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Mr. Budgie's Dead

My-Daddy is king

By Erin LeonardPublished 2 years ago 18 min read
Mr. Budgie's Dead
Photo by Tawhid Khan on Unsplash

Lunch is never going to happen the way lunch is supposed to happen since My-Daddy came home in the minutes when lunch happens every single day. Which is A-okay with me, because My-Daddy is the king of this world, Momma’s the queen, and I’m My-Daddy's princess.

That’s what My-Daddy says to me when I run out the front door to give him my best hug before he can ever get out of his long black car. One, Air-Force-zipper pocket leg’s out, one, Air-Force-zipper pocket leg’s in. Zipper pockets all over My-Daddy in his funny, green, one big zipper-up-the middle piece of clothes. My-Daddy reaching across that sofa seat for what My-Daddy calls his "duffel bag,” sitting in the place where Momma sits on Sunday drives, when Sundays come the same time My-Daddy’s home from flying airplanes all over the sky above. Me, I’m shouting, My-Daddy, and My-Daddy shouting back: “Princess! Come and give your poor tired daddy a kiss.”

And I do. I kiss with an umm-wah smack to show My-Daddy that he has been gone too long for my princess heart to take.

My-Daddy carries me up the sidewalk to our house in one of his arms. Momma comes from the inside of the house to the out. My-Daddy drops his duffel bag and pulls Momma close. The three of us squeeze hard together. Momma puts her head against My-Daddy and the three of us walk the rest of the sidewalk down in one crazy mess.

That’s what Momma calls everything in this world right after she hangs up the phone, right after she says, Honey, your Daddy’s coming home, she says, “Oh Lord, look at this crazy mess,” to nobody there, just herself, watching her head turn from side to side, with her fingers moving in a hurry through all her curls of her head, watching her fingers change the design that covers, my prettiest Momma in all the worlds, head.

My-Daddy takes his arm from around Momma. Bends with me and turns the doorknob on our front door. My-Daddy straightens, puts his arm back around Momma’s shoulder, and kicks our front door open with one of his shiny black, laces the whole way up, boots. My-Daddy moves us through the door, all hugging close, across the “Welcome Home” rug, into Momma’s, “Oh, Lord, look at this crazy mess,” together.

Our front door stays wide open. I slide down My-Daddy until my toes touch the inside of our house. Above My-Daddy is the sign I don’t know how to read but reminds me that I have something dead important to say. My-Daddy reaches down and gives me another kiss. The kiss goes straight to the place where I go when I close my eyes and cannot see my body. The side of my face is scratchy from the realness of My-Daddy’s kiss. I open my eyes and see Momma looking at My-Daddy’s face. See My-Daddy looking only at Momma. See those faces come together. See all of their arms pull the other body close. See the sign above their heads.

I say, “My-Daddy.”

My-Daddy and Momma kiss.

On the sign are green rolling hills and white little houses with one bigger house close to the front. At the bigger house are pink pretty flowers.

I say, “My-Daddy!”

My-Daddy and Momma still kiss.

On the sign are words My-Daddy said is what he and I are: the Irish.

I say, “Daddy.”

Momma and My-Daddy don’t stop.

The words I know by heart in My-Daddy’s voice. On the sign the Irish say, “May you be half an hour in Heaven, before the Devil knows you’re dead.”

“My-Daddy,” I say, “DADDDIEE!”

Momma stops kissing My-Daddy and says, “Honey, what?”

I say, “No. ME!”

My-Daddy looks down at me.

I say, “Do you want, you want, do you want,” I say, “do you want, want to know what?”

My-Daddy says, “Whoa. ‘Cess, slow down. Take a breath.”

I take a breath, look up at the sign and say, “You want to know what?”

My-Daddy says, “What?”

I say, “Momma’s Aunt, Aunt, Aunt Rose fell out of her tree.”

My-Daddy’s eyebrows move close together. He says, “Come again?”

I say exactly how what I remember being said. I take another breath, I say, “Momma’s Aunt Rose is loony.”

My-Daddy laughs.

I say, “Loony enough to get locked up, that’s, that’s, that’s what Uncle Jimmy said.”

My-Daddy howls and says, “Darlin,’ tell your daddy something new!”

Momma says, “Stop it, Joe. It’s true.”

My-Daddy laughs and howls the harder.

Momma stomps her foot. Says, “I mean it Joe. Aunt Rose went and had herself committed!”

Now, My-Daddy tries to stop.

Momma’s face looks about to break a plate.

I say, “I, I, I didn’t, didn’t tell anybody our secret. I, I didn’t do that Daddy.”

Momma does what My-Daddy did, only her eyebrows are thin and make a scary curvy line together. Momma looks right at My-Daddy not looking right at My-Daddy like she did before.

“What secret?” Momma says.

My-Daddy looks at Momma like he doesn’t know.

“What secret?” He says just to me.

“The BIG secret,” I say, like I should, since My-Daddy, the Devil and me are the only ones who know.

One of Momma’s hand pulls at the side of her polka dotted dress. The other has a finger pointing straight at My-Daddy.

Momma says, “Joe, you didn’t take her into another bar, did you? I swear I will start screaming here and now if she starts talking about green olives!”

My-Daddy comes down to me, holds my shoulders, and says, “’Cess, tell daddy our secret, it’s okay if Momma hears.”

I look over my shoulder. Momma stops her talking. My-Daddy lets go of me and I walk to where I was looking, backwards, because now I’m looking up at the Irish words being spoke right above my head. My body touches our front door. I lean hard against it. Go with the door in a big slamming shut

I take a big breath and say, “Momma, Mr. Budgie’s dead.”

Momma says, “who?”

“Mr. Budgie,” I say again, “Aunt Rose’s talking bird, is dead.”

Momma comes to me. Gets down on both her knees just like she does in church.

“Oh, honey,” Momma says, “Aunt Rose’s birdie’s not dead. She brought him, cage and all, with her on her vacation.”

Momma takes both my hands in hers, holds them to make them warm, or she’s going to start her praying.

“No Momma,” I say, “not that one. The real Mr. Budgie’s dead.”

My-Daddy jumps up to both of his feet, holds out his arms, showing me all of him.

“Hey, which pocket?” My-Daddy says to me.

I don’t guess any of his zippered pockets.

Momma says, “Oh, Joe, she’s been like this since my brother—I swear I’m going to strangle him—did all his stupid talking. Poor baby girl has done nothing since but play funeral for a solid week!”

“I didn’t,” I say, “I didn’t really do it.”

Momma’s finger makes a slow circle on my cheek.

“Well honey-girl, then tell Momma why you keep trying to bury your pretty muff in Momma’s flower bed?”

I blink. Changing from what I am saying to guessing what Momma wants to know. Takes my mind to remember what the word, muff, means. I remember. I remember what Momma’s Aunt Rose gave me that very day I now am trying to talk about, wishing the moving pictures of that day would come out of my head and into my mouth in the making sense words so I can tell Momma what it is she really needs to know.

In the beginning of that day, before My-Daddy and me stayed home at Momma’s Aunt Rose’s apartment to watch Mr. Budgie bird or else Momma’s Aunt Rose wasn’t going out to dinner and leave her “Pretty Boy” all alone; before I changed his name from “Pretty Boy” to Mr. Budgie because of watching T.V., seeing Mr. Ed—A horse is a horse, of course, of course, unless the horse can talk, of course—before I put my hand, all the way past my elbow into that silver metal cage, before, but after, Mr. Ed was over and I went back into Aunt Rose’s kitchen to set Mr. Budgie free and there Mr. Budgie was laying longways at the bottom, side of his face in the sand. Before I knew that Mr. Budgie wasn’t sleeping after I showed My-Daddy and My-Daddy said, “Jesus Christ, that’s all I need, that goddam bird is dead!” Before all that, in the beginning of that day of us still being in the city where we don’t live or know ever where we are, but everybody asks, “So how do you like St. Louis? Been to the Arch yet?” Aunt Rose handed me a pretty box with a red bow that she got down from the top of her coat closet by climbing up on a shaky chair, and in her coming down, the chair flopped over. Aunt Rose fell a small ways to the ground, hurt her bottom, and she, sitting on the floor, holding that pretty box tight in both hands, eyes shut tight, started shouting about “a God-forsaken communist” that sneaks around her apartment in the middle of the night and loosens all the bolts from all her chairs, to “Call the police!” until she opened her eyes, looked at me looking at her, handed me the pretty box, and in an out of breath voice said, “Here Sugar, here’s a little something to keep you warm when you walk downtown to see Santa Claus.”

I tore open that box fast. Inside, was something bright white and softer than a kitten. Something that felt good to slide all over my face and slow down my neck.

“That’s a muff,” Momma’s Aunt Rose said. “Go ahead, stick your hands inside it.”

Momma’s hand stop making slow circles on my face.

“My, my muff,” I say, “is dead.”

“See Joe,” Momma says.

“Hell,” My-Daddy says, “she doesn’t need that thing anyway, this is Texas.”

My-Daddy walks over to Momma and me.

“’Cess,” he says, “Daddy’s got a surprise for you in one of my pockets. Want to guess?”

I shake my head no.

My-Daddy slowly un-zips a pocket under one of his knees.

Don’t want to, but I look to where he’s un-zipping.

My-Daddy pulls out of that pocket something red and white. He shakes it loose and holds it out for me to see.

“All the cowgirls wear these vests,” My-Daddy says.

“Girl cows don’t wear clothes,” I answer back.

“Cowgirls? Cowboys? Roy Rogers? Dale Evans? Happy trails to you—My-Daddy sings.

“Momma,” I whisper, “tell Aunt Rose that Mr. Budgie’s dead and I didn’t mean to do it.”

“Do what?” Momma says.

“Touch him, soft like this,” I say, putting one of my fingers down Momma’s cheek.

“…until we meet again. Happy trails to you”

“Joe!” Momma shouts. “Stop you singing. Can’t you see our child is upset!”

My-Daddy stops. Folds his arms together. I fold mine just like him.

Momma says, “Sweetie, tell momma what you want to say.”

“Daddy said he could fix it,” I say, unfolding back my arms and start to twist around my second-to-longest finger.

“Fix what?” Momma asks.

Inside my head, the moving picture goes of being back in Aunt Rose’s apartment kitchen. Of looking up at My-Daddy and knowing the feeling that I was going to start to cry after My-Daddy asked me hard if I touched the parakeet. Then My-Daddy changing all the way back to him, said, “Don’t you worry ‘Cess, Daddy’s going to fix this.”

My-Daddy went to one of those kitchen drawers, pulled out a paper sack, marched fast back to the cage on the kitchen table, opened the little swinging door, picked up Mr. Budgie, and dropped him in the paper sack. Rolling the top of the brown paper down, My-Daddy said, “Cess, get your coat, you and got to get a move on.”

The brown paper sack I could not take my eyes off of.

I said, “But Mr. Budgie’s dead.”

“Not for long,” My-Daddy said, “he’s about to have a resurrection!”

I said, “Momma’s Aunt Rose is going to get mad.”

My-Daddy swung on his long coat.

“Oh no siree, this bird within an hour will be back in that cage quite alive,” My-Daddy said. “Come on, ‘Cess, let’s go.”

And go we did. I ran to keep up with the fast walk of My-Daddy. Ran putting on my coat, new muff rope around my neck, ran down the hall, and into the elevator. My-Daddy pushed the right buttons to bring us down. I watched the lights. Ran as soon as the elevator doors opened, across the black and white echo squares, to the big doors right before the city street where all the city people walk back and forth, and I came to a stop next to My-Daddy. The man in a red fancy coat and tall black hat, who opens the door to the city street and who knows everybody’s name said, “Mr. O’Malley you sure look in a hurry.”

My-Daddy whispered in his ear.

The fancy man said, “Lord have mercy, all Miss Hobbs ever talks about is that bird.”

My-Daddy whispered more into his ear.

The fancy man looked down at me. “Lord have mercy,” he said, then he looked back up to My-Daddy, “don’t you worry. I’ll do my best to keep them from going up, but you better hurry.”

Hurry we did. Ran my fastest to keep up with My-Daddy on the longest sidewalk I have ever been on. Ran through the store doors, past shelves of perfume and fancy powders, past pencils and notebooks, past shelves of bottles and pills, ran all the way to the back, where we stopped. Not on account there was not room left to run on account there wasn’t no more reason to. Along the whole back wall of the store were giant glass cages filled with puppies, kittens, and birds.

My-Daddy walked over to the wall with the birds that were the same brand as Mr. Budgie. Stood looking at the birds flying and hopping from stick to stick. I walked up and put my hand up to the glass.

“May I help you?” Asked a lady in a doctor’s coat.

My-Daddy said, “Yes, we want to buy a parakeet.”

The lady bent herself down to me and said, “I bet the birdie’s a pet for you, oh my, don’t you look pretty?”

The lady reached down and brushed her hand across my muff.

“Oh, I don’t care what they say,” she said, “rabbit is the softest fur.”

I said, “Are rabbits here?”

The lady laughed. Then said, “no silly I’m talking about your muff.”

“My muff is not a rabbit,” I said.

“Used to be,” the lady said.

I looked down at the soft white. Pulled the rope from off my neck. Saw what the lady saw right off—saw most of what makes a rabbit, rabbit.

“Excuse me,” My-Daddy said, “we’re in an awful hurry.”

“Of course, a parakeet,” the lady said, “now, do you know what sex or color it is that you want?”

“Exactly,” My-Daddy said, reached into the paper sack and pulled out dead Mr. Budgie.

The lady’s hands went straight to cover her mouth.

My-Daddy took a step toward her. The lady took a step back. My-Daddy did the head thing to show he wanted the lady to come over closer to him. The lady took little steps, watched My-Daddy’s hand that was holding Mr. Budgie. She kept watching My-Daddy’s hand ad My-Daddy whispered into her ear. The lady changed her face from looking sick to looking sorry to looking right at me.

“Poor little dear,” the lady said.

I dropped my muff to the floor. Took a look at the places where should’ve been a head, a tail, and feet.

“Poor little dear,” I said.

The lady took the paper sack and folded the sack flat.

“Put the bird right there,” she said and had the sack laying on her hand.

“Can you bring Mr. Budgie back to life?” I asked.

The lady smiled and said, “Wait right here.”

Behind the glass wall, the lady appeared with a little net, and with the little net, scooped up one of the birds.

The lady came back carrying a white box in one hand and the paper sack in the other. The lady handed both out to My-Daddy. My-Daddy took the box and pushed the lady’s hand holding the paper sack back close to her.

“Thank you for fixing Mr. Budgie,” My-Daddy said.

The lady said, “Oh no sir, I’m afraid I can’t dispose of this.”

My-Daddy took the sack and set the sack down on top of the glass counter. My-Daddy leaned down and handed the box to me. The box was light. Something was moving, hopping around inside. My-Daddy took some money out and handed the money to the lady. When the lady turned around to do something to the money, My-Daddy laid the paper sack down sideways on the glass counter just like the lady did when she took away Mr. Budgie laying sideways looking stiff. This time, the sack wasn’t folding flat. My-Daddy rolled the sack from the bottom to the very top. The lady turned back around, handed money back to My-Daddy.

“Thank you, sir,” she said.

My-Daddy nodded, put the money back in his wallet. “Thank you,” he said, and picked up the sack in the same hand as his wallet, then stuck his hand into the pocket nobody can see inside the top part of his coat.

“Come back again,” the lady said.

“Hope I never have to,” My-Daddy said.

“Well, best of luck then,” the lady said to My-Daddy, then leaned over the glass and said to me, “Be careful now. Remember, this time don’t you squeeze it!”

My hands went tight around the box.

My-Daddy took me by the shoulders. Backed me over to where he could bend his knees, down to me, and un-buttoned the top two buttons of my coat.

“Honey,” My-Daddy said low down just to me, “that lady doesn’t understand our secret. Do you?”

I stopped looking at the lady smile and looked only at My-Daddy’s eyes.

“Mr. Budgie’s in your pocket,” I said.

My-Daddy’s eyes blinked faster than they ever do.

“No,” My-Daddy said, “Aunt Rose wouldn’t like that, because all Aunt Rose loves is Mr. Budgie. Loves him like I love you.”

I said, “but, Mr. Budgie’s dead.”

“Is that so?” My-Daddy said. “Then who’s in that box you’re holding onto?”

“The new Mr. Budgie,” I said.

My-Daddy pulled me closer. Spoke directly into my ear. “The secret is,” My-Daddy whispered, “this lady thinks she’s magic. She thinks she brought Mr. Budgie back to life, so your Momma’s Aunt Rose won’t get mad and hate you.”

Then My-Daddy looked me in the face and did a perfect wink. I looked up to the lady still leaning over the counter smiling down at me. She winked too.

My-Daddy took the box from my hands and put the box next to my chest, and said, “There, he’ll stay warm. Come on. We got to get a move on.”

The lady shouted, “Oh, don’t forget your muff!”

I shouted back, “That’s okay, you can keep it.”

My-Daddy picked up my muff and stuffed it next to the box in my almost buttoned coat.

“Let’s go,” he said, picked me up, and took off running. My-Daddy running, holding me, me holding the new Mr. Budgie warm against my chest, dead rabbit stuffed inside my coat, all the way back to Aunt Rose’s apartment.

“Sweetie,” Momma says, “what was Daddy going to fix?”

The moving picture stops.

My-Daddy looks at me and winks.

“Lunch,” is what I say, “hate you,” is what I think.

“Lunch?” Momma says.

“Lunch, of course!” My-Daddy shouts.

I look up at the sign, at what he and I are, at all those little white houses with the bigger house in front.

My-Daddy says, “How ‘bout pancakes and strawberries and ice cream?”

“Yes!” I shout but make the hand sign for My-Daddy to get down close to me.

Momma says, “Oh Joe I don’t know...”

My-Daddy does, and he says, “What?”

I point to the Irish words and My-Daddy lifts me up and takes me closer to the picture.

“I remembered to look, “I whisper inside My-Daddy’s ear, “in your coat pocket.”

My-Daddy looks at the Irish words.

Momma comes over close to us.

“Is that your big secret? She just loves looking at that picture,” Momma says, “don’t you baby-girl? She’s always saying how those pink flowers are like mine outside in the garden bed.”

My-Daddy looks the window at Momma’s flowerbed, then back to me looking right at him.

“I fixed it,” I say and nod my head.

My-Daddy looks right at me in the eyes.

I try my best to wink.

“Look at her trying to do just what you do. I swear Joe she worships the earth you walk on,” Momma says and

Momma puts her hand on My-Daddy’s chest. My-Daddy pulls Momma close and gives her a kiss on the head. Kisses me on the cheek.

“I’m one lucky man,” My-Daddy says, and he closes his eyes hugging us all together like we like to be when My-Daddy’s home.

Short Story

About the Creator

Erin Leonard

As a writer, I enjoy writing short stories, screenplays, and poems.

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