In eighth grade, we used to have these egg races. Each week, Mr. Michel would give us an egg. On Friday, we would come up with a contraption that would keep the egg from breaking if it fell. Then we would sprint while holding the egg in one hand. The lesson was supposed to be on ethics. Balance. Care.
I never had any of them. Every single time, the bright yolk would sink onto the blades of grass. Every time, I would bend over, under the hot Utah sun and swear under my breath. My hands would be clammy and my eyes would feel close to crying as the egg whites spewed out of the shell.
I was never good at that.
It was Thursday. My sneakers hugged my feet like hot flames. I brushed my hair on my shoulder to keep it from touching my damp neck. The air was still and the sun beat down on my back. The beat of my walking made a tap on the ground. I started to turn into my garage when I heard a noise. It was a gentle tweet. Like a calling. A soft bittersweet melody. I stopped in my tracks. In between two branches of a lithe birch sat a bird.
It was the ugliest thing that I had ever seen.
Its skin was light pink and its eyes were big brown beads laired in peach-edged veins. A few single strands of hair scattered its corpse. I twisted over and laid down my backpack.
There were no more eggs and no mother bird. I pushed my mango-coloured fingernails underneath the nest. The twigs made cracking sounds and the leaves crunched.
The bird started to circle in panic. I paused. Hesitating. What if it already had parents and a home? But they would be here by now. I started to continue pulling it out, on my tiptoes. It finally slid out of the grove made of powdered leaves. I stayed balanced as I pulled it down, slowly bending my knees in a ninety-degree angle and putting the nest on the ground.
I slung my heavy bag over my side and brang the nest inside.
"What the heck are you doing?" my mom's scream echoed down the hall.
I braced myself for more screaming. Leaves scattered the living room couch. Broken twigs sunk into the carpet like a donkey in quicksand. It was a mess. The pitch-perfect granite counters had pulpy orange juice dripping off of them. The bird was really great at ruining everything.
"I-uhh-might-have found a-bird?" I squeaked, trying to ignore how stupid I sounded.
"And you thought you could just bring the bird in the house and let it demolish our living room?" Mom's cheeks were patched up with anger.
I sighed, clutching my bag and bending my head down.
"I'm sorry." I kept my head down.
"I shouldn't have yelled but- Lory, a family is coming to view the house in thirty minutes."
Now I felt bad. She had every right to yell.
It took about 20 minutes to clean the room. Then I ran to the bird that sat quietly in the sink. The bird was kind of wet, its scarce hair gleamed against its smooth skin.
I picked it up, my hands feeling rough against its smooth skin. I felt like I was holding the egg. So fragile in my hands. I looked at its eyes. They stared back at me. The bird's eyes were so huge in comparison to its body. Like a dwarf planet hovering next to Jupiter. Suddenly, I was an elephant.
I was so big, holding the tiny bird in my hands. So clumsy. Rocking the bird in my palms, I started to traipse across the floor on the balls of my feet to Dad's office. Melon's birdcage sat on his office table. Thin metal wire strung together with flowers indented in each wire. The little door was open. I crouched down and looked through the hole. All I could see was spiralling metal. I immediately got back up, feeling nauseous and claustrophobic. No. I wasn't going to put the bird in. That would be wrong. Hostile.
I went to my room and placed the bird on my bookshelf on top of a velvet book titled Philanthropy. It squeaked. I didn't know what to do. Cluelessly, I handed it one of my books. Then, a squishy toy. Then, a thin slice of a carrot. It started to peck on that. I felt like I was in the eighth grade. Trying to be careful. Smart. Ethical. Three qualities, of which I was not.
"I'll call you Pretty Ugly. Your nickname can be Pree." I smiled, resting on my chair, "It's a pretty okay oxymoron."
The bird nibbled on the carrot and tweeted.
"I assume that means okay?"
It tweeted again, a little louder, carrot shavings clinging to its skin.
"Yeah, I get it! You love your name."
I fell asleep to tweaks, groans, and squeaks.
My mom nudged me awake.
"Hey, your bird is gone." Her long brown hair covered her forehead.
"What?" I almost shouted, lifting my bangs from my face.
She pointed to a half-opened window. Sun spilt through it along with subtle gusts of air.
"It must've opened by itself or something. I swear I didn't open it."
"Honey. You left it open. But that's a good thing, isn't it? You cared for it for a while and now it's free to fly on its own."
"Its name is Pretty Ugly. Call it Pree!" My fists clenched and I could feel my cheeks heating up faster than an oven.
"They'll be many opportunities to take in birds. It's summer all year long."
"Okayyyy." I sighed, "I kinda maybe sorta liked it." No, I didn't, I loved Pree.
"Well, you sure cared for it better than those eggs in eighth grade." My mom wraps her arm around me
"I sure did," I said grinning.
Yes, I did. With lots of care.