down the knife. “Take it, so I can hold her.” Still covering my crotch, I took the long, broad bread knife.

“Let this wait, please.” Louder: “Please.”

My mother pushed a wriggling talon into my face, voice shaking: “She'll die. She'll die.”

“Not now. Not this minute.”

“She's sick, Paul, she's sick! She'll die! I can't hold her.”

The bird squirmed, twisted, biting. My mother squeezed to stop its escape. I shouted: “Listen!” My mother stilled; the bird stilled.

Memory puts a floodlight on the next 5 seconds. Water laps the sides of the iron bathtub. My mother wears a purple T-shirt and a pair of shorts. An uncovered bulb shines next to the medicine cabinet mirror. The sink is blue ceramic. My long wet hair falls between my shoulder blades. It is summer, hot Philadelphia humidity. The window is open; the plastic blinds hang unmoving. The floor is white linoleum. I am naked. My mother looks at her hand. The bird does not move.

She breaks through the moment:

“God, I killed her, I killed her. I squeezed her to death. I killed her. Paul. Paul.”

She ran from the bathroom. She cried out, “Oh God.”

I sat pink as a lobster, hot water still trickling, the knife in my right hand. I watched as two green feathers settled onto the water, listening minutes later as the upstairs toilet flushed, a funeral.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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