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.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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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.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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