A Robin Died in my Hands Today

72 degrees! My god, after better than 6 months of awful winter weather I couldn’t have wished for a more perfect day. And I love this time of year, when it warms enough to be comfortable outside, enjoying a meal on the patio of our small courtyard without being swarmed by insects. I took full advantage to put in a couple of basil and Mint plants, sweep out the leaves an organize our modest little garden.

The cats were outside, lounging strategically around the courtyard. Jinx, our black shelter cat was on one of the patios across the yard. Smudge, our ASPCA rescue kitty, who just turned 14 was sprawled across a lawn chair half in and half out of the shade. Oliver, our Maine Coon, was at the end of the yard beneath the hedges. Among the shadows and against a short brick wall Oliver’s thick coat of deep umber and wood-brown made him virtually invisible.

A neighbor, Mitchell, came over for a chat about the radio station. Mitchell is a conservative and doesn’t agree with a damn thing I say, but we’ve always been good and considerate. At heart Mitchell is a decent guy, who’d grown up an orphan during the depression, haunting the same Wicker Park corner as the writer Nelson Algren. Suddenly we hear a screeching from the back of the yard. Both of us turn to find Oliver trotting across the yard in our direction with this old Robin in his mouth.

Now the back story on that Robin is key. For more than a year now that Robin has teased and taunted Oliver in the courtyard. He would stalk it, all the while the bird was well aware of what that cat was up to. Oliver would lunge and the bird would launch at the last moment, landing a few yards away each time, at least until Oliver gave up. Just last week the wife and I were sitting on the patio watching this little game. It was plainly evident what the bird was up to. From the patio I would cajole Oliver with “Dude, you will never catch that bird.”

Three years ago I was sitting at my computer when I heard an ungodly screeching, only to look up. Sure enough Oliver had this giant black bird that had been stalking and diving on Oliver. Her was just about Two years old at the time. Standing in the patio door, Oliver had the blackbird between the wing and its body. Despite the squealing and flailing of the bird Oliver looked at me with his big golden eyes that screamed with a mixture of pride and victory.

Oliver released the bird the instant I reached down and took hold of the creature. In those moments, I’ve found, the birds become strangely docile. Seeming none the worse for wear after a cursory check of the creature I held him out the door, where he sprang from my hand and fly away.

So I was hoping for much the same as Oliver came trotting up to us with his prize gift today.

“Good boy, Oliver,” said in a firm voice reaching down to take the Robin from him. I never admonish the cats for doing what cats instinctively do, but instead affirm what they did was good, though I am always saddened for the bird. This way they always bring their catch to me to be for release or disposal. If that sounds like a contradiction, it has succeeded in saving a fair number of birds, and preventing something dead “perfuming” the courtyard or being discovered someplace in the house. And so Oliver let go just a moment before I could get hold of the bird. With that it flew half way across the yard, coming to rest in the grass, where a darting Oliver quickly cut him off.

It’s never good that a bird in that circumstance can’t take to full flight, but I was heartened with it actually became aggressive, raising its wings and charging towards Oliver for a moment. I picked up the bird, just as Oliver was poised to pounce on it once more, and felt the trickle of warm red blood aver my fingers.

“Oh, no,” I sighed, gentling turning the Robin over in my hands and cradling it there. Oliver had opened up a deep gash in the belly that I knew was fatal. The bird was now looking at me as I held it gently. Kneeling I let Oliver come beside me. The bird’s breaths were painfully deep and hard now, that final moment of defiance in the face of eternity. Then, within 8 or 10 breaths the Robin closed its eyes slowly and went limp in my hands…

WC Turck is the author of 4 books, including the critically acclaimed Bosnian War Memoir “Everything for Love,” and Broken: One soldier’s unexpected journey home, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.com. Turck wrote and produced two critically acclaimed plays, “Occupy my Heart: A Revolutionary Christmas Carol” and “The People’s Republic of Edward Snowden.” He can be heard weekdays from 9-11am, and 1-3pm on the Revolution and Beer show with partner and cohost BL Murray.

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