The building did not allow dogs. The building did not allow cats. Nobody could ever really love a fish, and hamsters and mice and gerbils died too young. So Kasey asked her parents for a bird.
“A bird?” said her father. “The damn thing would keep us awake squawking for sure.”
“I’ll keep it in my room,” Kasey said.
“Birds are just for decoration,” said her mother. “Why don’t we get a ferret or something we could teach tricks!”
“I want a bird,” Kasey said.
Her mother and father looked sideways at each other and her father stepped onto the balcony for a cigarette. Kasey did not ask for things. Kasey did not ask for chocolate milk in her lunches even though Friday was “treat day” at school. Kasey did not ask for a spinning top, the kind all the other kids had, the kind you collect and decorate yourself then balance on the edge of a desk or the tip of a finger in competition to see whose will spin the longest. Kasey did not ask for shirts stamped with logos of the latest-greatest boy bands, or jeans that came from trendy, uptown shops instead of thrift stores where the clothes smelt always of mothballs and damp. Kasey did not even ask her parents to sign a permission slip when her soccer team was planning a trip to Seattle. They only heard about it when the coach phoned their apartment a week before the date and asked when, by chance, would Kasey’s forms be in? And her mother had hung up the telephone, knocked on Kasey’s door, and blurted “So—what’s this about a trip to Seattle then?” And Kasey didn’t say a word. She didn’t say a word, only rolled off her bed and took the papers from under the mattress.
Kasey did not ask for things but she did ask for a bird. Two weeks later, on the morning of her ninth birthday, she walked into the kitchen and saw a great, big, white cage on the table. A bird twice the size of her hand hopped and skittered inside. It hopped and skittered and spread wings a darker green than the rest of its body, tinged with a colour that looked almost chemical. Like blue mercury.
“Thank you,” Kasey breathed.
“Happy birthday!” yelled her mother. Her father smiled on one side of his face, and thumped the table. The bird shrieked and flew to a perch suspended from the bars. “It’s a parakeet. Like a type of parrot. Did you know they can learn to talk?”
“What you gonna name it?” said her father.
Kasey sat and dragged her chair closer to the table, stuck her elbows out at chicken-wing angles. “Geoffrey,” she said. “With a G.”
Her father turned back to flipping pancakes.
At school, Kasey volunteered to read aloud. She ignored the kids who giggled because she didn’t know the words and sounded each syllable in a clear, precise voice. During soccer practice, she told the coach she didn’t want to play goal and got put centre field. To everyone she repeated over and over, “I got a bird. He’s green. He’s a parakeet. His name is Geoffrey with a G.”
Nighttime crept through the window in Kasey’s room, across carpets that didn’t quite reach corners, peeled to show concrete underneath. They lived on a floor high above the streetlamps, so while below she could hear city sounds—buses wheeze by, cars skid through yellow lights with the rubber streaking off their tires, tipsy college students shout after their friends—the sky above could have been a piece of deep space or unlighted farmland. She did not cover Geoffrey’s cage. When she said, ‘Night,” he clicked back before tucking his beak to his chest and settling to sleep.
Around the house, Geoffrey lived on Kasey’s shoulder. He clung to her shirt collar, or, if she had no shirt collar, to a strand of baby hair behind her ear.
Kasey and her mother taught Geoffrey to say, “What’s the story morning glory,” and because they always laughed when he said it, he learned to laugh like them too.
Kasey stayed up later because she and Geoffrey liked to read Archie comics under the covers.
Whenever he saw Kasey with the bird on her shoulder, Kasey’s father would ruffle her hair and Geoffrey, feathers fluffed, would nip his little finger. “That damn bird,” her father would say, not smiling but not frowning either.
For next show-and-tell day, Kasey (who had never brought anything for show and tell, not ever) brought Geoffrey and answered everyone’s questions about parakeets. Then she took Geoffrey out of his cage and walked around with him on her shoulder so the other kids could stroke his feathers. And then she got the whole class to say, “What’s the story, morning glory!” and Geoffrey squawked, “What’s the story—what’s the story—glory, glory, morning!” and everyone laughed and stamped their feet and clapped their hands and after that none of the other kids got a turn for show-and-tell because Kasey and Geoffrey had taken the whole time. But nobody minded.
Kasey loved that bird so much.
Five weeks after she got him though, five weeks after she got him, Geoffrey started to walk in circles. Kasey first heard it at night, right before she fell asleep, and forgot it in the morning. But when she came home from school he had started again, around and around with his claws going critch critch critch through the corncob litter. She stuck a hand inside the bars and snatched two handfuls of nothing before she could wrap her fingers around his body and set him on her shoulder. In her hair, Geoffrey thrust his beak and held still.
He walked in circles all night and slept during the say. “Something’s wrong,” Kasey told her parents. “He’s upset or something.” They changed Geoffrey’s feed, his litter, cleaned his cage and dusted the entire apartment. He just walked and walked and walked.
“We need to take him to the vet,” said Kasey.
Her father stepped onto the balcony for a cigarette. Her mother said, “I don’t know if we can right now. That costs a lot of money.”
One night, Kasey woke to hear her parents talking. Their voices turned corners and blended with the steady critch critch critch she had learned to sleep against.
“You think we should—”
“Why not, Kenneth? She wouldn’t know.”
“Of course she’d know! It’s not a damn bug Sheila. It’s got a personality.”
“We could get one that looks exactly the same. We could teach it to say—”
“No. Besides, he might get better. Probably just a nervous tick or—”
Kasey buried her head below the covers and stayed there until her own breath, warm and shallow like a puddle in a concrete schoolyard, nearly drowned her.
She knew what to do. The following day at recess, Kasey snuck home, rode the elevator to the tenth floor and unlocked the apartment. The radiator rattled and Geoffrey paraded back and forth, critch critch critch. Kasey took the cage in one hand, hobbled into the living room and slid the balcony glass aside. She stood on a flowerless flowerpot, dry soil crusting the toes of her sneakers, and heaved the cage onto the rail.
“Okay,” said Kasey, and unlatched its small, steel door. “Okay, go ahead.”
In daytime, the sky held far less possibility. She could see concrete high-rises, battered telephone poles. Electrical wires crisscrossed the blue above and below, far into the distance and everywhere around them. They wove a pattern, cut measureless space into hexagonal pieces.
“Geoffrey, go.” She shook the cage. “Go you stupid bird!”
But Geoffrey just walked. Walked around and around in his white-wire cage, on the edge of a balcony, on the edge of a jigsaw-jumbled, grid-cut city.
“You stupid bird,” said Kasey. “You damn bird.”
SD Pitman is a student at the University of Victoria, in Victoria BC, Canada. She has been telling stories since before she could write, and is thrilled to have finally found an outlet for the words running through her head. She enjoys stormy weather, singing obnoxiously loud, and travelling to both real and imaginary places.