We didn’t hear the babies fall down the fireplace. Sometimes, on rare nights when the Florida air felt drunk up and the lizards froze blue on paver bricks, we’d open the glass doors to place our Winn Dixie logs and find their bones. Skeletons, as brittle as the houses of spit and stick they fell through, laid still and white beneath black. Most broke their necks on the fall, but occasionally one would land on a bed of ashes made up of charred wood and siblings.
My sisters and I would hear their faint charcoaled chirps. If we were downstairs playing in the family room, we’d scream for our mother to grab the bird, even if my dad was sitting right there on the couch. We always tried to save any hurt animal that came our way. A hare whose leg had been chewed off from the neighbor’s Dalmatian died in the shoe box we’d set it in as we dialed the vet’s number. A pile of abandoned duck eggs was taken home and placed on my mother’s heating pad, but the dial was set too high. The eggs boiled and exploded in my sister’s room, over ballerina statues and frayed carpet. The birds, too, never lasted longer than an hour or so. Their loose-skinned bodies were placed in a little dirt hole beneath the orange tree we would cut down years later from all the fruit rats it housed.
Mother, save it. Mother, do something. Mother, where’s its Mother?
Before I had my son, I thought I was too careless to be a mother. I had a bird for eight years that I’d gotten from a flea market as a gift. His cage was cleaned when my parents told me to clean it, his water bowl goopy and pink. I didn’t even realize he was technically, reproductively a “she” until I saw blood leaking and matted beneath her. An egg was stuck inside her and she died shortly after the discovery. The animal graveyard that grew out back was as fertile as my mother’s bougainvillea.