The juniper tree outside my house is a fan favorite amongst the birds, despite December being a historically unkind wintry month. Avalanches of snow fall from the trees branches, wrecking havoc on their lives as they get stuck in the snow banks down below.
Yesterday my mom and I were shoveling the driveway when we heard a faint cry by the tree. Under a pile of snow was a bright red cardinal, frozen and struggling for breath. My mom made a little bed for it and put it in the bathroom so it could relax, but we thought for sure the bird was going to be a goner.
We waited patiently for it to breathe its last breath, talked about whether we should bury the body or leave it out for other animals to pick up. You can imagine how surprised I was this morning to find it was walking around the bathroom, even flapping its wings to prepare for flight flight.
My mom left for work early this morning, so she didn’t get to see the cardinal’s recovery. But my father, who didn’t see the bird until he got home from work late last night, was thrilled.
He was holding the bird on his lap at the breakfast table, trying to feed it despite the cardinal’s constant squirms and cries to be released. I told him we needed to set the bird free outside.
“It’s so dirty and stressed,” he said. “I was about to take a bath, I’m going to give him one, too.”
I stared at him. Sometimes I could have sworn this man had absolutely no brain inside his thick head. “Dad, are you serious?” I looked at the creature. I had never noticed a songbird’s eyes before, had never seen one with so much anger and hatred in them. “It’s stressed because you’re holding it. It doesn’t want to be held and it doesn’t need a bath. We need to let it go.”
“No.” He stood up, clutched the bird closer to his chest. “This is what it needs.” He finished the rest of his coffee, then walked upstairs and ran a bath.
Three hours later, I found my dad dead in the bathtub. His eyes carved out, his guts protruded from the gaping hole in his stomach. The cardinal sat on the edge of the bathtub, staring at the body, its feathers dripping blood as a piece of meat hung from its tiny beak.
Suddenly it plunged into the water. I listened to the sound of it splashing and digging into my dad. I needed to leave, ask for help, but I was frozen, stuck to the wet floor. The bird was still underwater when I noticed, for the first time, that my dad was still breathing. His hands twitched as he whimpered and whispered for help.