Nightly, my mother drives into Salina
to feed medicine to a mentally disabled woman named Helen. Helen lives in the basement of an old two story home that has been cut up into apartments whose tenants the State has decided are not able to care for themselves. Upstairs from Helen, lives a girl named Nicole with her four year old daughter, Abby. Nicole is diagnosed bipolar, which she well may be, but, primarily, she’s an old fashioned tramp. Her little girl (she has three other children who each live with a different daddy), though four years old and obviously bright, is still in diapers. Nicole’s psychiatrist, although aware that she is very probably an unfit mother, believes that her behavior is better when her daughter is with her, and so muddies every attempt to place Abby with Abby’s father. Often Nicole calls mom to demand that she baby sit Abby because of a pressing doctor’s appointment for one of her various imagined illnesses, only to arrive at the same time as an eighteen year old boy on an Asian motorcycle who intends to take Nicole to the lake. Nicole is small, fair skinned with dark hair and violent, mistrustful eyes, attractive, and a year younger than me.
Three days ago, Nicole called to say that she had captured a baby robin. It had broken one of its legs, and had been wandering around the yard. Mom, naturally, rushed to the scene. Nicole, cleverly using two milk crates of different sizes, one red and the other black, had fashioned a cage for the young bird. Mom brought it home and I gathered grasses and food and water dishes to make the bird’s stay more comfortable, more… likely to sustain such fragile life. The little robin was mostly fledged, vigorous, and, to me, obviously female. I named her Grisette. We loosely bandaged Grisette’s leg and fed her a mixture of hard boiled egg and mulberries. In order to keep her away from the cats, we ran a chain through the bottom of the cage to the top, then, utilizing my still intact tree climbing abilities, conscripted a tree branch as a pulley and hoisted her hospital well into the air.
Grisette was alive the next morning and rasping out curses like a young crow to the strange new galaxy surrounding her. According to my research the night before, she required worms and insects. Immediately, I found an inchworm, fallen providentially into the water tank outside my trailer. Before one of our new goldfish could devour it, I rescued it, and, pouting, showed the charming creature to mom. Both of us agreed that an inch worm’s manner of movement is too inventive, yet awkward, for us to condemn it, let alone perform the ritual slaughter, moreover, it was a pleasing lime green color. It is said that one is not allowed to show more compassion than God, but I did not mention this to my mother. We decided that an earthworm could be fed to the little bird with the least amount of guilt, and probed places all over the farm in our search. We turned up a grub in Roe’s wheat field, and, after much debate, attempted to feed it to Grisette. The grub turned out to be too large, and since cutting it up was out of the question, the little monster was spared. There was but one half-solution. I walked shirtless out into the trees and, shuddering, let the mosquitoes come to me. Within five minutes I had collected a bloody table spoon of mosquito corpses which we mixed into the egg and mulberry mixture. We lowered Grisette’s hospital to the ground four times a day, and mom held her while I pinched food into the pliant maw of her long thin beak.
This morning, Grisette broke free.
Mom had unwisely decided to feed our ward on her own, and when she separated the crates, Grisette heroically flew into the trees of our north pasture. She still flew very low, and struggled to find purchase on the branches, but she was gone and not to be recaptured. After this confession, I saw that mom had half-hoisted up the crate and turned one 90 degrees so that, if she wanted, Grisette could return to our care.
The melancholy of the open cage, hoisted in the air with a chain, but only halfway, swinging in empty and meaningless welcome, has stayed with me all day.