Saturday morning sitting in the family room snuggled up on the squishy sofa Irish’s head heavy in my lap. I was sipping my morning Joe solving the world’s problems on the phone with Awesomez. Across from me Henry was wrapped in a blanket cuddling the other three dogs sleepily watching something Ace of Cakes when Alexis tromped in. Dressed for the cold he was clad in knee high rubber boots, jeans, a couple shirts, a sweatshirt and jacket. Standing there he looked solemnly at us long enough for us to look up.
“Ummm,” he said pursing his lips, clearing his throat and taking a deep breath the way people do when there’s bad news. “Silence is no longer with us,” he said his voice catching, his eyes closed.
“Silence is?” I whispered.. He nodded. “How? Where? What? I don’t understand.” My heart shattering. Silence was one of those special little souls that comes a long and steals your heart. She was so full of personality and curiosity. She chirped her crazy chirp and roosted wherever she could be near me. She sat on the porch when I hung Christmas lights. Silence was the nut on top of the chicken coop or hanging out in a tree. She hopped in the van whenever she could and she and Louise rushed around when I came home running to see me when I’d get out of the car. I was in a daze.
“I found her in the chicken coop this morning, she died by the food bowl. You remember where Colt (the gosling) died?”
“Yeah, over past the Kubota barn,” Henry acknowledged.
“Right. Well, last night when I put her away she was just sitting over there. So I picked her up and put her inside.”
Sill unbelieving I asked, “So she wasn’t attacked?”
“Well, she is missing feathers, and I found Brad ‘dancing’ on her when I came in.” Alexis explained.
“Frank did that after one of the Red Dorking hen’s died I think it’s just an instinct,” I said thinking back over the last few days. “Henry and I did just talk about her when we went to Quinn’s first piano recital yesterday.”
“Yeah, I noticed she’s been separate from the rest of the turkeys and I asked if my mom thought maybe turkeys got jealous.”
“Henry thought since the boys are so enamored with Alice maybe she felt like last year’s turkey hen. You know, lately she has been acting weird and I carried her the other day to her pen and she was really light.” Suddenly I began to sob. I sobbed all the tears for Silence and all the tears I’d never cried for Lloyd. Henry came over to me.
“Ahhh Mama,” he cooed.
Not knowing what else to do I called my sister, who agreed to perform a necropsy. “I’m not really a bird doctor so I’ll only know if there’s something really obvious,” she warned me.
“That’s ok,” I said somewhat haltingly. “I just need to know why she died if I can,” I kept wiping tears away as they rolled down my face. “I know it sounds silly, but I really loved this ding-dang turkey. I know it sound silly to feel so attached, but she was my little friend. I ’ve been crying my eyes out but I have to think about Frank now. Just in case I did something wrong or she had a disease. I haven’t been able to look at the body, but Henry said he thought some of the wounds on her back were post mortem.”
“Why does he think that?” She asked.
“He didn’t see bruising and you know he watches "Bones" all the time,” I explained.
Alexis put her in a box and when Awesomez came out to the farm she put it in the van for me and I took it to the Cat Clinic where Lisa’s working. She did the necropsy assisted by a student who needed the experience. They filmed it for educational purposes. When Lisa called her voice was gentle. She knows how to handle me. “Well first off her body weight was really low. Her breastbone was protruding. She was only 10lbs.”
“I knew she’d felt light. but that's half. She’s supposed to be about 19lbs. Oh my gosh! Do you think I starved her to death? I thought she was foraging during the day, but she ate voraciously whenever I fed her. Maybe she just didn’t get enough food.” I worried.
“No. I took a look at her gizzard. A gizzard as you know from making many a Thanksgiving dinner is a bird’s stomach and her’s was strangely hard and filled with tiny pieces of plastic.”
“So do you think she was hungry?”
“I think she was exactly who you loved. She was extremely curious and she liked shiny things, so she ate them. Free-range birds will eat just about anything, rocks, nails and little pieces of stuff lying around. I saved you some of the pieces in case you can tell where they came from.”
“I’m thinking it might be from the plastic net around the round bales of hay.” I suggested.
“I don’t think so, but I’ll show them to you when you come in.”
“OK,” I replied thinking of Silence eating the plastic. Wishing I could go back in time and stop her. “There’s so much stuff on a farm. There’s stuff coming up out of the soil from years ago. So she just wasted away? She starved to death?”
“Yeah, sort of. She couldn’t process her food anymore.” She said quietly.
“I know it doesn’t change anything, but I feel better knowing it just happens. I don’t know if I can deal with birds anymore though. I’m over this heartache. Death never gets easier first Lloyd now Silence.”
“It’s the price you pay.”
I picked up Silence’s body at the clinic. It had been in the freezer in a garbage bag. I was supposed to talk to Lisa but she was in a room with a client and I didn’t want to disturb her. I took a breath and carried my friend to the car. I don’t know why it should be so hard, I’ve carried many frozen turkeys to the car after all. But it was different.
Henry and I got home too late to bury her so I left her in the car safe from predators. “She was my pretty bird,” Henry said tapping the box. And as he said it I could see him kneeling over her so many times saying “pretty bird, pretty bird.” and cooing to her from the time she hatched.
"She didn't ever get to have babies," I said ruefully.
"Listen she was a bad mom. She could hatch a clutch for anything." He laughed and I smiled too. It was true she was not cut out for motherhood.
At 7:30AM in the Pacific Northwest it’s still just getting light this time of year. We didn’t know what to do because we needed to bury her but we didn't want to rush and try and bury her before school.
“I don’t’ really want to drive around with her in the car all day do you?” Henry asked hesitantly.
“No.” I said decisively. Henry and I decided what with the cold she’d keep well enough until we could bury her if we could keep her body safe from rodents or other predators. So I began looking around for an empty box. Henry found one that would close from Costco. Lifting her into it I closed the lid and carried her out to the barn. As I was putting a brick on top of the box to keep mice out Henry said, “Mama, Silence would be very happy we were burying her in a chip box, she loved Doritos™”. Tears came to my eyes. Henry was right.
with a few minutes of Silence