Atlanta, Georgia, 1994
I never thought it was possible to be speechless. Well, not for me, anyway- I’m quite a talker, as my friends will be sure to tell you. I’m twenty-six, after all, and my horizons are broad. But this- this just takes the cake. I open my mouth to form sounds, desperately groping my brain for some sort of reaction. Finally, the words come. “But… why?” I ask, defeated. It’s not that I plan to keep it, but it’s rude to blatantly reject a Christmas present, right? Does that rule apply even if it’s alive? Because it is. Alive, I mean.
Anna looked at me coyly. And here I was thinking that she was a sweet girl. “Well, I was thinking about how you took me to the zoo that one time, and you just loved the tigers, but of course I couldn’t get you one of those- trust me, I tried- I had to go with the next best thing.”
I put my head in my hands and groaned. I didn’t like the tigers. Or anything else, for that matter. I didn’t even want to go, but somehow she roped me into it. “But… it’s a bird.”
“A Caiques parrot, actually. He’s a year old and his name is Mira. He doesn’t talk. I tried to get him for me, but Mom said no. Don’t you just love him?”
The not talking part might have been the only good thing about him. He was pretty, sure- I mean, how bad could a parrot be? Their life span had to be, what, a year?
As if reading my mind, Anna chimed, “They can live up to fifty whole years.”
I groaned again and looked over Mira. He was green and yellow and tilted his head at me curiously.
“Um… Mira want a cracker?” I tried half-heartedly. Anna giggled.
“You can’t do that!”
Yup, I was in for it with this bird.
Atlanta, Georgia, 1996
After a while, I got used to the bird. He went about his business, I went about mine. It was kind of nice, actually- I gave him his food and cleaned out his cage, he sang on sunny days. I cleaned out my apartment one day and found an old tablecloth to hang on his cage and a water bottle to hang on the gold-painted brass from the pet store. He was also a good listener. I told him all about how my dad died the previous year, and how I was worried about Anna’s mom- something wasn’t quite right there.
Atlanta, Georgia, 1998
I think the real reason I started to love Mira was for Jared. He was my coworker at the restaurant I waitressed at. He helped me carry my new refrigerator up the four flights of stairs and absolutely went nuts over my bird.
Lucky for me, he went absolutely nuts over me, too. He told me his hopes and dreams- he wanted to be a teacher and was working on his degree. Soon, we were going on dates, and then we were dating. In the summer of 1998, he got down on one knee. We moved into a small house and of course, Mira came with us.
Seattle, Washington, 2004
After I had my first child, I became incredibly worried about my sister, Mary. She wasn’t quite right in the head, I feared, and my fears became validated when the police arrested her for drug abuse. Anna came to live with us while she finished up high school, and she was extremely angry. She threw Mica’s- my five-year-old son- toy bird across the room and scowled when she saw my bird.
I think the bird reminds her of better days, and I also think the denial she’s living in is working pretty well for her- or so she thinks. I saw a crack in her armor yesterday, though, when she cried in her room. She took Mira with her, and he really is a good listener.
Seattle, Washington, 2010
Mica turned eleven today! Of course, he begged and pleaded for a dog, but I can’t handle Mira and a new puppy at the same time. No, he’ll have to deal with the old bird. And he was getting old. The bird and the boy. Jacob, the elementary teacher, takes him out to play catch all the time now.
Sometimes, I get scared that I have what my sister had. She died three years ago- a drug overdose. I don’t do drugs, but that’s not what drove my sister over the edge. No, Mary was crazy. And it terrified her. And her terror drove her over the edge. Sometimes, I see shadows in my room. One night, Jacob went to a workshop a few hours west and I got so scared I brought Mira in. I didn’t tell him, though- no, secrets like that have to be kept with my bird.
Seattle, Washington, 2016
I can’t believe Mica is a sophomore in high school. And Anna married! I visited Mary’s grave last week- I had to talk to her. Sometimes Mira isn’t enough. I had to tell her about the shadows. My big sister. I remember playing hide and seek through the fields of my parents’ farm. She was always so strong- surely she can drive the shadows away. Sometimes I fear, even with Jacob in the room, one will come up and grab me.
Seattle, Washington, 2020
Jacob died last week. He was driving home in his truck, and… he died. An eighteen-wheeler ran into him. A hit-and-run. I’ll be angry about it, maybe, later on. Right now I’m just numb. So numb the shadows went away. If it weren’t for Mira… just, Mira.
Seattle, Washington, 2022
The shadows are back. The shadows are back, and there’s no one home. Except for Mira.
Seattle, Washington, 2024
I’m scared. So, so scared. I called Mica and told him. Sometimes I’m so sad about Jacob that I feel like I should break apart. And robberies. Robberies! What if someone breaks in?
Seattle, Washington, 2025
My doctor says I have paranoia. Mica took Mira away- he says I can’t live with him unless the bird goes, that his child is scared, and that living with him is not an option. It’s because of the shadows.
Seattle, Washington, 2026
Mira died, they tell me. He went to live with Anna, and... he died.
Everyone is dying.
Grace Ann Baker
Beloved Wife, Mother, Friend