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excerpt from "Blues Too Bright" by Kate Finegan

Kate Finegan's story "Blues Too Bright" won the fiction prize as part of The Fiddlehead's 26th annual literary contest. You can read an interview with her here.

 

Blues Too Bright

"Have you noticed the birds are shitting more lately?” Mother calls to ask. I wait for my eyes to focus and see that it’s six a.m. on the dot. I imagine she’s been sitting by the window since four, waiting for a reasonable hour to call. 

I’m accustomed to these early-morning bird reports. Mother watches birds like her friends watch soaps and baseball. Across town, my best friend, Elizabeth, is probably scrolling through podcasts in bed, glasses in their case on the nightstand, arm outstretched so she can see. She’ll choose a podcast before rising, listen to it as her coffee brews.

Over here, I awaken to avian drama. I imagine Mother writing headlines: Blue jay eats everything; other birds hungry. House sparrows steal nuthatch nest; local woman angry. Lady cardinal waiting for mate, refusing to eat; doesn’t realize he flew into the glass on Tuesday. Local woman sees herself in cardinal; talks to her about her own husband’s death. Lady cardinal seems to understand; begins to eat, slowly.

After Mother notices the excess of shit, though, the updates become less social, more scatalogical. One night, around eleven, she calls. I assume she can’t sleep and will ask me, again, for my Netflix password. When I pick up the phone, she’s already mid-sentence.

“— is blue! Bright blue! Can you believe that? Shitting all over my cabbages! Bright blue shit all over my cabbages!”

“The birds? The birds are pooping in the garden?”

“Yes, they’re shitting up a storm! I swear it’s like they’re just guzzling saltwater or are on some kind of cleanse. Just. Shitting. Everywhere. And bright blue, like you wouldn’t believe! Blueberries? Could be blueberries. I don’t think I have any in the yard, though. No, no. I don’t know. Anyway, I need you to please, darling, find out why these birds are pooping so much.”

“They probably always have, Mom, and you’re just noticing it for the first time. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about.”

“Well, you’re not the one scrubbing shit — poop, sorry — off your cabbages. Darling, just please ask Siri what’s happening to these birds. Ask her what I can do about it, please.”

I didn’t plan to spend my night Googling “blue bird poop,” but Mother doesn’t take no for an answer, especially where birds or vegetables are concerned. So, I put on Kimmy Schmidt and sit on the couch and learn everything — yes, everything — there is to know about bird poop. By episode four I’m an expert on both wilds and domestics. I can draw you a diagram of the great-tailed grackle’s digestive system, test your cockatiel for avian bornavirus infection by checking for undigested food in their excrement, and explain the role of gut fermentation in producing odourless poop among most birds. Show me a shade of green, a ratio of liquid to solid, and I’ll tell you what it means. Or I won’t. Because I’ll have to tell Mother everything, and it’s not a conversation I want to have twice. She’ll need to be talked out of getting a cockatiel, I’m sure. . . .
 

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