Two weeks ago I was cutting the hedge on one of those fine sunny afternoons when I heard a cat pounce somewhere behind me. I looked around to see if it was Emma, our eldest, who is a ruthless hunter and brings in ‘trophies’ of birds, mice and shrews, most of them mercifully dead. Instead, I saw that it was Darcy, the youngest of our two felines. Darcy was born in the wild but her pastimes are reading the ‘Irish Times’ when you’re doing the crossword, eating and sleeping and dreaming about eating as often as possible. She hasn’t heard about the Atkins’ diet and is normally incapable of catching even low-flying, exhausted butterflies. She usually flops before she can reach them.
I noticed that Darcy had something in her mouth and was strutting down the garden like a horse on parade, all pomp and show. She headed into the house to carry out an autopsy and to boast to Emma, with me in hot pursuit. I deceived her into thinking I was proud of her, grabbed her by the back of the neck and made her release what was, in fact, a nestling. I picked it up and presumed it was dead but the little thing was still gasping and in a state of shock. I turned it over and could see no discernible fang marks in the flesh beneath its down, no blood or fluid. There was no movement either in its long claws, which reminded me, strangely, of the arthritic fingers of an old woman.
Darcy was perplexed at the disappearance of her takeaway but began eating the few feathers that were stuck to her whiskers. I took the chick out to the utility room, put some tissues in the bottom of a plastic bucket to ease its discomfort, locked the door and left it there to die in peace.
I checked it every hour and every hour that I checked, the chick was still alive and breathing less frantically. I lifted it and held it in the palm of my hand and rolled it over. I was surprised at how warm it felt. Again, there were no apparent lethal wounds, though he – for I had decided it was a he – had no grip in his claws. I wondered if his legs were broken.
“Let’s see you, Nemo,” I said, before realising that I had named him.
I got some bread and milk but Nemo wouldn’t eat. I phoned my wife Leslie at work and she told me there was a syringe in one of the drawers.
We had previously used the syringe to give liquid Calpol to one Miss Medbh Hanan Flanagan, aka Sarah Bernhardt for her theatrical performances and swooning when accused of misdemeanours. Miss Medbh, who stays with us twice a week, has just turned three.
I filled the syringe with water and Nemo avidly drank and gargled it at the back of his throat. When he had had enough he simple whisked his head from side to side and sent spray into my face. I had thought that he was a house sparrow but when I looked up a few nature books I was convinced that Nemo was a dunnock, though the only thing I could get him to eat were small seeds in some dripping. He was able to crack them open and I discovered he had a considerable grip. In fact, more than once Nemo lock-jawed onto my finger and hung there, twisting and turning like a crocodile feasting on fresh meat.
I then moved him to my study upstairs and kept the door closed. He needed fed often and the first good sign was that he regularly soiled his bedding. I fed him during the day and Leslie fed him last thing at night and at 6.30 in the morning. After all, we reckoned, birds aren’t out foraging for their chicks during the dark, so we were entitled to some sleep.
It got to the stage where I was picking him up every twenty minutes and in the evening wondered where the day had gone and what writing had I done to prove I existed. In other words, I, like Leslie, became emotionally involved with this small bird. I also made the mistake of telling Ms Medbh that we had a bird in my study. She insisted on being introduced and we were worried that she would silently make her own way upstairs and might also forget to close the door to Emma and Darcy.
It was a Saturday morning and Nemo was gone. Medbh got up and wanted to know where he was and I told her that he had flown away. I lied. An hour earlier I had buried him under the very bush where Darcy had pounced on him. When I came home from a Feile dinner late the night before Leslie said, “Nemo’s dead. I checked him at eight and he was fine but when I looked in at ten he was dead.” Like her, I was saddened but not entirely surprised.
One day when it was hot I had opened the window and the sound of birdsong entered the room. Nemo seemed a bit frantic. I lifted him in the palm of my hand and he made a pathetic attempt at flying and hit the glass. The only way he could stand up was by supporting himself on his unfolded wings, which made me think that Darcy had probably broken his legs. The whole time he was with us he had never chirped and in the last day he had become lethargic and smelt a bit, something I hadn’t noticed before. And then he died with his eyes wide open. A little bit of pleasure and treasure to us.
And that’s the story of finding and losing Nemo.
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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison