Twenty-two cages with birds to wash and feed every morning, grandma had. But it was mama, her daughter-in-law, who did the work and she hated it.
Twenty-two cages with birds grandma gave away when she got too old to rule over how somebody else should do the job.
The yellow mad bird of black wings she gave to me to keep.
There was nothing special about him, except that, after almost twenty years, he was still mad about living in a cage.
“Beautiful Bird,” I used to tell him, “I will make you tame, you’ll see.”
Mashed bananas and tortilla I fixed for him and opened the cage door quick as I could and put the food inside because being slow would be a pain when Beautiful mad Bird is there ready to strike you with his beak.
“I will make you tame, my dear,” I talked to him. I also whistled by his cage so that he might remember how he used to sing.
I fed him, I kept him away from the cold wind, and not only did he become tame, and meek, and slow, and quiet, but also dead.
That’s how I stuffed Beautiful Bird, just like Uncle Victor had taught me, nailing open his wings to a piece of cardboard and then splitting his chest in two.
His heart was a wilted grape and his lungs the empty skin of two plums, and just like that, life seemed to fit so easily--guts and everything--in the round hollow of my palm.
I opened his mouth wide and held it there with a toothpick until he looked just as mad as he had always been.
With ashes I stuffed his insides, then sewed him closed again and let the sun make him dry like a wooden stick.
Back inside his cage, held with invisible tread, he stood again on his perch mad and stiff, yellow and black, beautiful and dead.
Until the day the thread gave out and Beautiful Bird fell off—pomp!--All the way to the floor.
And when uncle Rafa came to visit bringing terrible terrible little cousin, at the sight of the fallen bird she cried and implored:
Por Diosito Santo, I swear, I didn’t kill him. This time it wasn’t me!”