The Montreal Review, August, 2010
There was no rain for five days; everything in Georgia turned to dust. That's all it ever took. And Jan has zero common sense. She drove to Wrens right alongside a dirt devil in a dormant field, flattened the grass by parking next to the lot and picked three buckets of strawberries with four girls at the height of the heat.
"Weigh them yourself and leave a check," the owner ditched in his note. "Have a blessed day."
There were no other cars. No one else is crazy enough to come out at this hour in July-except for a swim. 106 the deejay said. But Jan takes precautions, she does: sun blocking all shoulders and anything else peaked, plus insisting on hats-mostly.
The girls hold baskets and meander limply down the aisles, like thirsty, defeated impatiens planted on the wrong side of the house.
Jan desperately needs this to be a good time but the truth of the matter? It's too hot to pick, never mind laugh while doing it.
We could go for some soft serve, she thinks conspiratorially, on the drive home.
But Maya points out a sign: 'birds for sale' and begins to whine so earnestly that at the last possible second, Jan concedes and pulls into the dirt driveway embanked on all sides by cattails and tall grass to the protest of two of the older girls who are nervous.
They always second-guess her.
Maya grins like a champ.
The narrow lane winds to a shaded, overrun lot with a double wide. Jan steps out of the vehicle; it's Georgia midday and the shade doesn't take the edge off the heat any.
She tells the girls to stand by, lock the doors and keep a phone within reach.
After a minute a large-boned woman in a housedress cracks open the battered door all the while giving a stiff talking to someone concealed or at something unseen.
Jan wonders if she's nuts then asks about the birds. Is it a bad time? Is this the right place? Is there still one available? If so, what kind?
The woman in the housedress holds the door wide inviting her entry and Jan steps over the threshold onto brown and gold linoleum. She quickly returns to the porch and summons the girls with a wave of her arm.
All four emerge from the car and trip toward the trailer with curiosity, leaning into each other, giggling Deliverance jokes.
But inside the door, they lose their irreverence.
A flock of hundreds-varying breeds-nestle in a large sundrenched aviary. It encompasses half of the trailer. All species and size: Finches, Parakeets, and Budgies perch in the roomiest cages. Sun Conures, Cockatiels, Cockatoos, Parrots, and the smartest birds in the room-African Grays-chirp and make noise according to feather. Newborn chicks appear nurtured with plenty of food, water and attention.
Maya stands rapt.
The girls drift cage to next chirping bird, all baby-talk, perching anything willing onto their shoulders and head. Hands touch wings, eyes unite, they cock their heads, mimic each other.
Maya grows attached to a yellow cockatiel with a Mohawk who she swears is showing off for her.
How 'bout that one? Jan says to her girl. He'd make a nice pet.
But her girl's hesitant. She has her work cut out she says. You need to save up; plan things. First cart, then horse.
When did you suddenly get so mature? Jan asks like she's joking.
She watches her fourteen year-old, her baby, release the cockatiel onto the roof of its cage which little resignation coincides with a slow, steady fracturing somewhere deep in Jan's chest. She clutches her shoulder gently.
Last week made sense. Last week was time out for vocally coveting Ariel on a friend's birthday cake and life lessons because of hissy fits over Polly Pocket. Yesterday was none of this road less travelled.
Maya and the woman in the housedress share their contempt for Pet Co and Pet Smart and then it is time to leave.
Lorri Rupard is a Canadian - a Toronto native - currently residing in the U.S. She is finishing her degree in creative writing; four of her poems have been published in The Black Boot.
Images: Louise Camille Fenne.
Louise Camille Fenne is a Danish painter. In North America, her works can be purchased at Ann Long Fine Art Gallery (54 Broad Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29401) and Eleanor Ettinger Gallery (119 Spring Street, New York 10012)