Read the first part of Birdcages (a selection from Crossing Over)
The house looked ordinary enough from the outside, except for all the birdcages cluttering the windows. It was a tidy split-level with fresh paint, clean gutters, and no cobwebs. Three boat-shaped cars with collector’s tags parked side-by-side in the driveway along with haphazard puddles of plastic-bagged newspapers. The green of the lawn looked like Easter grass with neatly trimmed edges. The folks who lived here spent a lot on water and maintenance.
Neighbor children thundered around the cul-de-sac on low-slung tricycles and slid to a stop beside the animal control van that I’d parked in front of the house. A mother, the designated watcher, sat under a flowering tree and kept an eye on the children. Children were never safe, not even here in the suburbs, so I gave her a friendly wave to let her know that everything was all right.
She sprang to her feet and frowned. Shading her eyes, she leaned forward as if she wanted to inch closer but didn’t dare. Dogs yipped from behind wooden fences behind her. They sensed my presence, and they didn’t like what they scented.
But I wasn’t here for them, not today.
The picture windows, one on each level of the house, looked like winking eyes on a crooked face. Perhaps they laughed at, or perhaps they cried for unwary visitors. Beside the front door a skinny window displayed a vertical birdcage. Stepping up to the front porch, I spied in the upper picture window a row of squat birdcages, their perches aligned. One long row of little feathered bodies crossed the length of the window, their backs facing me, as they watched some spectacle inside the room. Their low chatter, punctuated by a few shrieks, pierced my soul. They sounded so…sad. Melancholy. I ached for them. And for me.
Even so, I thought, this was an easier job than last week’s case of the young fellow with thirty-six cats in a single trailer.
Junipers crowded against the lower picture window, shading its dark maw. I leaned closer, and something thumped against the glass, a whunking sound of a bird flying into a window. I squeezed past the fragrant branches, searching for the wounded bird, but it was not there. A faint light pulsed strobe-like from deep within the dark interior, perhaps reflecting off a mirror in a small bathroom. What on earth went on in there?
“May I help you?” a stiff voice called out before I could crawl any closer to investigate.
Standing, I brushed the dirt from my knees and slid back onto the porch. The woman with the stiff voice held the door open a slit, to the end of a length of gold chain. Veins stood out on the claw of her hand as she clutched a velour robe tightly to her throat. Her hair, a tangle of gray, resembled a bird’s nest balancing atop a pillar-shaped statue.
“Yes ma’am,” I said, putting on my most winsome voice. Through the open crack, a stench rolled out and barreled into my face. I held my breath, showed her my identification, and asked about her bird collection. I’m interested in birds myself, I said, and would like to see her collection. I didn’t tell her about the complaints called in from her lawn service people. They called her a witch. Interesting, that no complaints ever came from the neighbors. As if they wanted to keep their distance from the old lady.
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